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Grassfarming Benefits Farmers and Farm Workers

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Farmers who raise their animals on pasture enjoy a number of benefits including being able to raise their families in a peaceful environment and eat nutritious, all-natural food. As you will read below, they are also spared the health hazards associated with factory farming. Just as important, many farmers are able to make a living selling their pastured products directly to consumers or restaurants. As the public becomes more aware of the benefits of pastured products, thousands of small family farms may survive.

Browse the articles:

Raising pigs indoors is hazardous for farm workers

According to a report issued by Iowa State University, working in swine buildings can expose workers to dangerously high levels of dust, ammonia, carbon dioxide and other gasses. The report states that "it is common to have swine buildings with ... [dust] concentrations high enough so that one is unable to see clearly across a 100 foot room. Concentrations of H2S, CO2, and CO may exceed levels recommended as safe in industrial occupational settings. Nearly 70% of swine confinement workers experience one or more symptoms of respiratory illness or irritation."

The Eatwild Directory of Farmers lists dozens of suppliers of pork from pigs raised on pasture. Farm workers and animals don't have to be subjected to toxic conditions in order to supply us with bacon, ham, and pork chops.

Livestock Confinement Dusts and Gases Collection; Farm and Operator Safety, Iowa State University. For the full report, click here

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Keeping dairy cows on pasture lowers the cost of milk production

Small dairy farmers are going bankrupt by the thousands, largely due to declining milk prices. Keeping the cost of production low is one of the keys to staying solvent. The least expensive feed ingredient is fresh pasture. The graph below shows the difference in feed costs between California (where most of the dairy cows are fed grain and concentrate) and New Zealand (where virtually all the cows are pasture-raised) Raising cows on pasture may allow small dairies to stay in business.

feed costs per unit of milk

Data Source: Dairy Research & Development Corporation, Australia

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Spending three hours in an indoor commercial poultry operation can cause inflammation

commercial poultry operationCommercial chicken houses are so crowded that there may be less than three-quarters of one square foot per bird. As many as 25,000 chickens are packed into one shed. This overcrowding creates high levels of ammonia fumes and fecal dust. A recent study determined that people who spend only three hours in such a building will experience "acute inflammatory reaction in the upper airways and increased bronchial responsiveness."

There was no mention of the welfare of the chickens. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Larsson, BM et al, "Airway responses in naive subjects to exposure in poultry houses." Am J Industrial Medicine, 1999 35:142-9.

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Pastured poultry and the people who raise them breathe fresh air

preening chickensThere is a day-and-night difference between conditions in a confinement chicken operation and those on a free-range poultry farm. On a free-range farm, the chickens have room to move, grass to forage, bugs to catch, and clean air to breathe. Just as important, the people who tend them are safe from high concentrations of dust and fumes.

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Grassfarming attracts younger, better educated people

In a 1997 survey of Pennsylvania dairy farmers, those farmers who kept their dairy cows on pasture were younger, better educated, more likely to use farm plans, and more interested in expanding their operations than farmers who kept their cows in confinement.

(To read more about the survey, click here.)

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Raising pigs on pasture increases farmer profit and yields healthier pigs

Modern agriculture has become so enamored with the feedlot system that one has to dig deep into the archives for studies that explored the alternatives. Here's a summary from a 1965 North Dakota State University study that compared raising pigs on concrete with raising pigs on spring pasture:

"The pigs on concrete had a higher rate of gain and were fed for a shorter period of time. However, these pigs required 17 pounds more feed per 100 pounds gain at. a cost of .33 more per 100 pounds gain than did the pigs on pasture. The pigs on concrete showed signs of stiffness and lameness especially as they reached market weights. They were somewhat softer in their finish than those raised on pasture. These conditions could result in a reduction in selling price under certain market conditions. This trial shows that good pasture can account for a substantial saving in feed. This saving, plus the absence of lameness and a firmer finish favor the use of pasture where possible. These advantages may become even more important where rations are not adequately balanced for protein, vitamins and minerals, because pasture can supply many of these factors."

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Raising dairy cows on pasture increases profit and reduces use of pesticides and oil

In a study of Vermont dairy farms, farmers who raised their cows on well-managed pasture earned $579 net income per cow over two years, compared with $451 per cow in the most profitable confinement dairies. "The largest savings found amongst the pasture-based farms included reductions in paid labor, crop costs (seed, fertilizer, lime, pesticide), repairs, fuel and oil." (To read the summary of the study, click here.)

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"Chicken catchers" have more breathing problems

"Chicken catchers," people who work in large indoor poultry operations catching the chickens scheduled for slaughter, have reduced lung capacity and a high rate of chronic phlegm (39%) and chronic wheezing (27%), according to the study cited below. "These results indicate that chicken catchers are at risk for respiratory dysfunction and emphasize the need to develop measures to minimize their exposure to respiratory toxicants in poultry confinement units."

Morris, P. D., S. W. Lenhart, et al. (1991). "Respiratory symptoms and pulmonary function in chicken catchers in poultry confinement units."Am J Ind Med 19(2): 195-204.

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