Farmers want you to have the facts! Here’s what three Ohio beef farm families want you to know.
Thank you to the Ohio Beef Council for sponsoring this post. I’m partnering with them to bring you this information because I believe it’s important that we know where our food comes from and rely on fact, not rumor or sensational documentaries.
Whether you choose to eat beef is your choice. Whether you choose to buy organic or conventional is your choice. And whether you like getting beef at your local farmer’s market or the grocery store is your choice too.
What’s important to me is that you have the correct information so you can make informed choices that feel right to you.
You might also like: How to Buy Meat in Bulk
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of visiting many different farms (all of the photos in this post are ones I’ve taken at Ohio beef farms). I’ve also had the privilege of talking one-on-one with farmers, and I can tell you this:
- They want people to have the facts.
- They want people to visit their farms and see how they do things.
- They want to hear your questions and concerns.
- They want to correct misinformation.
So I decided to reach out to a few farm families here in Ohio, so you can hear from them directly.
What Ohio’s Beef Farm Families Want You To Know
1. We care about our animals. Yes, farmers who raise beef cattle are raising them for food. But there’s a misconception among some people that farmers don’t care about the wellbeing of their animals–when actually, the opposite is true.
“Having a positive environment for the animals is extremely important,” says Erin Stickel, whose family runs Stickel Farms in Bowling Green, Ohio. “Animals that are not well cared for aren’t going to grow and become a high-quality product for consumers. It’s a no-brainer for us.”
If a cow is stressed, not only will it not grow well, but it also releases hormones that impact the taste and quality of the meat–so it’s in farmers’ financial interest to treat their animals well. “If you take care of animals, they’ll take care of you,” says John Grimes, whose family owns Maplecrest Farms in Hillsboro, Ohio.
That means things like managing manure and keeping their living environment dry and comfortable. “Cattle don’t thrive if they live in wet, soggy barns and pastures,” explains Dee Jepsen, whose family runs Dusty Rose Farms in Amanda, Ohio.
It also means knowing your herd well and checking on them daily. “Regular contact with our cattle allows us to scout for health problems, injuries, or other problems that could affect their care like a damaged water trough or a coyote sighting,” she says. “Treating cattle well is the only way to maintain a productive farm, otherwise we couldn’t earn a living to pay for the land, the cattle, and all of the management strategies it takes to raise beef.”
2. The environment matters to us. The impact of raising beef cattle on the environment has gotten a lot of attention. And it’s true it does affect the environment through greenhouse gas production and use of resources (read more about this: Your Questions About Beef–Answered).
But being careful with the land is important to farmers too. “Caring for the environment is one of our biggest concerns,” says Stickel. “Because farming is not only our job, but our way of life, we must protect the land and water that has been entrusted to us.”
Fact is, a lot of cattle in the U.S. are raised on land that’s not suitable for growing crops, such as rocky or hilly areas. Cattle graze on that land and convert it into protein (that’s called “upcycling”). The manure they produce fertilizes row crops on the farm like soy and corn that are used in the food supply or fed back to the cattle. “I would challenge anyone to say that we’re not using the land well,” says Grimes.
Farmers also work with local agencies to make sure they’re using their land safely–like fencing cattle out of waterways and handling manure in a way that doesn’t negatively impact land or water. “Taking care of the waterways with the use of cover crops and responsible manure application are a few ways we work to protect the resources around us,” says Stickel.
Managing the land well is in the farmer’s best interest too. “Taking care of the land takes environmental management,” says Jepsen. “If the land is well managed, it can withstand drought, floods and brush fires, and it can be used to raise livestock successfully.”
3. All beef cattle eat grass. There’s a lot of confusion around grass-fed versus grain-fed beef, and some people think that unless the package says “grass-fed”, the cattle spent their whole lives in a small pen eating grain.
But that isn’t true. “Being outside grazing is a large part of the animal’s life,” says Grimes.
All calves graze on grass and drink their mother’s milk for the first 6-10 months of their lives. Cattle that are 100% grass fed will continue to graze while other cattle will start eating a mixture of corn, hay, and items like soybeans and distillers grains for the remaining months of their lives (most beef cattle are slaughtered at 15-24 months of age).
Some cattle spend their lives birthing calves, and these cows spend many years grazing on pasture.
4. We are careful with antibiotics. Sometimes cattle, like people, need antibiotics to treat an illness. Antibiotics may also be added to feed to treat a larger group of cows that have been exposed to illness, or to help prevent it. All farmers are required by law to work with a veterinarian on any medication use.
“We believe in responsible medicine,” says Grimes. “It’s good animal welfare to take care of animals when they’re sick.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have strict rules about how much medicine the cattle can be given, and how long the waiting period needs to be between being treated and entering the food supply to make sure the antibiotics are cleared from the system.
Carcasses are randomly tested for antibiotic residue at processing facilities, and ones that test positive are not allowed into the food supply. Farmers who send cattle with antibiotic residue can face fines from the USDA, so it’s not in their best interest to cheat the system. “There’s a misconception that residual antibiotics are in the meat, but that’s just not true,” says Stickel.
Antibiotics are also used carefully because they’re so expensive. One small bottle of antibiotics used to treat sick cows can cost upwards of $1000 (considering the profit on each steer could be just $100, it doesn’t make financial sense to use more medication than needed).
5. Farming has become more efficient. The U.S. leads the world in innovations that make farming beef cattle more efficient, so they can produce more with less land, water, and energy.
For instance, with techniques like IVF, DNA testing, and breeding for desirable traits, farmers can raise cattle that grow well and produce better-tasting meat. “It’s a sophisticated operation,” says Grimes. “We can get more with less land.”
That’s one reason why Grimes bristles at the term “factory farm”. “It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” he says. “People think of a factory farm as some kind of sweatshop, but that’s not the way it is. We’re efficient. So if being efficient is being a factory, then so be it. Our family’s beef operation uses modern technology to sustainably manage the natural resources available to us. If we’re going to continue to feed the ever-growing world population, we have to produce more while using the same or less resources. If we’re successful in this effort, hopefully the next generation of this family can play a part of the beef industry in the future.”
6. Farming is a labor of love. What I’ve heard from every farmer, including those raising beef cattle, is that farming is all-consuming work. “Farm work requires 24/7 dedication to caring for your livestock and your crops,” says Jepsen.
When animals are depending on you for their care, there are no days off. You’re in the barn on every holiday. And you’re up at three in the morning in the cold helping to birth a calf. “Farming is an everyday operation. Christmas, New Year’s, your birthday, it’s just part of the life,” says Stickel.
But it’s also work that they’re proud of. In many cases, they’re proud to continue work passed down through generations. And they’re proud of the beef they provide to people in this country and beyond. “The U.S. has the safest food supply in the world,” says Jepsen. “And we’re proud to be part of that system.”