What's In A Name?I came across an article the other day on Discovery News that said that dairy cows with names produce an extra 500 pints a year of milk. Apparently, this study finding was published in January in a journal called Antrozoos. The conclusive findings? Cows with names produce up to 5% more milk than their nameless peers over a 10 month period.
Back when I was younger, naive and foolish, I would have laughed at this finding. You see, I had not been raised around farm animals, and I'd certainly never seen an industrial farming operation. I didn't like to really think about where the food I ate came from or about how the animals were treated. There was a part of me that did not want to think about the gory details of slaughtering an animal. The thought that an animal's life had been taken to put the meat on my plate was too much to bear. And I sure as hell was not about to become a, gasp, VEGETARIAN.
The truth is, the meat industry knows this, so they do their best to shield you from the realities of farming and slaughtering. By the time beef arrives in your grocery store, it's been processed and put in a nice shiny package. And the only images of cows you might see are ones of cows grazing peacefully in pasture.
But if you stop and think about it for a minute, you might start to wonder about where that steak your about to eat comes from. And if you knew the truth, you just might care a little more. This short nine second video shows the living conditions on one industrial feedlot. When you buy cheap beef from the grocery store or eat out at fast food chains, you might want to think about what type of industry you are supporting.
The fact is, how the animal was raised, slaughtered and processed has huge impacts on the overall safety, health and quality of the meat you eat (not to mention the environmental impacts).
Turns out, it's not really the fact that the cow has a name. It's the fact that the farmer is creating a less stressful environment for that cow. When a farmer names a cow, the farmer is usally taking time to treat that cow more like an individual. The farmer probably talks to her more, and spends extra effort caring for that cow and making it feel relaxed and stress free. After all, studies show that high stress produces cortison which interfers with the milk-boosting hormone oxytocin. Additionally, anxious cows are more likely to stomp and kick, making it more difficult to milk them.
Low Stress = Good Eats
This concept of low stress does not just apply to dairy cows. Cattle raised in pasture live in their natural habitat which creates a low stress environment. As a result, they are happier, healthier and have no need for hormones and anti-biotics. How can you tell when a cow is happy? Well, did you watch the video? They act carefree and happy.
And when it comes time for slaughter, creating a low stress environment is key to creating the finest cuts of beef. There have been numerous studies that prove that exposing an animal to stress prior to slaughter causes a release of stress hormones that dramatically decreases glycogen reserves and result in poorer meat quality (http://agcj.tamu.edu/404/port/SmoldasRB.pdf).
But did we really need a study to tell us that mis-treating animals is a bad farming practice? That creating high stress environments causes stress and illness? That a stressed out animal might result in tough, unsavory meat? There's nothing wrong with showing your more humane side and actually caring about how the animals are raised.
When we look for beef suppliers, we look for ranchers who follow sustainable farming principles. Ranchers who raise their cattle in pasture from beginning to end. The video in this article from Organic Prairie Beef describes a philosophy of cattle raising that is making a resurgence thanks to the grass fed beef movement. You can bet their 100% organic grass fed beef is healthier for you, and you will be happier knowing how these animals were raised.
Yes, slaughtering animals for food is a harsh reality of being an omnivore. So if your going to eat beef, the least you could do is choose beef that comes from a rancher who treats their herd of cattle with respect. One who takes provide in knowing their cattle lead a good, healthy life. Because, in the end, it not only impacts the quality of the meat, it says a lot about the type of world you want to live in.
Vote with your wallet and your conscience. Buy local, pasture raised beef from someone who takes pride in their work. You can taste the grass fed difference, and you will feel a sense of pride in every bite.