Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Little More on "King Corn"

Ever since I found out about the documentary "King Corn" and posted THIS POST with some of thoughts I have been following the reviews and screenings of the movie as closely as I can. Recently they made a swing through Iowa and had a bunch of screenings in small and larger towns across Iowa. Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend any of the screenings because they didn't venture far enough South in my part of the state on the right days, but I'm glad they had a chance to screen the movie in the "corn belt" itself.

One of the most interesting things is that they have been posting VIDEO BLOGS from their screenings with comments from audience members. I have had a chance to watch the videos posted and was pretty intrigued by some of the comments. I don't know if this is just because they selected certain comments, but it seems as they worked their way East from Sioux City and Algona to some of the prime farm land in the state (Black Hawk, Hardin, and near Grundy Counties) they encountered a little more resistance from the farmers. Of course they also made a stop in Cedar Rapids, IA which is home to some big (and really smelly) corn processing plants!

For some reason the comments from the people in Eldora really stuck with me. Eldora is somewhat my old stomping grounds and I still go up there quite a few times a year to visit our camp, the lake, and for meetings. But for whatever reason the folks there were a bit skeptical ... especially of the idea of grassfed beef. Here is a paraphrase of one quote from the video: "(Addressed to some guy off camera) could we feed enough cattle on pasture to feed the country without corn?" ... (guy off of camera answers) "No, not in this day and age."

That little exchange really got me thinking. Now I realize that I have no practical knowledge and that quite a few people will discount what I say because it comes from articles and books ... but, is that a true statement? I guess I don't really know ... maybe the "in this day and age" part of the answer is the qualifier because maybe it would be possible if there weren't people so entrenched in feeding and eating grain fed beef? You may recall my FIRST POST on Ultra High Density Grazing and then my FOLLOW-UP POST on the same subject. In the world of Ultra High Density Grazing there are people regularly grazing 8,000 pounds per acre and I have read reports of people doing up to 150,000 pounds per acre!!! Now this is some extreme rotational and managed grazing, but it is all being done on pasture and without grains.

So, is it currently possible to provide enough cattle for our nation solely using pasture? Maybe it is...

One more thought... One person mentions using grain towards the end to get the flavor and marbling. I will not comment on the flavor part, because grainfed and grassfed do have different tastes and I know that people will debate which is better, but about the marbling thing. I believe there is research out there now which is telling us that the tenderness (and that is one big reason people want marbling) doesn't have as much to do with grain feeding or fat content as it does with genetics and such. So, maybe that isn't a valid argument...

There is lots to think about when it comes to corn and all of its uses, benefits, problems, and so much more. I would love to hear what you think on this subject. Maybe we can draw Aaron in (who worked on the film) to give us some more insight from these Iowa screenings.

If you haven't heard about "King Corn" yet make sure you go to the website and check out the entire movie if you get the chance!

**Okay, I did have one more thing ... maybe this will balance out my take. I'm not sure if the lady at the end of the Eldora clip has everything straight either. I do think the government has too many regulations that tie the hands of great farmers who would like to market, but the selling the chicken to a neighbor thing and getting in trouble might be a stretch. I'm pretty sure with chicken you can actually butcher on farm a certain number of birds and sell them...**


Yeoman said...

Could the nation raise enough beef from pasture ground to feed the nation? Of course it could.

A huge number of beeves are raised on pasture ground as it is, and only finished with corn. Finishing with corn is more significant than using corn as a livestock feed otherwise. I don't have any statistics to back me up, but I don't think a majority of bovines live the majority of their lives being fed corn. Rather, Americans are used to corn being used to finish beef. And corn is used as a supplemental feed, when they need supplemental feed.

It certainly isn't the only supplemental feed used either. We haven't bought corn for years, as it's simply been too high. We have had cattle, several years ago, on a corn field that was damaged by a hail storm and couldn't be harvested, but that's a bit of a different matter.

I suspect what is really the case, by and large, is that most Americans aren't used to grass fed beef. Many people are more sensitive to changes in the taste of things than we'd suppose, and even small differences in taste can be upsetting to them. I don't mind grass fed beef at all, but I know people who claim not to like it, including ranchers.

Something to additionally note here, a small trend in western Nebraska, in recent years, has been to allow some farm ground to go back to grazing ground. I note that because it certainly isn't the case that a large corn field, or any field, today, can't be large pasture tomorrow.

Steven said...

I'm actually going to be trying to change some of our corn/wheat/soy bean fields into pasture. By some I mean only 4 acres to start. We were going to do 10 acres but the risk is so much lower to do 4 while we're learning and experimenting. That way, if things don't work out, I can still use that 4 acres for horses.... I could never get my moneys worth from 10 acres with only my 3 horses. :-)

This land is "family" land that I will have to rent for now, along with my brother in law. It's high dollar bottom ground and the current renter thinks that we're crazy. But the way we look at it is... great row-crop ground could produce great grasses and legumes too! -any advice on starting new pasture on flat, crop land, in the spring, in South East Missouri is welcome! :-)

On the question at hand.... I think yeoman is right. Maybe people aren't considering that these field full of corn all over the country could be full of grass, and fenced in. And could also have sheep or goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and cattle on it!

John said...

I have around 15 acres of flat field that I will frost seed in pasture mix in the spring. This is formerly in soybeans this last year (prior to me purchasing it) and corn the year before. I will get the soil tested also but do not plan to amend the soil with any chemicals. I am hoping that I will get a reasonable amount of grass going so that I can run a few chicken tractors and a few head of beef in a year to start repairing the soil. It is an experiment, for sure but I will be focused on building the house and putting in fences this summer and won't be able to concentrate much on the fields.


Melissa said...

I was curious if u are still interested in my little cow Pitty Pat. I have sent u a few emails.

Kramer said...

Chad Peterson in Nebraska runs 1 million pounds per acre, moving his cattle seven times daily. Granted, I believe he has around 4000 acres but that is some serious beef.

About taste. Cattle can be marbled on grass the same way they are marbled on Corn. As Yeoman stated, the majority of cattle are turned out on pastures until they reach 800-900 pounds. Then in commercial beef, stockyards have buyers they send to sale barns and they purchase these steers and then put them in feed lots where they are fed strictly corn. The ticket is the "finishing" process. You must get an avg daily gain "ADG" of 2-4 lbs a day until the animal reaches 1100-1200 lbs. By planting the right grasses and with proper rotation, this is very realistic in 100% grass fed, grass finished beef. Many people around the country are doing it and have a faithful customer base to back it up.


Ethan Book said...

Great comments everyone! I think you all have quite a bit to add to the conversation. I think the key is to think outside of the box when it comes to agriculture ... or most anything for that matter. I know that is how I try to work in my ministry and it is how I'm beginning to work when it comes to farming and grazing. Keep up the conversation!

Steven said...

I've got a question.
You're all talking about Ultra High Density Grazing and I've read about it to but I don't really have an idea of how much help it is in getting more lbs per acre on the farm. When you say 8,000lbs per acre, don't you mean on one paddock at a time? How many other acres would you need to sustain this? The same for 1 million lbs per acre. Would you need another 210 acres? 7 moves per day and 30 days rest.... 7 x 30 = 210 ? (For simplicity I'm assuming 1 acre paddocks)

Kramer said...

Steven, the main thing is the rest period and managing the land that you have. For instance, we have about 100 acres for grazing. Through using the MIG system and understanding that it usually takes 3-5 years to be fully converted, (having the right grasses to sustain rotation and weight gain) you are able to run 1.5 to 2 times more cattle per acre. Thus instead of your typical 1 cow per acre, you can run 1.5 to 2 cows. This would allow us to run 150-200 cattle on our place in 3-5 years.

Currently I have 32 2 acre pads that the cows rotate every 1-2 days on. We have about 50 head and our grasses are no where near where they need to be. But MIG is a process, building the soil, establishing good grasses, and then it doesn't matter what you put out there, it turns out great. No need to put registered cattle on land that is not fit for simple crossbred cattle. Allow the cattle to build up your pastures and then in a few years go for the gusto and purchase you some fine registered cattle. We are a stocker operation so having registered pure bred cattle will not benefit us. We prefer cross bred black baldies.

You would be amazed at the difference each pad looks after being grazed using the High Stock Density rotation. Less weeds, tons of manure and urine, even growth, and greener native grasses. People think I am crazy here as they watch me setting up my electric reels and stepping in my posts. Then instead of herding my cows, I walk out and they follow me around going to the gate I want them to and simply moving to the next pad. It really is beautiful and it allows you to really enjoy your cattle as you see how much they appreciate all your efforts.


Cricket Bread said...


Last Friday I had a chance to see King Corn at a small venue that screens documentaries here in my town. It was pretty well attended. I thought the film was very well done, presenting various opinions with what I thought was equal weight. The whole thing about how a corn diet will kill a cow after a certain number of days was very eye opening.

Ethan Book said...

Cricket Bread ... I'm glad you had a chance to watch it. I just heard about another screening in Iowa that I may get a chance to attend. I'm just going to have to check out the dates. I want to see it very badly!

Steven said...

King Corn was on PBS all over and I was able to TiVo it at my parents (We only have 2 channels) on Wed. night and watched it last night.

It was really great. There were some things they could have gone into deeper, but over all it was entertaining, informative, and it wasn't pushy. I really want to show this movie to some "corn fed" family members so that they understand what we are trying to do with Grass fed Dexters better.

-I'm happy to report that we will be planting 8 acres tonight with oats, orchard grass, alfalfa, and ladino clover. 2 more will be planted in Bermuda later. I think we may try to broadcast the Bermuda and use a roller on it instead of drilling it.

Ethan Book said...

Steven - You are so lucky! It is airing on Independent Lens all over the country it appears. Here in Iowa it will be on four or five times ... but, all but one of those time is on DIGITAL TV. I don't have Digital TV yet!!!

I'm waiting until Sunday night at 10:31 PM ... that is when I should be able to finally watch it.

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