HEIRLOOM BEEF AND HEIRLOOM VEGETABLES
by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© February 2019, LD Wilson Consultants, Inc.
All information in this article is solely the opinion of the author and for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
Definitions Of Heirlooms
What Went Wrong?
The Green Revolution Today
Advantages Of Heirloom Cows
Advantages Of Heirloom Plant Varieties
- Are Heirlooms The Same As Organically Grown or Grass Fed?
- Are Heirloom Cows Finished?
- Must Heirlooms Be Grown Or Raised Only On Small Farms And Small Ranches?
- Why Not Socialism?
- Limiting The Size Of Farms, Ranches And Agricultural Companies
1. An older, less hybridized variety of plant or breed of animal.
2. Something of special value that is handed down from one generation to the next.
Specific definition as used in modern agriculture. An heirloom plant variety or animal breed is one that existed prior to the so-called green revolution in agriculture. This is explained below.
Topics. This article discusses two large areas of agriculture, heirloom cows and heirloom plant varieties. These will serve as examples of how heirloom varieties and breeds are involved in modern agriculture and ranching.
In order to understand the need for heirloom varieties and animal breeds, one must understand the green revolution. This was a set of sweeping innovations in agriculture and other technologies that began 150 years ago in the late 19th century, mainly in the United States. These included:
- Enormous strides in understanding nutrition and plant and animal physiology. For example, most of the vitamins were discovered early in the 20th century. The development of accurate mass spectrometers made possible detailed soil analysis to assess the mineral needs of the soil and livestock.
- N-P-K chemical fertilizers, also called superphosphates. Along with the increase in scientific knowledge came the development of potent farm chemicals. The most important are the superphosphates, still widely used today, even on organically grown food.
These are really just growth stimulants that contain what we call the irritants or “amigo” forms of several minerals. However, especially when they were first introduced, they increased crop yields tremendously.
When first used, farmers could suddenly produce up to ten times the tonnage of crops compared to the past! This has decreased, however, as the soils of the planet have been depleted by continued use of these chemicals.
- Modern drug-based veterinary care for livestock. This included the new “miracle drugs” such as antibiotics, new vaccines, hormones used to fatten cows, and more.
- Synthetic (and highly toxic) pesticides and insecticides. These promised to end the scourges of plant diseases and pesky weeds that kept popping up in the corn fields and elsewhere. These caused expensive crop losses and took up farmers’ timere moving them.
- Gasoline-powered farm implements such as tractors, combines, and others. These were costly, but made possible enormous, mechanized farms that could produce food much more cheaply than smaller family farms. They allowed farms to grow to sizes unimaginable to earlier generations.
Million-acre farms began to appear. Many small farmers were forced off their land and had to move to the cities to look for work.
- The development of the railroads, and later, the highways of America. Without these, large farms were impractical because the products could not be easily transported to the millions of consumers, mainly in the large Eastern American cities.
- The growth of large, transnational agricultural corporations. These companies manufactured the fertilizers, pesticides, tractors and other equipment needed for the mega-farms. Soon they also gained ownership of the farmland and grazing land, as well.
They include such giants as Cargill, ADM, Monsanto and others. Terms used to describe them are agribusiness and CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations).
- Intensive breeding of plants and cows, in particular, that were better suited to the new agriculture. For example, the new agriculture demanded plants that could thrive on the superphosphate fertilizers and tolerate the toxic pesticides. The products had to be able to withstand mechanical harvesting machines and long train rides to faraway markets.
New breeds of cows had to be able to grow fat quickly, tolerate a diet of mostly cheap grain, and thrive in crowded and filthy feedlots. These were the secrets of inexpensive, mass-produced meat.
- Much greater government involvement in the agricultural industry. An agricultural division was established within the US Patent Office in 1839 to distribute new seed varieties. A larger Department of Agriculture was established in 1862.
As agribusiness grew, the large corporations gained more and more political power and influence in the Department of Agriculture. Today they continue to influence the standards and regulations imposed by this government agency upon all farmers and ranchers.
A TRUE REVOLUTION
The combination of these changes caused a literal revolution in agriculture that many heralded as truly amazing. Many believed it would end world hunger, and it has helped to do this.
However, it also brought problems including widespread contamination of drinking water supplies with toxic chemicals, ruination and even extinction of hundreds of animal species, destruction of topsoil and grazing lands and a sharp increase in human and animal diseases.
Most agricultural scientists and the public were amazed by:
- all the new technologies
- the massive scale of the new agriculture and ranching
- the advent of cheap, plentiful food. Even today, many people do not understand the devastation brought about by the green revolution.
WHAT WENT WRONG WITH THE GREEN REVOLUTION?
Briefly, the problems are:
- Weak, sickly hybrid farm animals, particularly cows, who can hardly survive without constant drugging, vaccines and other medical interventions and procedures.
- Much lower mineral and protein content of food grown with growth stimulants. Much more food is grown per acre, but a corresponding amount of natural mineral-containing fertilizers were not put on the soil to replenish it. This results in “soil mining” and the decline of the farmland.
- Additional damage to the soil from toxic farm chemicals. The combination of this and the loss of minerals resulted in the famous dust bowls of the 1930s and loss of millions of acres of topsoil, which continues today in some parts of the world.
- Devastation of other animal species such as birds who eat tainted seeds and plants.
- Contamination of most water supplies in the United States and elsewhere with farm chemicals.
- Contamination of the food with medical drugs and toxic pesticide residues.
- An increase in sickness among farming and ranching families who live among and handle the toxic chemicals needed for the new agriculture.
THE GREEN REVOLUTION TODAY
The green revolution continues at a fast pace today, often called the biotech industry. It is the invention of newer chemicals, new plant seeds, and new animal breeds that fit the feedlot and chemical agriculture model. It also includes new pesticides and insecticides to replace older ones that don’t work as well or are so toxic that they must be removed from the marketplace.
It often takes 20 to 40 years for the horrors of new farm chemicals to become known enough to cause their banning. For example, this is the situation today with glyphosate or RoundupČ.
Recent technologies are genetically-modified organisms or GMOs and patented seeds. Breeders continue to try to breed cows and other farm animals that can thrive on nutrient-depleted corn and other unnatural feed that often contains residues of the toxic insecticides the sick plants require. The animals must also tolerate the vaccines, other drugs, and dirty, crowded feedlot conditions. This is the green revolution in a nutshell.
A few doctors and plant scientists sounded the alarm about the destructive effect of the green revolution early in the 20th century. Among these were William Albrecht, PhD at the University of Missouri and others.
They began a counter-movement that is variously called the organic, sustainable, regenerative or eco-agriculture movement. These words do not all mean exactly the same thing, but are all part of an effort to restore sanity and sustainability to modern agriculture.
In some ways, it is a return to earlier methods of farming. However, it also incorporates the latest in scientific knowledge to grow food without needing the toxic chemicals and other destructive practices of the green revolution.
A part of this movement is the revival of older, less hybridized breeds of animals and older plant varieties. These are called heirloom or sometimes ancient varieties. The Livestock Conservancy uses the word Heritage to define a number of these breeds of livestock.
Their website lists the following breeds of Heritage cows: White Park, Ankole-Watusi, Ayrshire, Belted Galloway, Canadienne, Red Devon, Dexter, Dutch Belted, Florida Cracker, Galloway, Hereford Shorthorn–Native, Highland, Kerry, Lincoln Red, Milking Devon, Pineywoods, Randall Lineback and Red Poll. They all date back before 1925, and some date back to the first settlement of America in the 1400s.
They can help the planet return to more sustainable farming and ranching practices.
ADVANTAGES OF HEIRLOOM COWS
Advantages of heirloom cows compared to modern hybrid cows are:
- Heirloom cows are more yang. Yang is an Oriental word used in the science of macrobiotics. It is a physics concept that means faster moving particles, warmer and more compact. It also means much healthier. For example, heirloom cows and vegetables tend to be smaller in size and more nutrient dense.
All bodies today are too yin, and need food that is more yang to become balanced. Most food is too yin, worsening human and animal health. Heirlooms are part of the answer!
- Heirlooms are better suited to living on grass rather than grain, and will eat many more types of native grass. This is very important because grass is the proper food for cows. It makes them healthy and yang, and enables them to produce the healthiest meat.
The hybrids have been bred to survive on grain, which is not the natural food for cows and which produce sickly and more yin cows.
The hybrids do not do as well and are picky eaters of the native grasses. This reduces the health of their meat and dairy products if a farmer chooses to feed them their natural food of grass.
- Heirlooms are much healthier. The two facts above cause heirloom cows to be much hardier and healthier animals. This is very important because sick animals require a lot of medical care, which is costly for farmers.
Also, residues of antibiotics, vaccines and other drugs needed to allow hybrid cows to survive remain in their bodies. This taints their meat and dairy products and makes it less healthful.
- Heirloom cows eat and drink less than hybrids. This is because the heirloom cows have better digestion. This is important because grazing land is becoming scarce in most areas of the world. Heirloom cows help conserve the land and cost less to raise.
- Heirloom cows are more profitable for farmers to raise. This is because they require fewer drugs and vaccines, and they consume less food and water. This is helpful to control the cost of meat so that more people can afford it.
- Heirloom cows are healthier to raise for ranching families. This is because the ranchers are not exposed to as many toxic drugs and chemicals when they raise heirloom cows. This is very important because we depend upon ranching families for our food.
- Heirlooms are more drought-resistant. This is important because many areas of the earth are experiencing drought conditions, which is very hard on cows and other livestock animals.
- Heirlooms are generally smarter animals. This is important because livestock animals can be difficult and even dangerous to handle if they are upset. Heirloom cows are generally calmer, more relaxed, and therefore easier to handle. This is an important benefit for everyone who needs to interact with them.
- Hybrids promised cheap, plentiful beef for the world. They have delivered on this promise. However, with this cheap meat has come widespread sensitivity, intolerance or ‘allergies’ to beef because it is an irritating and poor quality product.
As a result, hybrid cattle production is much less sustainable for our planet, our ranchers and for those who consume the products.
- The health of the people who consume hybrid foods is declining. For example, the lifespan in America has dclinined for the past two years (2017 and 2018) and medical costs are soaring.
People are sick and tired of tainted meat and the demand for more healthful meat and dairy products is increasing. Heirloom cows are better at meeting the demand.
- Heirloom cows are much happier animals than hybrid cows. This also improves the quality of their meat and dairy products.
This fact may seem strange, but it is true. Reasons for it are that heirloom cows live a healthier lifestyle and do not require toxic drugs and vaccines nearly as much as hybrid cows. Feedlots are crowded, filthy places that breed disease and discontent among cows. Living on grain makes cows fat and sick, just as living on too much grain makes human beings fat and ill.
Disadvantages. Heirloom cows do not like living crowded together in feedlots and living on grain. If this is the only way to raise cows, then the hybrids survive better in these crowded, filthy conditions.
In other words, heirloom cows generally require at least some grass in their diets and do not do as well eating just grain and supplements.
Cheating. An important problem is that some ranchers sell their beef labeled as grass-fed or organic when it is not true. At this time, (March 2019) we don’t have a simple remedy or test that one can do to ascertain whether grass-fed beef is really grass-fed, or what percentage of the food was grass. Taste is not a good enough indicator.
ADVANTAGES OF HEIRLOOM PLANTS OVER MODERN HYBRID PLANT VARIETIES
- Heirloom plants are more yang. As with the cows, this is very important because our bodies are too yin and we need food that is more yang to balance ourselves.
- Heirloom plants are hardier. This means they require less chemical fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides. This is important because it saves farmers money. Even more important, avoiding the use of these chemicals improves the quality of the food.
- Heirloom varieties plants are far more nutritious than hybrid plants. This is due to a combination of the two factors above. It is a critical factor for the health of those who will eat them.
- Heirloom varieties of plants are often more drought-resistant. This is because they are healthier. It is a great advantage that saves the crop if the weather becomes dry. It saves a lot of money and effort for farmers.
- Heirloom plants also handle other stressors better than many hybrids. These include cold weather and storms.
- Heirloom plants save the land. All of human life on planet earth depends upon about six to 12 inches of fertile topsoil upon which our food is grown.
The use of superphosphate fertilizers and pesticides has damaged and destroyed millions of acres of precious farmland. The use of heirloom crops helps restore farmland and helps maintain topsoil by reducing soil erosion.
- Heirloom plants are happier, and this improves the quality of their food products. This is true, even if it sounds unusual.
Disadvantages. Heirloom varieties formerly produced less tonnage per acre than the hybrids. This was the appeal and selling point of the hybrids that caused many farmers to switch over to them. However, over the past 50 years, several critical changes have occurred:
1. The price of superphosphate or N-P-K fertilizers has tripled. This has made the hybrids much less profitable.
2. The soils of the earth have been damaged and in some cases destroyed by the use of hybrid crops and pesticides and insecticides needed to keep the hybrid crops alive. As a result, more and more fertilizers and pesticides are needed, and crop yields have fallen quite dramatically. Hybrids no longer provide better yields in many crops.
3. Farming families are now among the sickest in every nation. This is due to exposure to the chemical fertilizers and pesticides required by hybrid crops. This affects all of us because we depend upon these families for our food and our health.
4. Consumers are waking up to the fact that hybrid crops are much less nutritious and they want clean, pure, healthier food. This is increasing the demand for pure and organically grown food throughout the world.
Hybrid crops cannot meet this demand nearly as well as heirloom varieties of crops because only the heirlooms do not require the superphosphate fertilizers and pesticides to survive.
In summary, the advantages of heirloom animals and plants are:
- Healthier, hardier and happier animals and plants.
- More nutritious and less toxic food.
- Healthier and more prosperous farmers and ranchers.
- Healthier consumers
- Conservation of grazing land
- Cleaner water supplies due to the use of fewer toxic chemicals and fewer medical drugs
ARE HEIRLOOM VARIETIES THE SAME AS ORGANIC OR GRASS-FED?
No. In fact, they are not related ideas. Heirloom only has to do with the genetics of the plant or animal. It has nothing to do with how an animal or plant is raised or grown.
ARE HEIRLOOM COWS FINISHED LIKE OTHER COWS?
Yes, in many instances. Finishing is the feeding of beef cows near the time of slaughter. It is a method of altering the taste of the meat to make it sweeter and less ‘gamey’. The meat will contain more fat and is also more tender for this reason.
Finishing also fattens the cows so the farmers will make more money when the cow is slaughtered due to the extra weight of meat. It works, but is not kind to the cows. It is done routinely in commercial ranching operations, including with heirloom cows.
Finishing methods. Feedlot cows may not need finishing because they may be fed grain most of their life and become fattened early on.
To finish grass fed cows, the rancher can move them to fields where they must eat more high-carbohydrate grasses and less high-protein grasses. This will add weight and can reduce the gamey grass fed taste of their meat.
Another method is to confine grass fed cows in pens near the end of their lives and force them to eat grain.
Another method in cold climates is to leave the cows outside in the cold weather. They will naturally eat more high-carbohydrate grass in order to gain fat and stay warm. This method only works if one slaughters in springtime. It doesn’t work well on large farms where cows are slaughtered all year round.
We do not recommend finishing. It harms the animals and reduces the quality of the meat, even if it tastes sweeter. However, people have been conditioned to want sweet-tasting and more tender beef by the feedlot beef industry. Until this changes, the practice will likely continue.
MUST HEIRLOOM VARIETIES BE GROWN ONLY ON SMALL FARMS AND SMALL RANCHES?
No. Smaller is not necessarily better for raising heirlooms. There is a need for family farms, but also a need for larger farms to feed the millions of people who live in cities. Some oppose any large farm or company.
However, good large companies can do a lot of good. For example, large producers often spend the time and money to do the best job possible because they have more at stake.
In contrast, some small farmers live on the land not as much because they want to produce the best crops possible, but because they enjoy the lifestyle. This is fine, but it is not the same as wanting to produce absolutely the most sustainable and healthiest food possible.
We hope that small farms and small ranches will always flourish. They are often the best places to conduct research and they can sell their goods in ‘niche markets’ or specialized areas.
However, millions of people need heirloom and healthy food, and capitalism and beneficial corporations are the best way to organize this massive effort. This has been proven many times all over the world. If capitalism has not worked, it is because it has not been allowed to work by power-hungry government leaders or by leaders who do not understand it well enough.
POLITICS - WHY NOT SOCIALISM?
The very worst of “large” is large government, better known as socialism. It is always corrupt, infiltrated by special interests. Yet many back-to-the-land people sing the praises of this corrupt system and can’t wait to condemn capitalism.
The truth is that socialist nations tend to starve, including the former Soviet Union and present-day Venezuela, Cuba and numerous other nations that today cannot even feed their people. Socialists always believe that if only they ran the government, everything would work well. However, this has been tried over and over for centuries and it never works. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, Power tends to corrupt and absolute power, which is the power of the government, corrupts absolutely.
Freedom or liberty, which require a limited government, are absolute values. They must never be compromised, lest we sink into bureaucratic mediocrity and tyranny – the qualities of socialist and communist nations.
LIMITING THE SIZE OF FARMS, RANCHES AND AGICULTURAL COMPANIES
Anything large brings with it possible abuses of power and influence. Farming and ranching are no exceptions. In America, for example, large producers have diluted the organic standards, a terrible problem today.
They are also behind the insane rule prohibiting mailing frozen beef unless it is slaughtered in a government approved facility. These are simply anti-competitive socialistic rules designed to hurt small farmers. These need to change.
The best answer is a strictly limited government that does not have the power to pass such rules – and not a socialist ‘benign’ dictatorship, as some back-to-the-land people advocate.
We also think that government should limit the size of farms, ranches and agricultural companies to promote healthy competition and help prevent abuses of power. Capitalist economies require an even playing field to work well. Anti-trust legislation with teeth in it is good idea in agriculture, as in every area of economic life.
Also, there will always be a need for people of high integrity to lead in every area of life, including agriculture and ranching.