CAFOs vs. Grass-Fed/Finished

Do you ever feel that your efforts are moving in a “one step forward – two steps back” rhythm? Recently, a few articles landed on our desks. Articles written about CAFOs and industrialized agriculture and articles written on the benefits of grass-fed animals. No one article covers it all and it is the ALL that is important to know.   

To offer you a briefing of what they are about, we combed through them and pulled out the low-lights and the highlights. Although the stories were written by professional journalists and scientists, and were mostly unbiased, we openly admit that we are biased.

“Sunny Side Down”

From South Dakota News Watch (3 part article): SPECIAL REPORT: Expansion of large ‘CAFO’ livestock farms causing division and concern across South Dakota

  • Despite a rising wave of grassroots opposition, South Dakota has seen a 15% increase in the development of livestock operations known as CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), with 18 new CAFOs put into production over the past 18 months. SD has 452 CAFOs.
  • What is a CAFO: Large CAFOs are farm operations that require a state permit and are subject to regular inspection once they reach 1,000 or more “animal units.” Based on weight, 1,000 animal units equates to either 700 dairy cows, 1,000 head of cattle, 2,500 adult hogs or 10,000 juvenile swine, 55,000 turkeys, 82,000 laying hens or 155,000 chickens.
  • CAFO Structure: Rather than feeding and holding animals in fenced fields, outdoor pens or open barns, the animals are kept in massive large barns that are segregated into smaller pens inside. Animals typically are not exposed to the sun or the elements, usually live on concrete slabs or metal slats, and sometimes stand almost shoulder-to-shoulder, especially as they age and grow closer to harvesting weight.
  • The vast majority of American livestock is now raised in CAFOs, with federal data showing that about 70% of cows, 98% of pigs and 99% of chickens and turkeys are produced in CAFOs each year.
  • There are 20,382 CAFOs in the United States. CAFOs can be found in all U.S. states except Alaska, Hawaii and Rhode Island.

  • Each time a new CAFO project is proposed, it invariably faces objections from some neighbors and environmentalists who raise concerns over human health risks, reduction of property values, animal treatment and antibiotic use, odors, and fears of potential contamination of air, land and waterways from high volumes of animal waste.
  • In the report, “Understanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and Their Impact on Communities,” which was sanctioned by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that 70% of antibiotics used annually in America were given to beef cattle, hogs and chickens in their feed at the time of the study. Half of those antibiotics used are the same as those used to treat human illnesses. They found strong evidence that antibiotics in animal feed are transferred to humans and leading to a growing number of antibiotic-resistant organisms. “This is a serious threat to human health because fewer options exist to help people overcome disease when infected with antibiotic-resistant pathogens. The antibiotics can also leech into groundwater or surface water.”
  • The farms emit high levels of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide that can harm humans, the research has shown. “The data is pretty good,” he said. “We found plenty of health effects on people working inside them, and we also found that when it comes to CAFOs, neighbors do suffer health effects.”
  • South Dakota, may follow the path of Iowa, the national leader in large hog farms where consistent odors, waterway pollution and fish kills have resulted from heavy CAFO development.
  • A 2016 analysis of state records in Illinois by the Chicago Tribune found that leaks and spills from hog CAFOs had killed more than 490,000 fish in 67 miles of rivers during a 10-year period.
  • This year, South Dakota started a new effort to provide a major financial incentive to county governments that approve new CAFO projects. Industry groups and some state officials say CAFOs provide new opportunities for existing farmers, create options for young farmers to get started and add significant financial value to the state’s largest industry.
  • “I do think we need more ag development in South Dakota,” Gov. Noem said in an interview with News Watch in September. “Anytime we can add value to the commodities and livestock that we raise here, it puts more money into South Dakota’s pocket and for those producers out there that are working so hard to feed the world.” *NOTE: 70% of our agricultural crops grown are grown to feed animals in confinement. Between 1995 and 2016, Noem’s family-owned Racota Valley Ranch in Hazel, S.D. cashed $3,704,415 million in government farm subsidies. In 2012 alone, they accepted $232,707 in subsidies.

Wild Idea Buffalo Company’s Position: The economic advantages pointed out in this article we know to be short lived. The true costs are hidden in government subsidies and often human and unrepairable environmental damages. These facts, along with treating animals in the most inhumane ways is flat out unacceptable to us.

“Sunny Side Up”

From The Atlantic: What America Lost When It Lost the Bison

  • Bison do not “surf the green wave”.
  • Green Wave Surfing: “Green wave surfing is the progression of spring green-up from low to high elevations or latitudes that dictates the pace of herbivore migrations worldwide. Animals move in sync with the wave because young vegetation provides the best forage.”
  • Many herbivores partake in seeking out the greenest, most nutritious plants during the spring. Interestingly enough, bison “somewhat” participate in this migratory pattern, but mostly, they provide a key role in making it possible for other animals to ride this wave of spring greenery.
  • “…bison graze so intensely that they freeze plants in early spring for weeks at a time, preventing them from maturing and forcing them to continuously produce young shoots.
  • Other North American mammals like mule deer can’t do this, because they travel in small-enough groups that plants can still outgrow the effects of their grazing. “Bison, however, gather in the thousands. By moving in synchrony, they don’t have to surf the green wave. Uniquely, they can also create it.”
  • “Bison actions change the landscape. In areas where bison graze, plants contain 50 to 90 percent more nutrients by the end of the summer. This not only provides extra nourishment for other grazers, but prolongs the growing season of the plants themselves. And by trimming back the plant cover in one year, bison allow more sunlight to fall on the next year’s greenery, accelerating its growth.”
  • This plays a significant role on the landscape – the bison become a sort of engineer in enhancing that spring growth – in fact, a bison’s influence on a plant’s timing weighs heavier than weather and other variables of environmental effects, and the more bison herds grow, the healthier and more prosperous the landscape.
  • Simply put, bison are necessary for North America – their role is key in the health of not just the earth, but for other species, including the human species.
  • “It’s not enough to preserve bison numbers without also conserving bison behavior. If the animals exist, but aren’t allowed to migrate, there will still be a bison-shaped hole in the world.”

Wild Idea Buffalo Company’s Position: Wild Idea’s bison and affiliated herds graze over large landscapes and are given up to 35 acres per animal to move freely. This also promotes a healthy ecosystem, loaded with species diversity. Collectively, we are positively impacting over 300,000 acres of grasslands.  

Free Range Bison herd

From Dave Asprey: Don’t Give Up Meat For The Planet. Grass-Fed Beef Is the Better Answer to Climate Change

  • Factory-farmed meat is wrecking your health and the planet. Feedlots contribute to soil erosion, water pollution, fossil fuel consumption and poor air quality.
  • When grass-fed/finished animals have room to graze they improve land use, nutrient and manure management, and promote soil health. Those benefits reduce the overall carbon footprint.
  • Grass-fed meat is more ethical, sustainable, and nutrient dense. It contains more antioxidants, omega 3s, trace minerals and vitamins.
  • The answer to climate change isn’t to stop eating meat, but to start eating grass-fed/finished meat (and we would add, humanely field harvested too).

Wild Idea Buffalo Company’s Position: At Wild Idea, all of our bison herds roam on large landscapes 365 days a year. In addition, any animal harvested for food is harvested humanely on the prairie where they graze. At WIBC we have a saying, "Eat meat, less of it, but of a higher more sustainable quality." There are ranchers out there doing things right and they (we) need your support. *NOTE: 90% of all the bison raised for food are finished in CAFOs or feed-lots.

As one farmer put it in the South Dakota News Watch piece: “Growth of large livestock operations that produce cheap meat is being driven by consumers. This is what we’re getting pushed into doing; we’re not driving our own market, it’s demand. You tell us what you want us to do when you make a purchase at the grocery store.”

If you are interested in reading the full articles, they can be found by clicking on the article title.

We thank you for your time, your concern, and your support.

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  • 70% of cows? For meat it has to be above 90.

    Are they including dairy cows??

    Grant Price
  • Thank you for compiling this informatiom. I was so gratified to read in the 7th paragraph the information petaining to antibiotics in the feed. As an RN who practiced for years this has been my position for a very long time as I witnessed the increase in antibiotic allergys occur and knew the “increased use of antibiotics by doctors” wasn’t true. When I would write in response to articles on animal feed I most always got the “song and dance” about it being such a minimal amount that it “was safe for human consumption” No response to the question of “cummulative effect of the antibiotics, hormones, etc. in the human body over a long period of time.” This article needs to be widely published!! I love meat and feel very fortunate to be able to purchase it from the individual producer or from the stores that are beginning to carry the grass fed beef more often now.

    Margaret Graham
  • All the information provided is useful, but the problem remains: the American diet thinks it needs LOTS of meat, and most people can’t or won’t afford to eat meat that is responsibly and ethically raised and slaughtered. This is a first-world issue that is ruining the whole world.
    One issue that I think you failed to mention in all the very good analysis you provided is what a good carbon sink native prairie grasses are – almost as good as a tropical rain forest; not quite as good as a boreal forest – and by allowing bison to help restore a more natural prairie ecosystem, range feeding bison also help with climate change.


    Theresa L Anderson
  • We are 100%! We are 100% behind Wild Idea. And our red meat purchases are 100% Wild Idea Buffalo. It is healthy, it is delicious and the way you harvest is absolutely humane and respectful. We no longer feel any urge to go out for a burger or steak, as we have the best here thanks to WIB. Everyone who has dined at our table couldn’t agree more. Keep on doing it right WIB! Next order from SC will be coming soon.

    Chris and Kim
  • Capitalizing on the convenience factor and maximizing the profit margin are two management principles that scream, “Let’s make a short range fortune out of the meat industry and minimize health concerns for everyone else who buys into the harvest of these forsaken beasts!” I equate the stench and squalor of this form of greed with a deplorably managed nursing home environment which would sequester our elderly loved ones we are not going to be involved with that much and are writing off. If that were to happen to granddad and grandma the place would be shut down in a heart beat. The truly terrorizing fact is that the pharmaceutical industry is making a mint on both CAFOs and nursing homes and would be upset to relinquish either profit margin. Your bison manifest the love and nurturing of their progeny way more than cattle mostly because they are free to live near to their natural state, but even cattle will exercise those traits to a relatable degree, if given the chance. The CAFO agronomist has become the brute, his resource the pent up bovine herd, over-crammed sounder of swine, and industrially warehoused flocks of poultry.

    Vernon Cross
  • Please don’t change your way,Bison are intelligent animals and they help the envirement. Your natural way is the best. First off i tried the Buffalo snacks that are farm made,they taste horrible,i would never eat that meat. Wild Buffalo has the best tasting meats,snacks and people who work there to make a great product,so stick to your way,the goverment ruined the climate change, so do they really care about animals,heck no,i am proud to support Wild Buffalo and what you stand for,keep up your awesome work and don’t change please

    Deborah Little Wolf Cieslewski
  • A friend and I rode our bicycles across the country last year and had the misfortune of riding by a CAFO in Colorado. The stench was overwhelming. What sane person would willingly eat that meat if they knew how inhumanely the animals were raised? Wild Idea Buffalo does it the right way, in harmony with nature. I am proud to support Wild Idea with my purchasing dollars and I hope that more people will do so as well. Keep up the great work!

    Bill Christy
  • 70% of our US agricultural products are fed to chickens/cows/hogs. 70% of US antibiotics are fed to chickens/cows/hogs. How is this the new normal for animal husbandry?
    I talk to people often about Wild Idea Buffalo—the why, the how, the grasslands, the life of each animal.
    Thank you for your very hard work in making a dream into reality. I appreciate all that you do.

    Joann Smith
  • We love buffalo meat and send it to our children each Christmas and they enjoy it. We eat deer, elk and fish. Love the idea that grass fed roaming animal of any kind are available. We have been by feed lots in areas that are just ugly. We have White Oak Farms near us that have free range animal. Thank you for your information!

    Jeanette Cross
  • Such a well written article! I am so glad you are in business and understand what good nutrition is. Thank you for choosing our health over profit! Love your products!

  • What a brainy bunch we WIB fans are! :0) I received an article written by David A. Sinclair recently – author of “Lifespan”. In the article, David recommends eating plants that are stressed. Your written piece, ““…bison graze so intensely that they freeze plants in early spring for weeks at a time…In areas where bison graze, plants contain 50 to 90 percent more nutrients by the end of the summer” seems to indicate – to me anyway – that the bison are stressing the grass in a way that increases their nutrient value – not only for them and for other wildlife but for us in our consumption of their meat. From Dr. Sinclair’s article – “Health-promoting molecules are produced in abundance by stressed plants; we get resveratrol from grapes, aspirin from willow bark, metformin from lilacs, epigallocatechin gallate from green tea, quercetin from fruits, and allicin from garlic. This may be evidence of xenohormesis—the idea that plants (our eukaryotic cousins, it should be noted) respond to stress by producing chemicals that tell their cells to hunker down and survive. Konrad Howitz and I coined the term “xenohormesis” in 2008, theorizing that we animals have evolved to sense these chemicals in stressed plants as an early-warning system, of sorts, to alert our bodies to hunker down and survive. Over the long-term, this provides us with health and longevity, the same way intermittent fasting and exercise are thought to. In fact, they activate the same hormetic pathways.” Thank you for all you are doing to restore.

    Tru Wright
  • The current drumbeat to give up meat to reverse climate change is really misguided. It ignores two critical things. First, it is not enough – airplanes, oil/gas emissions, flaring excess natural gas and methane, concrete production, even fashion! etc contribute to carbon footprint. Secondly, responsible meat production preserves grasslands that would otherwise be converted to housing or resource extraction.

    The core issue is indeed industrialized production of meat and the way we manage animal waste. Many domestic animals have higher metabolism and need richer foods. Then we confine them, treat them with low dose antibiotics and steroids, sometimes feed them waste paper or even other animals, and land-apply their waste and some carcasses. This is not the same as responsible, chem- and drug-free grazing and waste that is dispersed and nourishes soils.

    “Country” foods including animal meats are also a staple of native people’s diet, and healthier than the processed food alternatives. It’s hardly equitable to crush first peoples and then crush their cultural recovery by telling them they can’t eat foods that sustained them for thousands of years.

    I purchase Wild Idea products to support a family ranch that produces healthy food, supports their community and native peoples, works to revive healthy land, treats their animals humanely, with respect, and works to restore the land. I can reduce my carbon footprint elsewhere, starting by avoiding consumption of animals raised by CAFOS.

    Wild Idea also does a tremendous amount of education and inspiration. CAFOS hide from the public. Think about that.

    Here is my background- pre-vet student turned research scientist working on antibiotic resistance, live in rural farming area where sustainablity is a priority for some, restoring a farmstead. Not making these comments from an urban cafe, just saying.

    Monica Van der Vieren
  • I don’t think people that eat buffalo are going to give it up. It’s delicious. I gave some hamburger to my family and i I give my good friend an assortment that they like and it’s so appreciated.
    It’s nice to be able to give a gift that’s so well received.
    The people that eat healthy will still include buffalo in their diets.

    Linnea Novicki
  • One of the most amazing aspects of living in NE Ohio is access to Lake Erie. As an open water swimmer, I treasure my morning swims along the cliffs west of Cleveland. 50 years ago, due to pollution, those swims would not have been possible.

    Now, one of the greatest threats to the health of Lake Erie is the toxic green algae that forms each summer in the western basin. Algal blooms are driven in part by excessive nutrients being dumped into the lake from CAFOs and irresponsible fertilization of large farms in the western watersheds.

    I’m proud to support the responsible grazing methods of WIB. Working in harmony with nature makes much more sense that destroying it for higher profits. Long live free grazing buffalo on the Great Plains!

    Chuck Beatty

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