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Facts About Livestock Farming – the Meat on Your Plate

September 1, 2014

Millions of people today have never been to a farm, don’t know anyone with a farm and aside from a movie or news item don’t know how (or why) meat gets to them from the farm. When I wrote A Look at Agriculture it was to bridge that gap – to give some insight to the ordinary person who wishes to know how ordinary people produce the cattle, hogs, poultry and other animals and food that gets to their plate, or that helps it get to the plate!

Consumers interested in learning more about how their food is raised can find conflicting information. A bonus post today is an excerpt from that ebook. (Just $3 if you want a pdf copy and it helps towards projects like heirloom gardens, a barn before winter and a hoop greenhouse!)

Here are some facts about livestock – and your food supply.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA typical dairy cow can produce over 40 pounds of milk per day. A gallon is 8.6 pounds and it takes about 4.65 quarts to make a pound of cheese. A dairy cow produces enough milk for 40 people each year.

A dairy goat can, pound for pound, out produce a dairy cow although she can’t compete with volume. A good dairy doe can produce over a gallon per day.

Cattle, goats and sheep are ruminants, meaning they have four chambers to the stomach and chew cud to more efficiently break down tougher forages.

Beef cattle are the second highest source of income for Alabama farmers with 2007 figures showing the state 17th in the nation for cattle production. In this state alone 23,000 had beef cattle.

Stressed animals eat poorly and are less productive as well as more susceptible to disease. This is true no matter the species.

Market hogs are 200-250 pounds, but mature breeding animals are much larger than that. Pigs cannot sweat to cool themselves so must have a way to keep cool in hot weather. Climate controlled barns are a way to do this.

General cattle terms include bull (uncastrated male), steer (castrated male), heifer (female before calving) and cow (mature female after calving). Additional terms one might here are working steers or oxen which is used for those animals that are castrated and in training, or used for, draft purposes.

Pigs can grow from weaning size to market sized in 5-6 months depending on feed and management. A barrow is a neutered male while a gilt is a young female.

Neutered goats and sheep are called wethers and are typically used for meat. An exception may be fiber animals which can be kept for fleeces by handspinners who are not interested in breeding.

Most sheep have their tails docked short early in life. This reduces area for wet and manure to gather which leaves the sheep open to maggots, also called fly strike.

Baby pigs have needle teeth cut to prevent large tusks later in life. This makes it safer for handlers and the pigs themselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost poultry used for meat are white because they pluck easier without unsightly marks. The average domestic chicken hen lays 255 eggs per year. In 2002 there was 32.2 billion pounds of chicken produced for meat in the USA.

Different breeds of chickens have different colored skin. Americans prefer a yellow skinned bird, reducing demand for birds like the Sussex or Orpington that have white skin.

Commercial rabbits are also preferred in white as the fur more readily accepts dye that is used in the pelts which are a ‘byproduct’ of the meat industry.

Farmers strive to use the most efficient ways to produce meats and other food for your table as well as their own. There normally are good reasons for management decisions. With today’s technology such as Twitter and Facebook you can easily connect with farmers to learn more about what and why they do what they do. Most are eager to share their stories and welcome consumers who sincerely want to learn more.

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