At American feedlots, like Cargill in Minneapolis, cattle are brought in from breeding farms at around 6 months of age. Prior to this move, the cattle graze on grass. Because their stomachs contain an organ called a “ruminant,” they digest grass efficiently. Their stomachs have evolved to include this organ over millions of years. Cattle are actually one of the very few “ruminant” animals in the world—animals that naturally eat only grass.
But when cattle enter a feedlot, they are fed a mixture of corn flakes, antibiotics, and fatty slop. Each animal consumes about 25-33 pounds per day (a conservative estimate), and gain hundreds of pounds before being slaughtered 8-12 months later.
Essentially, as soon as the cattle enter the feedlot, they start dying. The cattle cannot digest corn, but our government needs to manage the country’s corn surplus, and selling it cheap to feedlots gets rid of most of that surplus. It also creates a booming market for pharmaceutical companies, because the cattle get sick shortly after beginning their corn diet. They suffer heartburn (alleviated only by a tube shoved down their esophagus to give air to the lungs) and the ruminant size increases and places heavy pressure on the kidneys, lungs, and heart. The pharmaceutical companies provide the antibiotics to treat these symptoms.
The antibiotics alleviate the swelling and aid the otherwise impossible digestion until the cattle reach 14-18 months, when they are slaughtered because they have gained enough fat, or “marbling,” but also because they are very close to dying all on their own. Even the onslaught of antibiotics that treat the sick animals can’t stave off death for more than 18 months. So, essentially, when we eat purely corn-fed beef, or any meat from factory farms, we are eating a dying animal. The antibiotics, or hormones, that are marketed to the country as “enhancing” are in effect only fending off death for a period of time.
Recommended Read: Micheal Pollen’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”
To find farms offering local meats: Eat Wild