Is it possible that we're so smart we're actually quite ignorant?  Do our beliefs about our nation's wealth mask the reality of its indebtedness?  Do our beliefs about our freedom mask the degree of our servility to Big Government and Big Business?  Does our smugness regarding the integrity of our country's currency mask the reality of its history of debasement?  Does the posturing and statements of our leaders mask their record of lies?  And, closer to home, does the abundance, low price, and convenience of our food supply mask its nutritional deficiencies that bring sickness and death to millions of people before their time?

Yes, those of us in agriculture live in an age of cloning, genetic engineering, satellite imagery, global positioning navigation, cellular phones, and computerized everything.  Mass production, extensive inputs, elaborate transportation systems, complicated machinery, sophisticated marketing, round-the-clock communication, high yields, Wall Street financing, and plenty of energy from electrical and petroleum sources are the keys to success in modern agriculture.

The Cradle of Life

When I was in college, I took a course in oceanography.  One of the assigned books was “Exploring the Secrets of the Sea” written by William J. Cromie and published in 1962.  Here are a few excerpts from that book.

“The ocean was the cradle of life.”

“Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen make up 99% of all living matter.  Hence, at the very moment of its formation, the ocean contained all the ingredients of living substance.”

“There are on earth today certain green and purple bacteria (sometimes called ‘microbes’ or ‘germs’) which are capable of using the sun's energy to help them break down organic matter.  These are probably decedents of the first organisms that increased their efficiency in this way.  But organisms like these only decreased the amount of ready-made organic material still further, while the amount of carbon dioxide released as a waste product rabidity increased.  Before the organic material was completely used up, however, certain green colored cells evolved a way to make their own food from the carbon dioxide, water, and some of the inorganic materials in the oceanic soup.  They did this by using energy from the sun together with the chemical action of the green pigment.  This pigment is known as chlorophyll (‘green leaf’) and the process of making organic material as photosynthesis (‘putting together by light’).

“This was a tremendous step forward.  For the first time the organisms no longer had to depend on the food supply of the ocean:  they could make their own.  These first green cells were the ancestors of all the prolific forests and the grasslands that Charles Darwin marveled at on his trip around the world.  Indeed, they were the ancestors of all the plant kingdom.”

Cromie reemphasized the importance of green plants with this quote:  “Diatoms and other one-celled plants are the ‘grasses’ of the sea.  They take the place of prairies and rich pastures on land, and are grazed on by all marine vegetarians.”

This is beyond mere information.  Knowing that leafy green plants, not grain, are the foundation food for animal life in the sea and on land is wisdom.  Folks in agriculture own or lease land.  If they raise leafy green plants to not only feed the animals they raise for food, but also for the dinner table, they are producing a perfect balance of the fundamental nutrients all bodies require for energy and nutrition.  This knowledge is power.  If farmers introduce foreign foodstuffs, such as grain, or if they raise grain, they are diluting the nutritional levels of not only the diets of their critters they feed it to, but their own diet and the diets of all their consumers.  Consequently, when raising and feeding grain, folks in agriculture dilute their power and increase the probability of developing disease in animals and man.

Bogged Down with Information

Life today is filled with information.  In fact, our era is frequently called the “Information Age.”  But much of our information has so little connection with reality or is so superfluous that it's actually worthless or even harmful.  For instance, do we really need cloning, genetic engineering, satellite imagery, global positioning navigation, cellular phones, and computerized everything in order to produce the food we eat?  Is it possible that life is really a lot simpler than this?  Maybe what we need to know most is how to work with nature.  Maybe my simple focus on economic and environmental sustainability by operating in harmony with nature is a better way to go than the so-called modern approach of hammering out production by overcoming nature with big inputs.  Just maybe, what man knew years ago about farming (the Ol’ MacDonald's Farm approach?) is all we need to know.

To get an idea of what the old-timers knew I reviewed my autographed copy of “The Pasture Book” by W. R. Thompson, who referred to himself as “The Pasture Man.”  My eleventh edition copy was published in 1963.  In his forward he wrote, “I think the most beautiful route to prosperity is across green pastures.”

Let me paraphrase some of his “antiquated” ideas.  Plant multiple species of the more favorable grasses and legumes for your area to ensure year-round grass production.  The best pasture is 50% grass and 50% clover.  Take soil samples.  If needed, the most important fertilizer is lime.  Pastures should be fertilized with a complete fertilizer to feed both grasses and legumes.  A minimum of 60 pounds of actual N, P, and K should be applied each year.  Never overgraze.  Use electric fencing to divide pastures, and move cattle at least once a week.  Spray for weed control.  Bale hay when it's 24 days old.  Fence off your ponds and use water points.

From where I sit, his advice sounds about as good as it gets -- even today!

If we have land, we can grow grass and legumes for grazing and trees and shrubs for browsing.  These leafy green forages provide the perfect balance of nutrients all critters require.  Because man has a small stomach, he must eat meat for added nutrients.  If he wants the best in nutrition, his meat must come from livestock that grazed on leafy green plants.  Please pause for a moment and say out loud how many species of domestic livestock there are that can live and thrive by grazing and browsing.  You have 60 seconds to name the primary species.

Ready for the answers?  On my ranch and the ranches of a few close friends of mine who are also grass-fed producers, we have a wide variety of livestock species.  We have cattle, horses, goats, sheep, pigs, bison (buffalo), chickens, geese, ducks, guineas, and rabbits.  In every case, far and away the greatest percentage of the daily diet of all these critters is pasture grasses and browse.  Yes, our chickens graze just like hogs and the hogs graze just like cattle!  If we supplement at all, it's with alfalfa pellets, alfalfa hay, and grass hay.  We never feed grain.  And, hardest to comprehend for most folks, we haven't fed hay (or supplements of any kind other than minerals) to our cattle since January 1998.  We do it all with our pastures.

Pigs Graze Like Cows

Even way back in 1963, many folks in the livestock industry had already forgotten that pigs graze just like cows.  Today's pig farmers are convinced that pigs require grain to survive.  Yet 50 years ago W. R. Thompson wrote:  “Many farmers wonder whether hogs will graze like other animals.  If you wonder, just turn a sow in a good clover field and watch her.”  Tell me, how many domestic hogs have you seen grazing pastures?  I see 'em every day.

If we turn the clock back 50 years, what we needed to know about growing the world's best, most nutritious food for both man and beast was in the books.  Oddly enough, that was about the time the Ol'’ MacDonald Farm approach to farming died out.  If we step back in time to 1900, when nearly everyone (even many city folks) grew at least some food, health problems as the masses know them today were few and far between.

Strange isn't it.  We think we're so smart.  Our country has the world's “cheapest” food, the world's most sophisticated farmers, the Biggest Businesses in the world to process and distribute the food, the world's most extensive informational system ever (the most informed consumer!), and the world's Biggest Government police force to monitor food safety.  Yet our highly sophisticated, Big-Government-regulated, Big-Business-food-production-and-processing machinery, consumer-driven society has strayed so far off course it can't deliver real food to the American public.

Big Business focuses first on the bottom line.  If it didn't it would not survive.  Second, it wants to deliver a cheap product, cheaper than everyone else, even if it has to buy it from abroad.  It wants to increase market share.  Third, it is so big, it can't react quickly to scientific facts even when the facts say it has developed a huge, efficient food system that does not work in the best interests of the consumer's health.  Furthermore, if it heard the facts, it would be confronted with the problem of convincing its customers to switch to foods the customers were not used to eating.  That in itself would be highly difficult.  And then last but maybe least, the modern "industrialized production system" would have to face the fact it would be relinquishing its power to the man with a few acres of land who can grow “rich pastures.”

I'd say as a nation we're too smart for our own britches.

What do you think?

Ted Slanker
Slanker Grass-Fed Meat