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The "Myth" of Sustainable Meat?

Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Hundreds of millions of acres? Over what period of time? How many people involved? When you make a problem one thing "hundreds of millions of acres" and two solutions "flood it" or "run animals on grass" you eliminate all other ecosystems and solutions, including, to give one example, food forests. Not much grass in food forests, usually. And you eliminate the ability of anyone not capable of flooding or running animals on "hundreds of millions of acres" to do a single damn thing.

For more examples of how to improve soils, I suggest you read "The Designers Manual" etc.


Idle dreamer

Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1399
Location: Chihuahua Desert
one option would be to just dump all the organic waste and humanure from the entire country out on the grasslands. Is it perfect? no. would it improve soil? yes.


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Michael Radelut


Joined: Jan 21, 2011
Posts: 194
Location: Germany, 7b-ish
Tyler Ludens wrote:Not all of us are in a position to flood our land or run livestock over grass.


Are you sure about that ?
Remember, it's about the 'livestock' and 'nutrient cycling' part, not about playing cowboy.

If all you have is some space outside the kitchen, the livestock you'll have is chickens.
If you have a larger garden, you'll cycle nutrients through chickens or rabbits.
After that come sheep and goats, then cattle.
Nothing fancy.
greg patrick


Joined: Mar 17, 2012
Posts: 168
Location: SoCal, USDA Zone 10b
    
    3
@ Tyler: I'll give you your point. There is no one size fits all solution. I love food forests; My personal property is one (60 trees and counting on a 1/4 acre lot, a nice mix of fruits and natives) and it works for me, but food forests are very expensive, labor and water intensive, and not scalable for large, depleted plots. Grasslands are a more practical solution.

Over what time period? You live in Texas. How long does your area have before the Ogallala Aquifer is gone and we have another dust bowl? 'About 27 percent of the irrigated land in the United States overlies this aquifer system, which yields about 30 percent of the nation's ground water used for irrigation. In addition, the aquifer system provides drinking water to 82 percent of the people who live within the aquifer boundary. Some estimates say it will dry up in as little as 25 years.' Replanting grasslands looks pretty good for your area.

@ tel: As to the observation that JS imports grain and kelp, yes he does. JS admits that his land is terrible and requires major nutrient replenishment. The fact that he's bringing in kelp to boost the depleted nutrients in his soil is laudable. I'm happy he can do it. The reason he can is because his operation is so profitable. Others (myself included) bring in green waste, kelp, etc. I top my orchard with a combo of green waste and animal composts, and purchase seeds, and decomposed granite to amend my clay soil, and straw to mulch, and organic fertilizer to amend, etc.

I buy a small amount of organic supplemental grain for my animals. By supplementing with a little grain, I can double the output from my chickens. That's just smart farming. If I had to I could grow my own barley, but why would I when I can buy 50# for $12? Just to make a point? I pay for lots of things I could do myself but I don't. That's why we have money and and an economy. In the NYT article McWILLIAMS says animals are needed to restore the soil, he just doesn't think we should eat them because it removes 'carbon' from the system. While this is true, the balance in a pasture based system, harvesting or not, will rebuild the soil quickly. Saying that if a system isn't 100% closed loop it isn't worth doing is a straw-man argument, IMHO.

As far as the sustainability of growing organic barley, I'd say it's probably pretty good. Organic crops are fertilized with composts that are replenishing, and often use no-till methods. By rotating plots between grass farming or nitrogen fixing cover crops that can be used for winter silage, then using them again to grow organic grains, we have a very sustainable and productive system. Remember that grains would only need to make up a very small percentage of total acreage.

And now I'm off to the local farmer's market to collect organic green-waste for my goats and chickens, then I'm taking my goats for their afternoon weed wacking walk. . . I'll be back this evening.

'Science is the father of knowledge, but opinion breeds ignorance.' - Hippocrates
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1399
Location: Chihuahua Desert
greg patrick wrote:@ Tyler: I'll give you your point. There is no one size fits all solution. I love food forests; My personal property is one (60 trees and counting on a 1/4 acre lot, a nice mix of fruits and natives) and it works for me, but food forests are very expensive, labor and water intensive, and not scalable for large, depleted plots. Grasslands are a more practical solution.

Over what time period? You live in Texas. How long does your area have before the Ogallala Aquifer is gone and we have another dust bowl? 'About 27 percent of the irrigated land in the United States overlies this aquifer system, which yields about 30 percent of the nation's ground water used for irrigation. In addition, the aquifer system provides drinking water to 82 percent of the people who live within the aquifer boundary. Some estimates say it will dry up in as little as 25 years.' Replanting grasslands looks pretty good for your area.

where are you going to get the water to plant the grasslands? We're in a drought, so just throwing seed out there doesn't do much. And if you're talking about routing water away from people or food production, it's a lost cause.

And although I support your claim that grazing animals can help repair the soils, you have to be careful with the climate limitations. In my area, you absolutely must rest the land for at least 9 months. Why? because for those 9 months, there is no rain, no water, no growth of grass. If you run animals during that time, you are doing more harm than good (I've seen it happen). It's hard to turn a profit or do much soil building in the remaining 3 months of the year when there's water.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1399
Location: Chihuahua Desert
Michael Radelut wrote:
Tyler Ludens wrote:Not all of us are in a position to flood our land or run livestock over grass.


Are you sure about that ?
Remember, it's about the 'livestock' and 'nutrient cycling' part, not about playing cowboy.

If all you have is some space outside the kitchen, the livestock you'll have is chickens.
If you have a larger garden, you'll cycle nutrients through chickens or rabbits.
After that come sheep and goats, then cattle.
Nothing fancy.

I think she's referring to the "flood" part of the equation. No water, no grass. No grass, no livestock. Simple as that.

The limiting factor on most of the depleted lands is not nutrients, it's water. And with the severe drought these areas are in, water is in VERY short supply. In my area, we barely have water for humans to drink. So, no one is watering grasslands to hopefully graze cattle one day.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I'm not on the Ogallala aquifer.

What Abe said about irrigating the grassland. Nobody uses groundwater to irrigate pasture in my locale.

I'm not saying using animals to restore land is a bad idea in the right climate, I am in favor of appropriate grassland management. I think it's great! In fact, I'm pretty sure I already said that.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1399
Location: Chihuahua Desert
taking management policies from wetter climates and applying them to the drier climates is what got us in this mess to begin with. Dry/brittle climates have their own challenges and obstacles, and it is never as easy as throwing a bunch of animals in there to improve the soil. What works for Virginia rarely works for west Texas.

and now back to the topic of this thread...
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2583
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  47
Abe Connally wrote:If you throw rabbit manure in water, algae will start growing almost immediately. But the tilapia will also eat the manure. Rabbit manure is actually very good food for a lot of other animals. We feed our rabbits some alfalfa, so the manure is rich in protein. You can use that to feed tilapia, chickens, ducks, pigs, earthworms, etc.


More aside...
Would sheep manure work this way too? I know it can go right in the garden like rabbit manure because it's not too hot.

Also where did you get this nugget (of info ---he he)?


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Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1399
Location: Chihuahua Desert
there have been extensive studies for many years on the practice of feeding manure to other livestock. But, you can test it for yourself pretty easily. Dump a can of fresh rabbit/sheep/goat/cow/pig/human manure in front of some chickens and see what happens.

Feeding rabbit manure to tilapia comes up on the aquaponics/aquaculture sites every once in a while. Tilapia will eat most things, and rabbit manure is just a bunch of alfalfa and grains that have been partially digested. Sheep manure is fairly similar, and would work, too.

You can feed manure from herbivores to most omnivores without issue (as long as the source is healthy, disease free). In the wild, omnivores will often seek out fresh manure from the herbivores, because passing that veggie matter through the gut of the herbivore breaks it down a bit, and opens up the nutrients.

Now, I guess I have to add this to every post now, but your mileage may vary, and manure should not be considered a complete diet in and of itself. Side affects may include slower weight gain, increased appetite, and lower feed bills. Are the lawyers in the audience happy?
greg patrick


Joined: Mar 17, 2012
Posts: 168
Location: SoCal, USDA Zone 10b
    
    3
@ Abe: There are dozens of 100% pasture based beef ranches in central TX, so it can be done. It IS being done, very profitably.
http://www.eatwild.com/products/farmsthatship.html#TX

And what crop is more sustainable than grassland? Grasslands have very deep roots and because the tall grass shades the soil, grasslands retain water in soil, control storm water to allow water to soak in and not run off, and they keep topsoil from running away. Grass captures runoff nutrients so they don't get into rivers. Grasslands utilize water MUCH better than monoculture ag. Grasslands are about as water wise a crop as you can get. Grass is also very well suited to extended periods without rain, but it needs a good wet season to become established; The longer we wait to reclaim grasslands, the harder it becomes, but the 'not enough water' argument against grass is moot. But grass isn't edible by humans. Enter ruminants.

So I'm not arguing about meat sustainability, I'm arguing about grassland sustainability, of which livestock is an integral part.

Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1399
Location: Chihuahua Desert
@ Abe: There are dozens of 100% pasture based beef ranches in central TX, so it can be done. It IS being done, very profitably.
http://www.eatwild.com/products/farmsthatship.html#TX

Oh, yeah, I know. But central Texas and West Texas are 2 different things, and 2 different climates. And those guys in central Texas didn't have to plant their pastures from scratch, and they receive an average of at least 10" more rain than west Texas. Their rain is also spread out over the year, whereas our rain comes in a few months. Most of central Texas is covered in trees, mostly oaks, whereas the tallest thing in west Texas is an ocotillo (I'll let you google that one).

And what crop is more sustainable than grassland? Grasslands have very deep roots and because the tall grass shades the soil, grasslands retain water in soil, control storm water to allow water to soak in and not run off, and they keep topsoil from running away. Grass captures runoff nutrients so they don't get into rivers. Grasslands utilize water MUCH better than monoculture ag.

Yeah, grass is amazing stuff, but if you don't have the water to get it established, you don't have the water. Plain and simple.

In my area, grass grows for 3-4 months of the year, during the wet season. For the other 8-9 months, it is dry, very little nutrition content. So, to make any livestock operation viable/profitable, you need them to grow to market size within 4 months. Not many cows do that. I can almost do it with pigs, but they don't make the best use of the grass. I end up still needing to import a lot of feed for them. Goats might work, but I've only ever done milk goats out here, and they browse the shrubs more than eat any of the grass. Guineas do fine without much attention, but they have a limited market.

So, I raise rabbit, mostly. I can cut enough hay during the rain season to last all year, and then I buy alfalfa and fresh green cuttings from the river valley below us.

Grasslands are about as water wise a crop as you can get.
have you ever seen a cactus? Here in Mexico, we farm cactus, because we don't have the water to grow grass. And even then, the majority of cacti died this last year because of the drought. There are a LOT of crops that are more water wise than grass. Basically, anything that has waxy skin.

the 'not enough water' argument against grass is moot.
Moot? Where do you suggest we get more water? If you don't have the water, you don't have the water. It's that simple. No one is going to irrigate vast stretches of desert, when there isn't enough water to grow food. In most of west Texas, they received less than 2" of rain for over 18 months. How do you establish grass with that kind of rain season?

Hey, I am all for pastured meat, and I'm for restoring grasslands, WHERE APPROPRIATE. But, at some point, you have to face up to the climate you are dealing with. If you have 3-4 months to raise the livestock (on the good years when the rains come), then you have to work with that. It may not be profitable to run livestock, even if you do have grass. If it is dry for 9 months of the year, you are not getting any grass established during that time, and I don't care how water efficient it is, it still requires a drink to sprout.

I've had the best success in my area by just letting the grass grow for 1-3 years, until it is real thick. Then, right before the rainy season, I let 20 cows strip graze it down (not my cows). It takes them about 4-6 weeks to graze my 10 acres. They don't get much out of it, because it is dry grass, but they help break everything down, and when the rains start, the grass grows back thicker. I could probably bring them back through once or twice during the rain season to mow things down again, but I'm usually too busy with my own stuff to worry about someone else's cows.

So, there's a good example for you. 2-3 passes a year for 20 cows on 10 acres. If I do much more than that, it really starts hurting the grass. What are your suggestions for turning a profit from our situation?

Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1399
Location: Chihuahua Desert
Just to put all of this into perspective, in the state where I live, Chihuahua, we lost over 100,000 head of cattle in 2011 from starvation, because of the drought. Everyone I know that have cows are selling out, not only because they haven't turned a profit in a decade, but because they are tired of hauling water and feed to their animals. The only cattle folks that are making money here are the feedlots, and even they are hurting (cost of feed).

Feed prices have skyrocketed in the last year. Alfalfa is now at $10 a bale, and at this time last year, it was $3 a bale. Corn has tripled in price, too.

It would be a wonderful thing if we could find a species that could grow fast enough in 4 months of wet season to provide a profit. We're not there, yet.

I am open to any and all suggestions of how to restore grasslands and make a profit in our climate. It would help thousands of families.
tyler wallace


Joined: Apr 14, 2012
Posts: 6
Location: Bellevue, Washington
wow, this is a really controversial topic. i think ill go for a walk in the woods and think about it.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1399
Location: Chihuahua Desert
back to the original point of this thread, here are a few rebuttals to McWilliams' article:
http://www.huntgatherlove.com/content/myth-sustainable-meat-and-james-mcwilliams
http://letthemeatmeat.com/post/21109713495/james-mcwilliams-asks-us-to-dream-of-vegan-utopias-not

It is interesting to me that this article is getting so much attention. I mean, who would ever think that a historian would be so knowledgeable in food production systems...
Boyd Craven


Joined: Mar 20, 2012
Posts: 16
Location: Linden, Michigan
Abe Connally wrote:Feed prices have skyrocketed in the last year. Alfalfa is now at $10 a bale, and at this time last year, it was $3 a bale. Corn has tripled in price, too.

It would be a wonderful thing if we could find a species that could grow fast enough in 4 months of wet season to provide a profit. We're not there, yet.

I am open to any and all suggestions of how to restore grasslands and make a profit in our climate. It would help thousands of families.


I've been reading this thread with some interest. I run these same arguments through my own head on a daily basis. What I CAN say for certain is only what I have done with my own hands, personally. I live in the NE United States, in Michigan. There are far fewer large chunks of land here to do ANY kind of farming, be it meat or vegetable than there was in my youth. I feel safe in saying that it will be rare that many large chunks of land will ever be recreated in the future. What does this mean for future farmers? That they will be working with smaller farms, which utilize smaller equipment, to grow smaller amounts of crops but more variety, with less overhead, less transportation, less employment (outside the family), and smaller animals, that require less space, less equipment required to process animals and get to the table.

I retired very young from the workforce, and enjoy spending my days almost entirely on this subject. I never did it before, so I came into it with no preconceived ideas about how our food streams and waste streams flow. I researched them both, and continue to do so. Up here, all the land has been chopped up into smaller pieces to build sub-divisions of homes, apartment buildings and shopping malls filled with people. All of these people live somewhere, and all of these somewheres have lawns up here. Big lawns, that require time and equipment to care for. Land fills for all of the yard wastes to be dumped at. We have a separate truck that comes around once a week to pick up nothing but yard refuse! So we have exchanged big chunks of land with large equipment making food, for small chunks of land with small equipment making trash. I see this not as a problem, but as an OPPORTUNITY!

I started a 20x20ft garden in my backyard of my 120x120ft city lot at my home. I acquired a trio of Californian rabbits. They, of course had babies. These babies became my guinea pigs to see just how much of this yard waste stream could be turned into valuable meat protein in virtually NO space that I didn't already have. I ADJUSTED the plants in my garden, the trees in my yard and the ornamentals around my house to things that they can eat. My neighbors saw what I am doing. Their children come to visit the animals and learn about food streams and waste streams. They bring kitchen waste to feed the rabbits from their house. They are given rabbits when they are ready to raise their own. They learn to overcome the Easter bunny syndrome and eat rabbit too. The local papers write about "Green Initiatives" going on. The local grocers are quick to offer salad bar waste (that they threw away anyhow) to the initiative for publicity. I named the initiative The Urban Rabbit Project. Slowly, more people are learning about it. I plan to purchase a small pellet mill to turn excess local waste stream into "foul weather" feed for the community, and to document the process on my Facebook page. Others are interested in doing the same. This is my fiendish plot to overthrow the local waste stream!

Now to DESIGN the "stacked systems" that Abe Connally has mentioned to fit into my manifesto of change. The paradigm shift from big animals to small animals that are better for us any how. Maybe I'll grow some evil worms to give to the children that visit and teach them to catch a fish. Maybe some day I'll be allowed to keep a couple of hens to give fresh eggs, so the children can learn where they come from too. Maybe I'll share some rabbit and worm poop with the little, old lady up the street and make her prize roses look even prettier! Maybe I'll mow her grass FOR FREE just to use it as rabbit food! There's no end to the evil this could bring about!! muah-ha-ha-ha!

The amount of land HAS NOT CHANGED, it's just different. It now requires a different farming technique, and different, smaller animals. Different regulations will follow slowly. America will remain great. Abe Connally is correct in his assumptions. I am a legend in my own mind. The end. <---Just seeing if you were paying attention all the way to the end!
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1399
Location: Chihuahua Desert
Boyd, I applaud your experiments into producing local food sustainably. You are very lucky in that you live in an area that has a lot of resources in the form of massive waste streams. Using those waste streams to produce food is a smart method.

I do think that going towards smaller livestock makes a lot of sense for a lot of areas. In my area, for example, I can raise litters of rabbits to market size within the 4 month window when we have grass. Incorporating some external waste streams into my system allows me to extend that window a bit.

It's all about using the resources you have.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
For a few years I tried to raise pastured poultry but found it too difficult due to having to move the heavy pens and also trouble with predators. I still feel I want and need to improve how I've incorporated animals into my design. I presently have stationary reasonably secure housing for the poultry and let them forage in the yard or as far as they want to walk during the day, but because I have several flocks with birds who fight, I can't let them all out at once. Still not sure how to solve this problem in an affordable and manageable way. On our mostly heavily wooded and rough 20 acres we don't have enough open land for grazing animals though I do have 5 sheep which is horribly overstocking our tiny pastures. These are not especially grazing sheep, they are Jacobs who seem to prefer to browse but because we have so many deer (both Whitetail and Axis) there is very little for them to browse so they resort to peeling bark off the trees, killing them. It's a fabulous example of not managing animals properly on the land. We've decided when these pet sheep pass away we won't be replacing them with any other herbivore because we don't have facilities appropriate for them.
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2583
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  47
Abe Connally wrote:
You can feed manure from herbivores to most omnivores without issue (as long as the source is healthy, disease free). In the wild, omnivores will often seek out fresh manure from the herbivores, because passing that veggie matter through the gut of the herbivore breaks it down a bit, and opens up the nutrients.


Funny you should mention that. I just read The Saccharine Disease: Conditions caused by the Taking of Refined Carbohydrates, such as Sugar and White Flour. Cleave mentions Eskimos, or maybe Inuit eating raindeer droppings as a vegetable!
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1399
Location: Chihuahua Desert
I could see that happening. We can't digest grass very well, but after a pass through a reindeer, I bet there's some nutrition to be had, there.

If you've ever grazed pigs after grazing the cows, you can see it in action. Pigs love cow manure.
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2583
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  47
I have put the pigs in after the cows.

I'd also like to point out one odd statement from the article. The author suggests not killing the animals and just letting them live out there natural life on pasture. Perhaps he doesn't realize that you simply can't have so many males together or they will kill each other. This is true of bulls and roosters certainly. It would add all sorts of complications to (to you separate them or allow unrestricted breeding and so on).
wayne stephen
steward

Joined: Mar 11, 2012
Posts: 1565
Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
    
  87
7 Billion humans who eat too much is probably not sustainable. We are omnivorous links in the food web and are just as destructive as elephants when we live the way evolution has decreed we do. Elephants create savannah from forests , so do we. Its just a matter of scale and following biological principles. A great book is Richard Leakeys " The Sixth Extinction " . All about the 5 previous mass extinctions in the past and the sixth one we are creating now. Frightening. Unlike elephants though , we choose this pattern of behavior. Sustainable biodiversity , sustainable food web , sustainable ecosphere. Siberian pea shrub in Kentucky , Heitage Turkeys and Tomatos , Grey wolves , Mountain gorillas . We have the choice to farm and garden this planet - who knows what DNA will survive this period of decimation. Veganism is not a part of our evolutionary pattern and neither is 3 full belly meals a day for a lifetime. Keep growing stuff , eat less and work hard - stay healthy . Create biomass - fiber , poop , feathers , fur , bones , leaves , soil critters . The race is on. Excuse my meandering , its early.


Permaculture is CPR for the planet !


Jonathan Fuller


Joined: Feb 17, 2012
Posts: 29
greg patrick wrote:OK, I'll bite. I don't see planting yams and spreading compost over hundreds of millions of acres as a viable option. I will admit that the area under my deciduous trees is pretty mulchy and nice, but taking acreage offline for a generation isn't necessarily a great option either when running cattle over grass would provide food and restore the land immediately.

How else?


First a quick disclaimer, I am a vegetarian (not vegan, ovo-lacto) and have no problem with folks that want to eat meat. Also it's been about 15 years since I took an anthropology course so my memory may be playing tricks on me. Additionally I have not read much about Joel salatin and his techniques.

Okay on to my actual point.

I remember from that 15 year old anthro course that one of the major causes of the dust bowl was the removal of bison and replacement with cattle. Bison, with their pointy hooves would actually aerate the soil thus increaseing the productivity of the plains not only through the dropping of manure but through the encouragement of aerobic soil bateria, opeing up of grass root zones etc. While cattle with their flat hooves packed the soild down and made it harder on the microbiota, worms, grasses, prairie dogs, etc. How is this addressed in modern sustainable grass farming? I can see raising bison on the plains being really good for the grass lands though, and they are an excellent nutrient dense food animal (As i typed that I got a little twinge of concience for thinking of any animal as simply 'food' but that's neither here nor there).

I think that an important thing to remember, and something that is often overlooked by 'militant vegans' as well as militant meat eaters (not talking about y'all, just saying that there are people that don't think vegetables are edible) is balance. are animals vital to the health of an ecosystem? of course. To think otherwise is foolishness. but so are plants, fungei, etc.

someone mentioned the importance of local production. I think this is more important that any other aspect of production. The added inputs needed to transport anything 1,000, 2,000 or 13,000 miles is never going to work out if you take petroleum out of the equation.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
The more I read about McWilliams the more I think he is a goofball with wacky ideas about how everyone else should live and eat. He seems to be anti-diversity, which to me means anti-life, even if he is a vegan.

R Scott


Joined: Apr 13, 2012
Posts: 2308
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
    
  28
Any one that says 'X is the ONLY way' is stupid, ignorant, or has an agenda.

All ecosystems are LOCAL!!! What works for me doesn't work for my friends down the road, let alone a whole nation or the world all doing the same thing. What worked a thousand (or hundred or even ten) years ago might not work today as we have changed the ecosystem by our presence.

As far as the local vs. transport thing--it isn't so easy. If you grow that food where it grows best and then transport it, it could be less total input than if you try to grow it local in a less than ideal growing region. Local can add resilency to the food supply--whether it is from fuel shortages or large crop failures--but it is hard to feed a city either way. It isn't an easy thing to balance on the national/world scale.


"You must be the change you want to see in the world." "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." --Mahatma Gandhi
"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." --Francis of Assisi. "Family farms work when the whole family works the farm." -- Adam Klaus
Jonathan Fuller


Joined: Feb 17, 2012
Posts: 29
R wannabe wrote:Any one that says 'X is the ONLY way' is stupid, ignorant, or has an agenda.

All ecosystems are LOCAL!!! What works for me doesn't work for my friends down the road, let alone a whole nation or the world all doing the same thing. What worked a thousand (or hundred or even ten) years ago might not work today as we have changed the ecosystem by our presence.

As far as the local vs. transport thing--it isn't so easy. If you grow that food where it grows best and then transport it, it could be less total input than if you try to grow it local in a less than ideal growing region. Local can add resilency to the food supply--whether it is from fuel shortages or large crop failures--but it is hard to feed a city either way. It isn't an easy thing to balance on the national/world scale.



Hear hear! I will say though, that instead of transporting crop X from where it grows well to where it doesn't perhaps it would make more sense to find a crop Y that grows well in places that crop X doesn't but provides similar utility.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14983
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
So I'm putting on my moderator hat.

First, I wanna say that I think this is a hot topic for a lot of people and I think that this whole discussion has turned out far smoother than it probably has on other forums. I'm a proud evil emperor.

Of course, we have the thing where it is not okay to suggest that anybody on permies is anything less than perfect. I think that has been followed pretty well, although I wanna point a coupla things out. I would have liked it better if we could disagree with an outside article and not take a baseball bat to that person. Maybe next time.

I do wish to press that "the truth" is not okay here. Instead, stuff needs to be presented as "my position". "The truth" makes it so that any alternative positions presented are entering into conflict, so those gentle folks might choose to not present their position which I want to read.

It is true that Mr. Salatin and others must import corn


If this statement were presented as "I think Mr. Salatin and others import corn because ____" then it would fit more within my comfort zone.

(I hope that someday Mr. Salatin takes on some of Mr. Holzer's approach and can eliminate his feed bill)

He uses very poor examples; but none the less his argument is valid


I would prefer that this read "I think he uses poor examples. I think his argument is valid." so that others could then be allowed to think that the argument is, say, not valid. And they could say that without thinking that they are entering into conflict.

Bottom line - all 300,000,000 Americans can not sustainably eat meat.


Again, stated as "the truth". I would rather it were stated as "my position"

(BTW: my position is that all 300,000,000 american can sustainably eat meat. I think this is a big part of permaculture)

I really enjoyed the part where we moved into discussion about systems feeding systems and how permaculture is greater than what is being considered in the article.

I'm all for stacking functions, too, but with a healthy dose of realistic expectations.


Rather than saying this, I would have liked to have seen "I like the idea of what you are presenting. I wish to present the same thing, but these are the numbers that I prefer: ..."

I suppose I should delete some stuff here. But it seems kinda on the edge. Maybe if I leave it this time, and say the stuff I've said, things will be smoother in the future?

Are the lawyers in the audience happy?




I kinda want this poster to rise above posting this sort of thing. At the same time, he has a point.

I would like to ask that folks use the "report to moderator" button when things might slide outside of my comfort zone. Hopefully I'll be more responsive in the future so that people don't feel they need to say things like this.

------------------------------------------

There are more bits and bobs. I hope that from this post on things can be more respectful and maybe these forums will end up being a the calm voice of reason for a path forward.
















sign up for my daily-ish email / rocket mass heater 4-DVD set / permaculture playing cards
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1399
Location: Chihuahua Desert
I posted that last line, sorry. Sometimes (often) my fingers get ahead of my judgement...

I am really happy with the overall discussion in this thread, and I think some major points were discussed rather peacefully, which is rare in this type of thread. I do hope that we can continue the discussion in a respectful manner, and I will try and pay attention to what I'm typing.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1399
Location: Chihuahua Desert
Cj Verde wrote:I have put the pigs in after the cows.

I'd also like to point out one odd statement from the article. The author suggests not killing the animals and just letting them live out there natural life on pasture. Perhaps he doesn't realize that you simply can't have so many males together or they will kill each other. This is true of bulls and roosters certainly. It would add all sorts of complications to (to you separate them or allow unrestricted breeding and so on).

One of the scariest things I've ever seen was a pair of boars fighting, and eventually one killed the other. This was completely the fault of the owner, and he had made a mistake by leaving a gate open, but it is something that I will never forget and I never want to relive that.

For that reason, we only keep one boar that is over 8 months old on the property at any given moment. All the little boys born on the property must be sold or butchered by 8 months old. Period.
Boyd Craven


Joined: Mar 20, 2012
Posts: 16
Location: Linden, Michigan
Abe Connally wrote:we only keep one boar that is over 8 months old on the property at any given moment. All the little boys born on the property must be sold or butchered by 8 months old. Period.


I find the same thing to be true with my rabbit herd. After 4 months, my young bucks try to run each other off, so to have the does and the turf for themselves. However, when in hutches or grazer runs, there is nowhere else to run off to. Therefore, unless sold, they wind up on my table or in my freezer at about 100 days, before they tear each other up. I have never been able to NOT control the numbers by sex.

My does however, if kept only with other not pregnant does, get along famously. They graze evenly and fertilize evenly on the land. They have a habit of digging. As long as they are able to move, they don't usually "dig to China", just little bits. It seems to do the pasture good. In my short experience of just going on 3 years with them, the soil where they have spent their time is much more alive and vibrant that when I started. Wild birds galore peck through the grass where the rabbits have been and leave seeds from whatever they have been eating nearby. I find new kinds of plants all of the time. The new plants that don't take too well to being grazed by a rabbit don't survive. Back to the point though, the does, if managed to a number that allows for enough food to go around seem to be quite a sustainable source of meat. They just hang out there until I need them, or until winter when the grass dies out for the season and I take them all to freezer camp.
Boyd Craven


Joined: Mar 20, 2012
Posts: 16
Location: Linden, Michigan
R wannabe wrote:As far as the local vs. transport thing--it isn't so easy. If you grow that food where it grows best and then transport it, it could be less total input than if you try to grow it local in a less than ideal growing region. Local can add resilency to the food supply--whether it is from fuel shortages or large crop failures--but it is hard to feed a city either way. It isn't an easy thing to balance on the national/world scale.


You have a valid point, depending on how you define local. I personally like to think of "local" as within the county. My goal is to identify someone, or help teach someone in every State of the United States to become a local “backyard meat rabbit” resource. Then, with their assistance, identify or teach someone to do the same in every county, parish, or borough in every State of the United States. That's all 3,143 of them!

To me, that would put what I consider a very sustainable source of the highest quality of meat locally available to every person in the USA. That my friends is no myth, it's a work in progress!!
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1399
Location: Chihuahua Desert
Boyd, would you mind starting a new thread outlining your methods and successes/failures with rabbit production on a small, sustainable scale? I think we all could learn a lot.

I keep my does in a colony, and although they get along most of the time, there are territories and skirmishes now and then. For the most part, good animal management involves reading your herd/group for issues and making changes accordingly. Sometimes those "changes" result in a Sunday roast.

My pigs are a similar setup just on a larger scale. We rotate them through areas to help us terrace our rocky/clay hill. They tend to make huge nesting sites in groups of juniper, and those areas become nice and level, fine planting areas. If an individual becomes a problem, for whatever reason, they are culled.

The guineas follow the pigs around, and assist in turning the soil. They tend to stick near the pig bathrooms and clean up the pig manure. Wild birds (dove, quail, etc) also frequent the pig areas and help gather the leftover nutrition.

I try and gather guinea and pig manure for my BSF bin, and those little guys go to the guineas. Our rabbit manure goes to earthworm beds, and the earthworms are treats for guineas.

Most of these integrations are not optimized, and I could see adding several more species in the mix to help recover and transition nutrients. The possibilities are endless. For the most part, we bring in food for the rabbits and the pigs, and everything cascades from there. When and where possible, the feed we bring in is from local waste streams (orchard mowing, weeding, windfall fruit, wild foods, milk, etc). Some of the feed is from the regional grain mill, which is semi-locally produced (produced in a 20 mile radius of the mill).

Now, something to note. Our main motive is not sustainability, it's cost. It's cheaper for me to gather mesquite beans in our local village than to drive 60 miles to the grain mill. It's cheaper to gather a few tons of apples than buy the corn equivalent. We produce 90% of the meat we eat within a stone's throw of the front door. That other 10% comes from eating out, vacations, barter, etc. The animals pay for themselves, and generally earn a profit from surplus, making our meat free.

In some areas/situations, people will pay you to take advantage of their waste streams. I've been offered to clean fallen fruit, nuts, prunings, etc from yards and farms for money. How's that for profitable sustainability?

No one has yet offered me money to buy something at the grain mill.
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2583
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  47
A recent letter from Joel to the NY Times.......

To the New York Times and everyone interested in truth:

The recent editorial by James McWilliams titled THE MYTH OF SUSTAINABLE MEAT contains enough factual errors and skewed assumptions to fill a book and normally I would dismiss this out of hand as too much nonsense to merit a response. But since it specifically mentioned Polyface, a rebuttal is appropriate. For a more comprehensive rebuttal, read the book FOLKS, THIS AIN'T NORMAL.

Let's go point by point. First, that grass grazing cows emit more methane than grain-fed. This is factually false. Actually, the amount of methane emitted by fermentation is the same whether it occurs in the cow or outside. Whether the feed is eaten by an herbivore or left to rot on its own, the methane generated is identical. Wetlands emit some 95 percent of all methane in the world; herbivores are insignificant enough to not even merit consideration. Anyone who really wants to stop methane needs to start draining wetlands. Quick, or we'll all perish. I assume he's figuring that since it takes longer to grow a beef on grass than on grain, the difference in time adds days to the emissions. But grain production carries a host of maladies far worse than methane. This is simply cherry-picking one negative out of many positives to smear the foundation of how soil builds: herbivore pruning, perennial disturbance-rest cycles, solar-grown biomass, and decomposition. This is like demonizing marriage because a good one will include some arguments.

As for his notion that it takes too much land to grass-finish, his figures of 10 acres per animal are assuming the current normal mismanagement of pastures. At Polyface, we call it neanderthal management because most livestock farmers have not yet joined the 20th century with electric fencing, ponds, piped water, and modern scientific aerobic composting (only as old as chemical fertilization). Hence, while his figures comparing the relative production of grain to grass may sound compelling, they are like comparing the learning opportunities under a terrible teacher versus a magnificent teacher. Many farmers, in many different climates, are now using space-age technology, bio-mimicry, and close management to get exponential increases in forage production. The rain forest, by the way, is not being cut to graze cattle. It's being cut to grow transgenic corn and soybeans. North America had twice as many herbivores 500 years ago than it does today due to the pulsing of the predator-prey-pruning cycle on perennial prairie polycultures. And that was without any corn or soybeans at all.

Apparently if you lie often and big enough, some people will believe it: pastured chicken has a 20 percent greater impact on global warming? Says who? The truth is that those industrial chicken houses are not stand-alone structures. They require square miles of grain to be carted into them, and square miles of land to handle the manure. Of course, many times that land is not enough. To industrial farmers' relief, more often than not a hurricane comes along just in time to flush the toilet, kill the fish, and send pathogens into the ocean. That's a nice way to reduce the alleged footprint, but it's devilish sleight of hand with the data to assume that ecological toxicity compensates for the true land base needed to sustain a factory farm.

While it's true that at Polyface our omnivores (poultry and pigs) do eat local GMO (genetically modified organism) free grain in addition to the forage, the land base required to feed and metabolize the manure is no different than that needed to sustain the same animals in a confinement setting. Even if they ate zero pasturage, the land is the same. The only difference is our animals get sunshine, exercise, fresh pasture salad bars, fresh air, and a respectful life. Chickens walking on pasture certainly do not have any more leg sprains than those walking in a confinement facility. To suggest otherwise, as McWilliams does, is sheer nonsense. Walking is walking--and it's generally considered to be a healthy practice, unless you're a tyrant.

Interestingly, in a lone concession to compassion, McWilliams decries ranging hogs with rings in their noses to keep them from rooting, lamenting that this is "one of their most basic instincts." Notice that he does not reconcile this moral imperative with his love affair toward confinement hog factories. Nothing much to use their noses for in there. For the record, Polyface never rings hog noses, and in the few cases where we've purchased hogs with rings, we take them out. We want them to fully express their pigness. By moving them frequently using modern electric fencing, polyethylene water piping, high tech float valves, and scientifically designed feed dispensers, we do not create nor suffer the problems encountered by earlier large-scale outdoor hog operations a hundred years ago. McWilliams has apparently never had the privilege of visiting a first-rate modern highly managed pastured hog operation. He thinks we're all stuck in the early 1900s, and that's a shame because he'd discover the answers to his concerns are already here. I wonder where his paycheck comes from?

Then McWilliams moves on to the argument that economic realities would kick in if pastured livestock became normal, driving farmers to scale up and end up right where we are today. What a clever ploy: justify the horrible by eliminating the alternatives. At Polyface, we certainly do not discourage scaling up--we actually encourage it. We think more pasture-based farms should scale up. Between the current abysmal state of mismanagement, however, and efficient operations, is an astronomical opportunity to enjoy economic AND ecological advantages. McWilliams is basing his data and assumptions on the poorest, the average or below. If you want to demonize something, always pick the lowest performers. But if you compare the best the industry has to offer with the best the pasture-based systems have to offer, the factory farms don't have a prayer. Using portable infrastructure, tight management, and techno-glitzy tools, farmers running pastured hog operations practically eliminate capitalization costs and vet bills.

Finally, McWilliams moves to the knock-out punch in his discussion of nutrient cycling, charging specifically that Polyface is a charade because it depends on grain from industrial farms to maintain soil fertility. First of all, at Polyface we do not assume that all nutrient movement is anti-environmental. In fact, one of the biggest reasons for animals in nature is to move nutrients uphill, against the natural gravitational flow from high ground to low ground. This is why low lands and valleys are fertile and the uplands are less so. Animals are the only mechanism nature has to defy this natural downward flow. Fortunately, predators make the prey animals want to lounge on high ground (where they can see their enemies), which insures that manure will concentrate on high look-out spots rather than in the valleys. Perhaps this is why no ecosystem exists that is devoid of animals. The fact is that nutrient movement is inherently nature-healing.

BUT, it doesn't move very far. And herein lies the difference between grain used at Polyface and that used by the industry: we care where ours comes from. It's not just a commodity. It has an origin and an ending, start to finish, farmer to eater. The closer we can connect the carbon cycles, the more environmentally normal we will become.

Secondly, herbivores are the exception to the entire negative nutrient flow argument because by pruning back the forage to restart the rapid biomass accumulation photsynthetic engine, the net carbon flow compensates for anything lost through harvest. Herbivores do not require tillage or annuals and that is why all historically deep soils have been created by them, not by omnivores. It's fascinating that McWilliams wants to demonize pasture-based livestock for not closing all the nutrient loops, but has no problem, apparently, with the horrendous nutrient toxicity like dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey created by chemical fertilizer run off to grow grain so that the life of a beef could be shortened. Unbelievable. In addition, this is one reason Polyface continues to fight for relaxing food safety regulations to allow on-farm slaughtering, precisely so we can indeed keep all these nutrients on the farm and not send them the rendering plants. If the greenies who don't want historically normal farm activities like slaughter to occur on rural acreage could understand how devastating these government regulations actually are to the environmental economy, perhaps McWilliams wouldn't have this bullet in his arsenal. And yes, human waste should be put back on the land as well, to help close the loop.

Third, at Polyface, we struggle upstream. Historically, omnivores were salvage operations. Hogs ate spoiled milk, whey, acorns, chestnuts, spoiled fruit and a host of other farmstead products. Ditto for chickens, who dined on kitchen scraps and garden refuse. That today 50 percent of all the human edible food produced in the world goes into landfills or greenie-endorsed composting operations rather than through omnivores is both ecologically and morally reprehensible. At Polyface, we've tried for many, many years to get kitchen scraps back from restaurants to feed our poultry, but the logistics are a nightmare. The fact is that in America we have created a segregated food and farming system. In the perfect world, Polyface would not sell eggs. Instead, every kitchen, both domestic and commercial, would have enough chickens proximate to handle all the scraps. This would eliminate the entire egg industry and current heavy grain feeding paradigm. At Polyface, we only purport to be doing the best we can do as we struggle through a deviant, historically abnormal food and farming system. We didn't create what is and we may not solve it perfectly. But we're sure a lot farther toward real solutions than McWilliams can imagine. And if society would move where we want to go, and the government regulators would let us move where we need to go, and the industry would not try to criminalize us as we try to go there, we'll all be a whole lot better off and the earthworms will dance.

Joel Salatin
Polyface Farm
M Marx


Joined: Feb 14, 2012
Posts: 57
Location: Los Angeles
Nice, thanks for posting that -- exactly what I was looking for.
Was it published then?
It seems McWilliams was baiting folks, but it also seems to me unconscionable to let accusations like that stand unchallenged.
Maybe how I was raised (we argue a lot)
Kudos to Joel Salatin for addressing the letter.
Joseph Campbell kept talking about how we need to create new myths (sorry best I could do with the mythical creature that's actually real conceit -- maybe the new hero myth is about a farmer? but that's another thread)
ps
thanks to all the knowledgeable posters -- i sure learned a bunch.
J.D. Ray


Joined: Apr 01, 2012
Posts: 44
Abe Connally wrote:Here's a little example: 100 lbs of veggies is sent to your local restaurant. ...snip... At the restaurant, another 30lbs or so is thrown away or not eaten.


Umm... As a restaurant owner, I'd be horrified if I thought that 30% of the produce coming into my operation were getting thrown away. Of course, we're not a mega-plate type place. We aim to right-size portions, and find that most customers finish what we serve them and don't order extra, an indicator that we got the portion right. And as far as the waste goes, you might be surprised how close our chef trims things. Sure, there's biomass waste in the prep process, but it's nowhere near the volume that you suggest.

Other than that, this has been a fascinating discussion so far, and I'm interested to see where it goes. I wonder how capybaras are as meat animals. They're grazers, aren't they? Just a thought.

Cheers.

JD
Brad Davies
volunteer

Joined: Sep 22, 2011
Posts: 212
Location: Clarkston, MI
    
    8
Thanks for posting that CJ.

I'm going to score this one:

Joel Salatin 1
James McWilliams 0

paul wheaton wrote: First, I wanna say that I think this is a hot topic for a lot of people and I think that this whole discussion has turned out far smoother than it probably has on other forums. I'm a proud evil emperor.


Totally agree with this!

Kudos to everyone for keeping this a civil discussion / debate.

paul wheaton wrote: I would have liked it better if we could disagree with an outside article and not take a baseball bat to that person.


...But...But.... **sigh** *slowly drags baseball bat back to garage and puts it away with a heavy heart, then a slow smile draws across his face as he remembers...*

paul wheaton wrote: Maybe next time.


Muahahahahahaha Maybe next time


SE, MI, Zone 5b "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
~Thomas Edison
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1399
Location: Chihuahua Desert
J.D. Ray wrote:
Abe Connally wrote:Here's a little example: 100 lbs of veggies is sent to your local restaurant. ...snip... At the restaurant, another 30lbs or so is thrown away or not eaten.


Umm... As a restaurant owner, I'd be horrified if I thought that 30% of the produce coming into my operation were getting thrown away. Of course, we're not a mega-plate type place. We aim to right-size portions, and find that most customers finish what we serve them and don't order extra, an indicator that we got the portion right. And as far as the waste goes, you might be surprised how close our chef trims things. Sure, there's biomass waste in the prep process, but it's nowhere near the volume that you suggest.

Congrats on that! Your operation is not the norm, though (unfortunately).

1/3 of all food that gets to the plates of Americans goes to the trash. And before it ever gets to those plates, half of it is thrown away en route. But, we can turn that trash into treasure through the incorporation of waste streams into our food systems.
Colin Fontaine


Joined: Sep 27, 2011
Posts: 8
I find the real problem here is trying to supply billions of people with sufficient meat for their diet.

Meat was originally hunted and that was the only source, population is limited by food. With the advent of industrial farming there came industrial meat. There is no sustainable meat because not everyone can eat grass fed pasture meat or poultry, we have passed that point. We must either lower our consumption of meat or lower the population or both.

Jonathan Fuller


Joined: Feb 17, 2012
Posts: 29
I thought Joel's response was good. If a little defensive, but you have to defend yourself sometimes.

On a lighter note, I thought this sentence fragment was amzingly aliterative

"pulsing of the predator-prey-pruning cycle on perennial prairie polycultures"
 
 
subject: The "Myth" of Sustainable Meat?
 
cast iron skillet 49er

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