Factory Farming

I have a question for cattle farmers: What do you sell?

The chances are, your immediate answer would be something along the lines of “Store cattle!” or “Beef!” or “Fat cattle!” Wrong. Try again…..

Hmmm, how about “Grass?” Getting closer…..

Give up? The answer is sunlight! You are capturing light energy and converting it into a saleable form. It is as simple as that. You are virtually unique in this (maybe solar or hydro-electricity are almost there, though they always require some manufactured products before they can function).

Think about this for a minute. Sunlight is streaming down to earth. Every day, light radiation hits our farms. The more of this we can capture and convert into meat (or milk, or eggs or grains of wheat), and the less it costs us to capture it, the richer we become. It’s a beautiful thought.

So how do we capture it efficiently? The answer lies in factory farming. In particular I am talking, in the case of a cattle farmer, about three separate but linked factories.

The first factory is the grass plant. This miracle of natural engineering has the ability to intercept the light shining down on to us. The more leaf area you have, up to a limit, the more sunlight gets converted into chemical energy. Chemical energy can be stored, used, sold. That is money!

The second factory is the soil. Grass needs nutrients from the soil. A living soil will be rich in all the nutrients needed by the plant. But, just like us, the living soil needs energy to stay alive. Where does that energy come from? Where else but the sun. We need to take some of the chemical energy now stored in the grass plants and give it to the living soil – the microorganisms, arthropods, nematodes, mycorrhizal fungae etc. So a significant part of the grass plant needs to be fed to the soil to keep it alive and healthy.

The third factory is the ruminant animal. The correct type of grazing animal has the ability to consume the grass and extract the energy from the grass, along with all the other nutrients that the grass plant extracted from the living soil. She will also, with her trampling, dung and urine, feed the living soil. This is a key point, part of the jigsaw puzzle that has been missing from many farms since the perfection of the Haber – Bosch process gave us artificial nitrogen.