Why we feed our sheep grain

Extremes get our attention.  Images and statistics of extreme behaviors, practices and ideology is often the subject of news stories, movies and books.  This is logical when you think about it as at least one goal of all these media is to get people to look at it and somehow convey money back to those involved.  People respond to the outrageous and in a world constantly vying for our attention we have to expect that much of the information directed at us is adulterated.

Specifically, when we see and hear stories of how animals are treated it is generally those stories of not only extremely bad care but abuse that is there for us to consume.  When you can take an animal abuse story and tie it to an aspect that directly affects people, like what the animals we eat are fed, you have a story that is important to even more people.

The problem with this is not so much that we are being told something that is untrue, although sometimes it is just a lie, but what we take away from these stories is skewed and we form opinions based on this incomplete information.  We assume that this or that story represents what is routinely done in the industry and therefore we should not eat any meat because all animals are tortured so that we can eat them.

It is true, for example, that many animals in the industry, ruminants, animals that eat grasses, are fed large quantities of grains which are not their natural diet.  Because of this these animals must also be given medication to counteract the deleterious effects of too much grain.  It has also been argued that this diet makes the meat less healthful to we who eat it.  This has in turn led to the grass fed meat movement where grass and nothing else is fed to the animals.  Yes, you will find wild ruminants who subsist primarily on grasses and other plants, deer for example.  But these animals are not expected to feed millions of people nor do they represent the kind of meat that we have become accustom to.   Some people think it tastes “wild” and it is certainly not as tender or succulent as domesticated cattle.

I have had grass fed beef and I was unimpressed.  I find that some people like the idea of grass fed meat far more than they like the actual product.  Because some livestock producers feed their animals too much grain does not mean that livestock should be fed no grain at all or that purely grass fed meat is superior.

People ask me do I feed grain and I tell them yes, absolutely!  We do feed a small amount of grain and this is why.  A certain amount is not harmful to them.  Grain is a more concentrated food source and I think of it like fertilizer, it helps them grow.  Unless you have an exceptional pasture, grass alone is just not sufficient for good production.  Even good pasture may be lacking in needed minerals.  Feed is a wonderful training aid.  A little grain will greatly improve the quality and taste of the meat.  And most importantly, they like it!  We don’t just care for our animals, we care about them.

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