Off the Contour #2 – ‘Livestock & the Veganosphere’

Off the Contour #2 – ‘Livestock & the Veganosphere’

My attention was piqued by the ‘Going Vego’ article penned by Nicole Murphy in the ‘Food Fossickers’ column (page
16) in the widely distributed Bendigo Weekly (#669) last week around
water use per kg of meat production plus a few other livestock
management claims as I found it containing some common misconceptions in
my opinion and experience. I felt that this would be a good opportunity
to have this discussion within this edition of ‘Off the Contour’. I
have written to the author and the paper though I imagine that this
would be too long a response to run in the ‘Letters to the Editor’
column though I felt something needed to be said.

1. Many figures quoted by the Vegan/Vegetarian lobby against livestock
production are based on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO’s or
Feedlots) where energy and water use per kg of production are clearly
cheap energy dependent, wholly degenerative and an insult to Gaia. This
recent article outlines some of these discrepancies ( and there are many more around that also counter these views when looking at more holistic management systems.

2. In Holistic Management (HM) Planned Grazing-based native perennial
grasslands not only is carbon sequestered at an incredibly high rate,
but methane is also sequestered by methanotrophic bacteria who utilise
methane as their sole energy source (Jones 2010). Listening to all of
the noise from the ‘Veganosphere’ livestock production is promoted as
being a large contributor to greenhouse emissions, which is fair enough
in artificially fertilised, high energy systems (high input pastoral
systems or CAFO’s) but quite the opposite for the aforementioned HM
systems which is now well acknowledged including by folks like Dr Tim
Flannery ( and many others such as Dr Christine Jones (’s-bacon/).

3. I would also suggest to you the following scenario in that the average
cow on dry pasture drinks between 40-80 litres of water per day. If that
cow is destined for slaughter when it reaches a weight of 250kg+
(obviously we would like more than this but as an example) and this
might take up to 400 days from birth to achieve in a HM system as
described. That equates to some 16000-32000 litres of water over that
time though of course for perhaps 6 months of that time it is having a
reduced intake before being weaned, though its mother is obviously
drinking closer to 60-80 litres/day depending on the season etc.
Therefore that means that we are looking at between 64-128 litres per kg
(not 50-100000 litre/kg) of production on land that is sequestering
perhaps 10t/carbon hectare (actually 36.7 tonnes CO2/ha as it takes 3.67
tonnes CO2 for plants to exudate 1 tonnes of carbon through their
roots) without any of the damaging tillage that vegetable production
requires, moreso in organic production where tillage is often used in
place of herbicides to control weeds. Every 1% of Carbon increase in the
top 30cm of soil results in some 146,000 litres of extra water held
within the soil (Jones 2007) which is of course a situation not
encountered when you oxidise the carbon (tillage and high N

4. With regards to the issues around our consuming the livestock
equivalents of children and teenagers, this is part of the abundance
that nature has provided to us and needs to occur lest we aren’t as
producers able to manage our populations. Were we not to have this
production method then we would have declines in the genetic quality of
our herds and mobs, we would have significant overgrazing issues which
obviously is not appropriate. Certainly the HM approach is to encourage
methods of production where animals have a happy and enjoyable, natural
grass and milk fed life joined to their mothers for the appropriate
period (and this includes dairy production!) and humanely have one bad
day that according to best practice (such as recommended by the
wonderful Dr. Temple Grandin) is effectively unbeknown to them at that point.

I would also add that the terms of trade forced on producers are such
that veal production is a somewhat cynical outcome of cheap milk prices.
How is this so? Dairy herds are now mostly Friesian or Friesian
Holstein though some herds (especially now with the A2 milk fad) are
Jerseys, Guernsey’s with some Shorthorns etc. A function of low milk
prices is that it is uneconomic for producers to have calves run with
the milking herd as it is too costly to have them drink their mothers
milk. So as a result most cows are either joined or impregnated with
beef breeds so as to increase the ultimate carcass weight and
performance of vealers and these vealers are fed on a range of
supplements along with reconstituted milk products which were often
produced on slowly irrigated (anaerobic) pastures in drylands using
massive inputs of capital, fertilisers and pharmaceuticals and then
trucked to the milk factory where piped in natural gas is used to then
dehydrate this milk and then sell it back to the farmer with all of the
extras added such that is now a ‘complete feed’! Smart farming indeed
and one that is ultimately propped up by the cheap oil and fossil fuel
economy and will therefore be temporary. Take away the cheap energy and
the calves will be joined to their mothers again and we’ll have real
veal again which is basically the beef version of lamb.

A good friend of ours has for many years kept his calves with their
mothers and milks once a day instead of the usual two times a day. It
‘costs’ him some $1200 in milk per head but then he markets the vealers
for $2500/head as milk-fed organic veal direct to restaurants. This he
does not just for economic reasons but also for holistic livestock
health reasons in that happy mothers are healthier mothers and so are
calves. Any producer knows exactly what I mean by this. With every
mammal (by very definition!) there is an enormous bond that occurs
through suckling and removing that opportunity is not just against the
natural order it also effects the behavioural and physical health of the
animals concerned. Why is it that these livestock need a whole
livestock pharmaceutical industry to keep them healthy? Some serious
systemic questions needing to be answered there and these will be
ultimately borne out when the end of cheap energy looms large and

5. I am of the strong opinion that some people are not suited to meat
consumption and that in most cases people overconsume livestock products
(an exception being HM Raw Milk products) which obviously creates
pressure points regarding production. It is up to the individual as to
what they put in their mouth though they should be aware of the power
they wield in making the choice of what goes in there, particularly
around the support they provide to different production, processing and
marketing methods!

I am also of the strong opinion and have borne witness to the fact that
in rangeland systems livestock are an essential component having
coevolved with these systems such that rangeland health declines where
livestock are either poorly managed (overgrazing or understocking with
low density grazing) or removed from these systems to the point where
desertification occurs as a result. The controversial absence of the
larger megafauna here in Australia has fueled debate around the
suitability of hooved ungulates in this country. Flannery and others,
including myself, advocate in fact that heavier livestock are actually
suited to the Australian landscape, particularly our extensive
rangelands where just 50 000 or so years ago (a short time in
evolutionary history) very large animals such as the hippo-sized 2500+
kg Diprotodon (giant wombat) ranged, a beast some 5-10 times larger than
these apparently damaging cows and other livestock of Asia Minor. The
misunderstanding stems from the method of grazing not the animal grazing
as clearly grasses and therefore grasslands are dependent on animals.
Its all about the time an animal spends in one place grazing and the
herd density in which it finds itself, which in nature is controlled by
the presence of predators and that grazing animals won’t feed on grasses
fouled with their manure or urine. In HM practice we use grazing
planning, biological monitoring, electric fencing and a variety of
droving practices.

6. Finally for now ‘Two Tooth’ is actually not a lamb, let alone young
lamb. In fact a two tooth is when the now adolescent sheep gets its
first two permanent (adult) teeth. There is the old saying that relates
to this, ‘…trying to pass off two tooth for lamb…’ just as there is
another saying of ‘…trying to pass off two tooth or mutton for
lamb/two tooth….’

So I think in total it would be great if Nicole followed up on this
article with some facts, and please use the resources available to check
those I have put forward. Very much appreciate your work and its great
that you are bringing localised food production & marketing to the
fore, along with highlighting some of the loathesome and degenerative
agricultural practices that are unfortunately the dominant paradigm.

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