Monthly Archives: October 2011

Finding Agriculture in Africa & Discovering to Say More with Less


I was recently given the great opportunity to visit South Africa. It was a beautiful chance to discover more about myself through adventure and meditation. I have noticed, in the past year or so, that I am incredibly wordy. Some of the people I find most power, however, (an ex-bf’s mom, our guide in Kruger National Park), are people of incredibly few words.

So, in my effort to move towards saying more with less, I bring you my post in mostly pictures. How I found the transparency of Agriculture in other societies.

A small stone carving, representing "Waiting for the Rain"

This small figure (atop my journal of my adventure) was hand-carved by a local shopkeeper. Even now, living in the populated city of Johannesburg, this man was atuned to the importance of Agriculture and the world around him. American farmers’ livelihood often relies on the outcome of “waiting for the rain”

Wine Country, Western Cape, South Africa

Enjoying the “fruits of thine farming labor” through wine! A lot of hard agricultural work and crop science goes into producing those wonderful flavors.

My beaded Hampshire

My hand-beaded Hampshire sheep. I was really suprised to see one that resembled a breed we have in America (most beaded animals were lions, zebras, antelope…) It takes 3 full days to make this guy. I don’t think I’ve seen an American souvenir that was made in America in a long time. Even if there are made in the USA, I bet you they’re mass produced…

Cattle in Mpumalanga, South Africa

I found cattle! Oddly, I have better pictures of lions. The guides don’t slow down so you can photograph cattle the way they do about lions, but I found both fascinating. Cattle look drastically different, whether your comparing US to Thailand, US to South Africa, or Thailand to South Africa. Through the thin body condition, it is obvious that there is not a large disposable income to feed cattle to their capacity. Even though they are one food source, humans must be feed before cattle. Veterinary care is usually minimal, and starvation a possibility. Also, the large ears and loose skin around the brisket are bred characteristics to help cattle rid their bodies of extra heat in a warm climate.

Different Grazing Styles...

Property laws seem a little different in South Africa. Even on your way to the airport in Johannesburg, you can find small fields covered in free-grazing cattle. No fences, no ear-tags, no brands. I can only assume the use of the occasional cow bell helps keep track of who owns which animals. I was warned against hitting black cattle at night, as they sometimes wander across the highways in search of greener grass. As you can see in the picture, they tend to grass right on the highway curbs.

Story Time with our Guide

Our guide, Israel, explaining the balance of human life and nature. He spent 7 years in the African bush of Kruger Park as a ranger, there to protect the animals and the people. His stories included those of elephant attacks, watching a lion kill a human, and mutual respect of nature for what it is, and not what humans want to make it.

My blog needs a makeover. Maybe even facial reconstruction surgery.


I’ve been doing some research about successful blogging. And what I’ve discovered is, I think I started really strong. I have a great starting point…a passion…and a decent hand at colorful writing. And now looking back, with a few posts omitted, my blogging has become incredibly lazy. And it shows.

Somewhere along the line, I got really wrapped up in sharing facts. statistics. and lots of other things that I hated in school, now find somewhat interesting to read about agriculture cuz I breathe this stuff, but certainly can’t imagine why anyone else would find it interesting. My own family members turn glazey-eyed at the latest facts. But I began writing this blog to share experience, not facts. Stories. Fun little items. A little agriculture-shock humor. The struggles in trying to enter a working world and living culture that you were not born into. Learned practices and the strange truths about them. And maybe those struggles overwhelmed the creativity out of me for a while. Maybe its just my mix of agricultural life and my “old” life that makes things difficult. I have LOTS of hobbies and interests. And some weeks I just simply don’t do much in the world of Ag. But I’ve learned plenty over the past 4 years to have more stories than I’ve shared.

So, I’ll keep researching how to improve. One way is this thing wordpress calls “Post A Week 2011” challenge. Essentially, you challenge yourself to post at least once a week. Doesn’t sound hard, but so far I haven’t succeeded very well. But I have hope, and I hope you have it for me as well.

If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way. Comments happen all the time on facebook, but not so much on blogs. Follow me. The more “stalkers” I see that I have, the more my confidence grows and the more I feel like I better do a good job. Ask questions. Not all this stuff makes sense. But even if you think I’m full of poop and you vehemently disagree with everything I have to say, let me know! It could get interesting.

Maybe you could help me get started on next week’s blog. What Agricultural topic would you want to read about next? Pigs? Sheep? Tractors? Cows? Babies? Artificial insemination? Semen collection? Cow pies?

What I know about “pumping antibiotics into your future steak or hamburger”


“104.7!”

image courtesy of http://www.agandfoodlaw.com

“Bio 11!”

Someone moves to fill the syringe with 50 mL’s of dark, syrupy liquid and attaches a 3/4″ needle. Five small injection sites later, a steer leaves the chute with a clang.

*(normal temp is 101.5, so 104.7 as referenced above is considered very sick)

Every day, I inject numbers of sick, fevered* cattle with antibiotics. Cattle that will soon be entering the supermarket as your favorite burger or steak or brisket. By now, every American is well versed in the dangers of overusing antibiotics both in animals and people. Giving your toddler antibiotics for every round of sniffles will make a medicine-resistant germs that will infect your loved one later, and leave them prone to more allergies. Antibiotic residues entering your body through food has been linked to having the same effect (although these studies are still largely inconclusive).

So let’s consider this: Are we creating super bugs that can run rampant through our population, making us miserable and sending medical experts reeling for new drugs to stop the ever-stronger pathogens??

First, we need to understand that there are very similar principles involved with human and animal antibiotic use. Just because we’ve learned antibiotics are NOT the answer to everything, especially viruses which can’t be cured with them anyway, doesn’t mean there is not a place for them. There are times when antibiotics are incredibly useful. Ever had strep throat? Antibiotics are a life-saver! Without taking antibiotics, strep throat poses the risk of becoming bad enough to hospitalize you for kidney damage or heart valve inflammation. Before antibiotics, people died from simple sickness. The same is true in cattle. It is not the answer for everything, but it can ultimately prevent a death by treating an illness before it overtakes the animal’s body or spreads to the entire herd to create an epidemic. And a dose of antibiotics can save significant levels of animal suffering, which I think most human beings would agree is our invaluable responsibility for the animals in our care.

Second, not only do veterinarians monitor the use of antibiotics in food animals, but the FDA is incredibly involved. They do continuous studies to ensure that there are no residual drugs, hormones, or pesticides of any kind entering your body through a steak, hamburger (or veggie!). They work directly with the drug companies to test the meat treated with antibiotics. Over the years, injections have been moved onto the neck (instead of the rear) to help both with bruising the animal and the damage to the meat. These FDA restrictions have also lead to withdrawl times, which are well-known and strictly enforced by every working member on the feedyard. A withdrawl time is set by the FDA and printed on the drug label for easy access. Many steps are taken to ensure no antibiotics are in the cows system at all by the time they are slaughtered:

Cattle are restrained in a chute for cattle/person safety, cattle comfort, and injection accuracy. Photo courtesy of http://www.morandindustries.com

  •  Animals are only injected in the neck instead of the rear of the animal. This means that in fact, the more popular cuts of beef (round, steaks, etc) are not ever directly injected with antibiotics. Antibiotics are also injected subcutaneously, or just under the skin, instead of directly into the muscles that you eat.
  • Several injection sites are used in order to prevent a high concentration of antibiotics in one region. If the medication is not properly spread out, it can sort of ball up under the skin and does not circulate properly (therefore not being as effective in treating the sickness)

These are the acceptable injection sites as set out by Beef Quality Assurance

  • The withdrawal time (in the case of Bio, ~30 days), means that any animal given Bio absolutely under NO circumstances can leave the yard for that time period, until it is positively known that the animal does not have any trace of antibiotic travelling through their bodies.
  •  Every animal that is run through the hospital receives a hospital tag. This tag is individual to this animal, and is also entered into a computer database.
  • Any animal that receives an antibiotic gets a notch cut out of the ear tag in a specific area to signify which drug has been given, so you can look at the animal and see that they have been treated during their stay on the feedlot
  • The computer system tracks the date and dosage of every trip through the chute, whether or not it gets antibiotics
  • If an animal has received 3 doses of antibiotics and comes back sick again, it is deemed “Chronic” and will be put down if it becomes too ill/fails to recover. Even feedlots recognize that there is a point to which antibiotics are not doing their job, and continuously treating an animal not only increases risk of it retaining an illness, but also stresses an animal. Unfortunately, if an animal doesn’t get better after our best efforts, the best option is to put the animal out of his misery and continue to protect the people consuming beef daily.
  • When a pen of cattle is shipped (to slaughter), all animals of that pen are checked to be sure they are “clear” –they have met every withdrawl time and therefore are not containing any drug residues.
  • Any animal that is not clear must be moved to an entirely different pen prior to the ship to ensure that no one accidentally adds them to the truck.
  • As the pen ships, it is entered as such in the computer. The computer also checks again for any “Hot” (not met withdrawal times) animals. If after all the human checks, the computer finds that a hot animal is on the truck, the entire truck must be stopped on the highway and turned back to the feedyard, where every animal is unloaded and reloaded only after they have ensured that hot animals have been moved off the loading area into the designated “hot” pen. It is very rare that it ever gets to this point (it hasn’t happened in my 5 months here, and I have only ever heard of 1 instance…and many employees have been around for 10+ years)
Antibiotic rules are constantly modified and checked on. Every person administering antibiotics must know the withdrawal times and responsibly give the proper dosage in the proper areas– not only for animal comfort and well-being, but for ours as well. It’s a very detailed system, with many back-ups and checkpoints. Straying from any label guidelines is strictly prohibited and illegal. And trust me, no feedlot can afford to risk being shut down by simply not following directions on a label. Veterinarians are also constantly checking on our practices. They are tailoring the medication programs to better help the animals and to reduce overall antibiotic levels. They are updating staff on new study results. Our vet visits once a month with graphs and notes on all of our treatment histories and data. He reviews every doctor practice that we carry out, and gives us new goals or criteria to go on for the next month. The FDA checks their studies not just when a new drug first reaches the market, but afterwards as well to ensure that no results change as time progresses. To read more about FDA regulations on drug use in food animals, you can visit their website here.

Healthy Cows are Happy Cows! Photo courtesy of http://www.ericcressey.com