Amanda Radke: A Cowgirl’s Perspective 11-14-11
I cringed when I checked my email one morning to find a consumer letter that didn’t paint the best picture of beef production. In this column, I would like to share her thoughts, along with my response. She wrote: “Amanda, all animals processed conventionally are super-stressed out, terrified, and their cortisol and panic levels are out of sorts, and then we eat that stuff. Your portrait of the lives of animals simply isn’t accurate except in fairy tales or, in rare exceptions, at family farms. Cows are usually super-diseased, ill, miserable and abused, unless you are getting local grass-fed, pastured cows that are killed most-humanely.”
My response: “I appreciate your email so that we can discuss some of your concerns. I hope to share some personal experiences and facts to help alleviate some of the guilt and worry you may feel about the meat you eat.
Here’s what I know:
• Ninety-seven percent of ranches are still family-owned and operated (USDA 2007 Census). I’m a proud, fifth-generation cattle producer, and I’m the third to live on my family’s ranch in South Dakota. We have an obligation to take care of the land and the animals, and our values in faith, family and hard work are very strong. Chores on the ranch are at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. without exceptions. Take into consideration that many of my family members have off-farm jobs to support the ranch, and that means we are putting in very long working days, often for very little premium. I don’t tell you this so you feel sorry for me; it’s a commitment to excellence we enjoy, and it’s a way of life that is a long-standing tradition for us.
• Happy, healthy cattle are productive cattle. From a business standpoint, it makes zero sense for us to allow our animals to be sick, stressed and mistreated. We follow the best animal-handling practices of the National Beef Quality Assurance Program. Quality beef starts with quality cattle given quality care, and that’s the motto my family follows on our ranch.
• The beef industry has come a long way with millions of dollars invested in research to help make us more efficient, less wasteful and better caregivers to the animals. Yet, even with modern advancements, I feel good knowing that my family’s business is still harbored in long-standing traditions. Conventionally raised beef is still grass-fed and grain-finished, and the cattle business still looks a lot like it did 100 years ago, with cattle grazing in lush, green pastures before being finished in state-of-the-art feedlots. Even though the U.S. cowherd is the smallest its been since the 1950s, we are able to yield more lean red meat for consumers to enjoy, using less natural resources. This is particularly significant as yesterday, the Scientific American reported that, “A mere 12 years after surmounting 6 billion, the world’s population will reach 7 billion, according to the U.N.” Simply stated, there’s more mouths to feed, and less ranchers to produce the food. I want every person to be able to enjoy healthy, delicious beef.
• Finally, I hope you will take the time to visit with real ranchers and allow us the opportunity to open up our pasture gates and show you how we really do business. The scare tactics of animal rights activists and mainstream media can really impact popular perceptions. But, I can confidently tell you that as a conventional beef producer, I feel I’m providing the best care of the animals, sustainably improving the land for future generations, staying true to my roots and values in family and faith, and enjoying delicious grain-fed beef, guilt-free. God Bless, and please, e-mail me with further questions or concerns you may have.
How would you have responded to this e-mail? What would you change about my response? Remember being defensive or getting angry gets us nowhere. The only way to make progress is with open, respectful dialogue.