I have an uncle (by marriage) who is a lifelong pig farmer. His son, my cousin, is a cow farmer. They both have college degrees in their fields and many years of experience working with these animals. Both are now employed by a state university's agricultural college in their respective departments and work directly with animals and students on the college's farm.
I spent this past weekend in the mountains with them and I had an opportunity to ask them some questions regarding corn fed beef, raw milk, hormones in cattle, etc.
The discussion began when I asked my cousin's wife (who eats very little processed food) where she buys her milk and eggs. (I should also mention that she also has a degree in something agricultural dealing with animals and feed. And, I should also mention that all of their agricultural genes skipped my branch of the family tree and agricultural jargon is like a foreign language to me. At one time I knew their specific degrees, but I forgot and I failed to ask them this weekend) While she grew up drinking raw milk from her family's farm, she now buys pasteurized milk from the store. And, while visiting her family's farm, will heat up the raw milk to pasteurization temps before serving it to their child. I asked her why and she said that salmonella will occasionally break out within the herd without warning and that is a risk she doesn't want to take. She buys regular, store bought eggs.
Then, the discussion turned to my cousin, the beef farmer. He is definitely a meat and potatoes kind of guy and at one point stated, "vegetables are what food eats" in his normal wise cracking way. He worked on a beef ranch in Nebraska for a few years before moving back to his home state to work for the college. I asked him about grass fed vs. grain fed cattle. He discussed the taste benefits of grain fed cattle such as marbling, texture, etc. We discussed acidosis and he said that corn has to be introduced slowly to prevent acidosis and if fed the proper amounts of corn and hay, a cow should not suffer from acidosis. I knew that there was a difference between grass fed and grass finished beef, but he informed me that grass fed beef, by USDA standards require 80% of feed to be grass and up to 20% can be grain, so many farmers initially feed the cattle grass, but pour on the grain to increase weight just before processing.
I brought up the subject of feed lots and cows standing around in manure. He said there are dirt mounds in the feed lots for the cows to have a dry place to lay, but that even grass grazing cows will find the coolest spot to lay, most often under a tree and in a pile of manure. I asked about processing plants and he said that when plants follow the rules, meat should be safe and free from contaminants. He informed me that cows go through a vinegar wash which cleans the hide before processing.
Then, we discussed the use of hormones and antibiotics in beef cattle. He said female cows naturally have a very high estrogen level, much higher than hormone treated male cows. He went on to say that he doesn't have a problem consuming antibiotic treated meat because cows treated with antibiotics have a wait period between antibiotic treatment and processing. For example, many antibiotics require a 60-day wait between treatment and processing; therefore, the antibiotics should already be out of the animal. He said he feels that organic animals are often sick and untreated. Both he and his wife recalled viewing a specimen of organic beef under a microscope and noted that it was full of bacteria, whereas conventional meat had quite a bit less.
Finally, he said that from a health perspective, grass fed (and finished) beef is healthier and I'll continue to buy my beef from a local grass fed source. I will, however, find out if the beef I've been buying is grass finished.
Then, I asked my uncle, a man of few words, how he feels about eating pork after working with pigs all of these years and he said, "I like it." Again, I plan to continue buying my pork from a local farm.