Big ag will make these claims to justify more efficient methods of production. Also studies show that caged hens have less stress. Based on this, I raised my kids in a closet. They were happier there.If I told you that cage free hens live longer than caged hens, you'd accept that as true. But in reality, cage free hens death rate is higher than caged birds. I doubt you'd accept that as easily.
The biggest problem I have with the high grain diets cattle get in feedlots is that cattle aren't made to eat high carbohydrate diets. Pigs, yes, but not ruminants. The carbohydrate changes the microflora, which produces acid, which causes rumen ulcers, which allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream and infect the liver and other organs. In some feedlots, up to 40% of cattle have liver abscesses. Antibiotics are added to feed to reduce the incidence.
All of this for economics - cheaper to get a pound of gain from grain than forage.
So there is the question of ethics - is it acceptable to make animals sick for economic purposes? And use antibiotics for economic gain?
Not to mention the stress of shipping cattle to the feed yards and resulting illnesses like pneumonia. As my brother who worked in a feedlot once said, you have to have a dead pile to be a real cattleman.
I ran across this article years ago - veterinarians discussing liver abscesses in feedlots. Note that ethics are not discussed. Purely economics. No discussion of reducing the levels of grain in the ration - apparently not an option, because that would affect "performance parameters". We'll accept up to 15% of cattle with abscesses.
Dr. Perino: Liver abscesses are usually not the number-one issue on the feedyard manager's mind until he receives a packer complaint. As long as the percent and severity remain within a range that everyone is used to dealing with, it's not an issue. However, the biggest challenge facing cattlemen is how to reduce liver abscess prevalence and still optimize the performance parameters that we currently benchmark. Given our current state of knowledge, I'm not sure we can reduce liver abscesses without losing ground on traditional performance indicators.
Dr. Hall: I know for a fact that packers would like to screen and then discount cattle, or just not buy them, if you have a high incidence of liver abscesses. I believe the incidence of abscesses are reflected in the price of cattle now. According to Dr. Perino, our industry accepts up to 15 percent liver abscessation. The price of cattle is discounted for a 15 percent liver abscess incidence. If you were able to guarantee that your cattle were only going to have one to two percent liver abscessation, you could request from the packer (and probably receive) a premium for your cattle.
Q: Should we be concerned about the reliance on antibiotics in the feed to control liver abscesses?
Dr. Nagaraja: As an industry, we should be concerned. Particularly, as Europe is clamping down on using feed-grade antibiotics. I don't know when it's coming to this country. But I have a feeling, eventually, we may have to live without antibiotics as feed additives. I don't know how many more years we'll be able to use tylosin.
Dr. Cullor: From a national perspective, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the USDA jointly said that all antibiotic resistance in salmonellosis in humans was due to antibiotics being fed in agriculture. That's a pretty bold statement. Those of us in animal agriculture are going to have to deal with that perception. We need to plan now for what we can do should they eventually try to ban feed-grade antibiotics.
Q: Without the use of Tylan, what other choices do we have to control liver abscesses?
Dr. Cullor: Well, it's management. I'd like to see bunk management, better nutrition and immunization or vaccines. There probably won't be a single silver bullet, but a combination of how to manage for it when the antibiotics are gone. That's going to be better rations, better nutrition and immunizations.
Dr. MacGregor: Prevention is the name of the game. I think we need to look at time of prevention with the ranch being the optimum. Convince the rancher either through common sense or his pocketbook that it's worthwhile for them.