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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  • Keep it free range and grass fed and i will keep buying it.
    Had a ribeye the other night,WOW best ever.

  • As a person with a deep background in Wildlife and Habitat Management, I agree completely with your practices and your statements on raising herbivores to grow soils and tie up carbon. All livestock needs to be raised in the manner in which you and your partner ranches are doing.

    Peggy Detmers
  • The Environmental Justice Force that I belong to at my local UU church in Cambridge, MA has frequently presented programs on the mistaken belief that meat needs to eliminated from he human diet to benefit the environment. We show the fantastic video, “Carbon Cowboys” (online, google it) to point out that grass-fed and finished meat benefits the land on which it is raised: improved water retention, more carbon sequestration, vastly increased biodiversity, healthier animals with less need for veterinary care and drugs, and better prices for their meat. is a website that has numerous other videos from around the world showing the benefits of grazing animals to restoring ecosystems. , I suggest those who are church-goers and/or members of environmental organizations do their part by sharing this news. Soon our group will present a program on regenerative farming and its many benefits. In the meantime I am forwarding this review far and wide, Thank, you,Dan and Jill and family for all you do..

    Linda Clark
  • Thanks so much…terrific amount of work to put all this together.

  • I’ve been using bison for about 15 years, and recently moved to your company as the only provider I know of who raises the animals with a life as close to their nature as possible. For a while, I went vegan in the simple effort to try to live clean, avoiding all processed food. I’ve known a few bison farmers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and now you folks. It takes effort and resources to live clean. I am very appreciative of what you’re doing.

    Fred Ardillo
  • We are new converts to WIBC and to all – "THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF GRASS RAISED AND GRASS FINISHED BUFFALO MEAT! Even though we have spent time in conversation with our local butchers in researching quality cuts, we missed the most important part about the meat we were consuming ! WHAT THE ANIMAL – ACTUALLY ATE, CONDITIONS IN WHICH IT LIVED AND DIED, AND THE DETRIMENTAL ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS THAT INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE HAS CREATED! Thank you – WIBC for sharing information about the COMPLETE PICTURE OF CFAOS! “IN THE WILD BUFF – IT’S NATURE’S WAY!” Doyle & Susie
    PS – The Sierra Club has a great article on CFAOS as well –

    Doyle & Susie Hughes
  • CAFO’s are beyond words. The karmatic repercussions of treating our planet and it’s lifeforms this way are already taking their toll on our species. Just look at the children, so many with black circles under their eyes, pasty complexions, overweight, dull hair….teenagers addicted to so many substances. In a few more generations there will be some serious breeding problems. The bible has been interpreted that man was put on earth to have “dominion” over it. The original Hebrew word is "radah (Gen 1:26) which means treading or trampling down as linked to kingly rule, and it was translated with a view to earth domination. That’s exactly what we appear to be doing…dominating and exploiting every animal, plant and mineral. All this riding on the interpretation of translators (when there are hundreds even thousands of translations of holy works). I suspect the true intent was to command us to be “good stewards” of God’s amazing creations (whether you believe God is a conscious entity or a harmonious system of symbiotic relationships). We have sorely failed. There’s no doubt this is not going to end well. It’s ironic that the species that sees itself as justified in treating other lifeforms this way is also the only species you could remove from the planet and have all other species, and the planet as a whole, benefit (save for the animals we have domesticated).

  • Being from Iowa, I can’t agree more how “grass fed”, whether pigs or ungulates, is better. Just the stench, the odor, from all those pig farms in N. Iowa means one can’t have the window down while travelling across this landscape of long low slung metal buildings. Just think of all the stress in those hogs and cattle contained in those buildings… having to breath that acid filled air. That smell directly and indirectly goes straight into those animals bodies. direct from breathing into those Lungs. And indirectly into all that lactic acid, cortisol, being produced because of stress. The greatly increased fluid level in that muscle tissue means a meat that literally pours off when those vacuum bags of primals are cut open by the chefs at those restaurants. As an example a pound of hamburger from our low stress, grass fed, extended families of bison comes off the grill at .nine tenths of a pound. compare this to other bison at seven tenth.
    As for the talk of “migrating” bison the authors have a very narrow field of vision. Bison, as well as all grazers, live as extended families, have homes and thus territories to protect. Now if that home is in areas that requires movement to, lets say, low to high ground ie. valleys to mountains then this is “migration”. Or, like in Africa, it is longer annual migrations from one lands drying up to another landscape receiving more rain. But even in migration all of one extended family stays tight to one another. There might be a thousand elephants, but each family moving is a winged “V” formation of from 40-300 animals. It is the same look as all those flocks of geese and ducks in the air migrating. They move in mass but each V is an extended family. In Yellowstone, where I worked, thousands of elk migrated from Jackson hole to summer “pastures” in Yel. mt. valleys. But it was not a random one elk saying to another, “I think we should stop here for the summer”. It was the same extended family going to its distinct summer alpine plateau or valley home each and every year.
    So it is with bison. every family had its home. Maybe this required movement to high protein sedge river valleys in the winter…but this was still part of that families home. There was no mass movement of hundreds of thousands or millions of animals until so many of their homes were abandoned. Abandoned because of too much hunting pressure by humans, to live safely in that homes area (In humans think Moses and his tribe wandering for 40 years).
    The concentrated grazing the authors talk about is correct, but it was each small family of maybe 40 or 100 moving tightly together across its home that caused the Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) range scientist try to , but miserably fail, to duplicate. By the way, in arid areas of the USA it was families of 15-25. In more fertile well watered areas it was a family of, say, 100. These were the numbers those White Buffalo Hunters killed in each of their stands.
    It was only during the rut any concentration of animals occurred. In Yell. one may see 500-1000 bison on the plains of Hayden Valley but even then it is not a mass. It is each smaller family group with the 2 bulls it picks out for breeding.

    bob jackson
  • Thank you for your product, your support of the land, and your treatment of these magnificent animals. I have been fortunate to visit Rapid City and the surrounding areas and was in awe of the landscape and its beauty. Thank you for protecting and preserving this spectacular area.

  • If we want the world to know about this then we all share it. Cheap advertising for Wild Idea and gets people’s attention. I constantly tell people buy direct, know your farmer. Thank you for your continuous amazing products and education.

    Candace Stuckenschneider
  • You are preaching to the choir! Feed lots to finish an animal are the pits. I am already telling folks of the nutritional and taste benefits of WIB, to say nothing of the restoration of the prairies. It would be interesting to do some vegetation monitoring before and after bison grazing, especially to determine if non-native species are in decline. Keep up the good work, folks! You are doing it right!

    Liz Aicher
  • HI Dan. These reviews are a bit long, and I can send you the book, if you are interested. May the wind be at your back, Pat

    1. Humans diverged from their place in the natural system by assuming dominion over Nature.’ 2018
    Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
    Authors Michael Cruit, Director, Herbert Blumer Institute for Applied and Creative Science and Art, Costa Rica, and Pat Lauderdale, Professor, Justice and Social Inquiry, Arizona State University, present their second book of concern about the interaction between humans and the environment. Their initial book was INVITATION TO GLOBALOGY: AN ALIEN PERSPECTIVE and now they offer CLIMATE DISRUPTION: THE KNOCKOUT PUNCH. Their conjoined efforts are clearly stated – ‘Our focus in this book is to tell a story using the most credible scientific facts. We hope to inform and awaken and warn humanity of the dangers of mass consumption, not only of carbon-based energy, but of myriad “consumer products” fashioned from Earth elements. Although the word “apocalypse” has evolved to mean a cataclysmic event, the original meaning in the ancient Greek was “uncovering” or “revealing.” In this sense, we look boldly at the cataclysmic event looming before us and hope for an awakening, an uncovering.’

    It is refreshing for those of us who stand in disbelief that our government continues to ignore climate change, let alone the causes of same, to read this book written by tow well informed thinkers who are concerned enough about our destiny that they place this book before the public. In their Introduction they clearly state, ‘The transformations now occurring within the Earth’s climate and ecosystems portend a drastic impact on human survival, and yet most humans are unaware or indifferent, mainly because mainstream cultural outlets ignore the danger or cover it with disinformation. The disruption occurring in Earth’s ecosystem is reflected in a corresponding decline and disruption in social organization, which is exactly what we see during the last century. Human societies are an inextricable part of the ecosystem and as the ecosystem deteriorates, so too does human experience. This book tells the story of how disruption of Nature impacts social reality and how social realities impact on Nature.’

    To merely offer portions of this book as a review would be a disservice to the authors’ intention – this is a book that explains the multifaceted factors that indicate eventual extinction of life on this planet. ‘The record also reveals a fine dynamic between the random explosion of life and the importance of permanent, stable conditions – another symbiotic relationship. Although mass extinctions have been rare in Earth’s history, they teach us that disturbances in the fine-tuned balance can lead to dire consequences for all of Nature, including humans, of course. (Humans had never witnessed a mass extinction event on a global level, let alone imagined themselves among the endangered.) The striking population growth among humans, coupled with global exploration and trade, introduced invasive species on all continents, upsetting the local equilibrium and contributing to species extinction. Very often, the invasive species was human.’ Or as the synopsis states, ‘Earth is in the midst of a transformation not seen since the days of the dinosaurs. Events occur today that the human race never experienced, including the 6th mass extinction event and a warming atmosphere. These events occur on the ecological level and since human societies are an inextricable part of Earth’s ecology they too are effected directly. Thus, as the ecosystem deteriorates, so too does human experience. And now we are close to the Knockout Punch! This book tells the story of how disruption of Nature impacts social reality and how social realities impact on Nature.’

    This book is a necessary and welcome wakeup call and should be required reading not only by us, but also by the figures on the government level to accept a proven reality and act to conserve. Grady Harp

    2. The book goes into great detail about the correlation between human society and the …
    Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
    Climate Disruption: The Knockout Punch by Michael Cruit is truly a knockout punch kind of a book about the environment that will open your eyes about the severity of what is happening all around us. with impressive credentials and backgrounds, the authors with this book expose the scientific facts that state we are in fact in a state of turmoil, one that will have effect on the planet for years to come if government and other powers that be don’t do something. The book goes into great detail about the correlation between human society and the deterioration of the planet. There is a strange symbiosis of one playing off the other. Our ignoring the situation at hand will be our undoing. Combine a warming atmosphere with mass extinctions, and there is truly a problem at hand. This book lays out that if our ecosystem falls apart, we do too as a species. Heady stuff to be sure, but this book is highly recommended for a valid and thoughtful viewpoint. Vince Edwards

  • “Sunny Side Down”. The bullet point about “Understanding Concentrated Animal Feeding……”. What is the date of that study?

    Thanks for putting this together!!!!

    Rick Knobe
  • Thanks for keeping us up on CAFO information. Going to enjoy a WIB NewYork strip and Teres Major filet tonight for dinner with wifey!

    Mark Moench
  • Great insights! Thank you for sharing this information I wish it could reach the masses because the average consumer has NO idea how their meat is raised. God made the human body to eat meat however He also instructed us HOW to treat the animals He placed her with us. CAFO’s are despicable! I am VERY selective of the meat we eat as well as the treats/bones we buy for our dogs. Keep up the great work Wild Idea Buffalo – we NEED companies like you out there advocating for life – life of humans and animals alike. Thank you!

    Dawn VanVolkinburg

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