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Food and Farms Issues: Sheep and Cow Industry

Food and Farms Issues: Sheep and Cow Industry


Out of the basic needs, food is the most important. In early days, food was plenty and easily accessible. However, nowadays affording three meals per day is a dream to some common Americans. This unpleasant truth comes as an effect of increased population and developed economy with the current state of economy being unfair to the low-income earners. A considerable number of American citizens are in need of more and cheaper food, especially when it comes to meat (Forman 219). Meat has become the most affordable source of protein for most Americans with beef being considered a status of wealth for most people. Due to its popularity in the United States, corn is considered a common grain found in many parts of the country. Corn is cheap and readily available; hence, this product dominates the shelves of every supermarket (Pollan 898).

When it comes to red meat diet most Americans would prefer veal, hog, lamb and mutton. The reason being, these delicacies are, or may be cheaper compared to pork and chevon. Demand for red meat has recently grown up, and triggered industrialization of food production in the country to satisfy the demand at minimum cost possible (Forman 219). This improvement has led to a higher standard of living due to employment opportunities (Forman 219). Though still being criticized by some part of American population, food production industry has grown to international standard. The food industry in the country, especially the agricultural sector, has recently had some significant setbacks; the ambition to maximize production, and at the same time, make a profit (Forman 219). Due to industrialization of this sector, the environmental issues have been the issue for discussion. Specialization has been on the rise in many states. Some farmers made a decision to rear animals only while others have resorted to growing cash crops only. This paper will analyze the use of use of sheep and cattle for food in USA, in addition to a personal experience from Dubai.

The Sheep Industry

Sheep industry in the United States is the smallest compared to any other animal industry of the country. The United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) estimated the population of sheep and goats in 2012 to be 5,345,000 (Sheep101). The figure is too small in relation to high demand for red meat in the country. Therefore, the country is forced to spend a significant amount of money to import mutton from other foreign countries, like Australia and China, ones of the largest lamb meat producers in the world (Sheep101). Though most Americans prefer the ‘Local Food System’, mutton from local farms is supplied at a better price compared to one that is imported (Forman 220). Sheep industry in the United States dates to 1493. This time Americans had not yet gained their independence. Sheep at that time were used primarily for their wool; their meat and milk were not much consumed. The wool was, usually, used for the homemade textile. Today, the emerging sheep industries produce wool, lamb meat, mutton and milk due to its high demand in the market (The National Academy of Sciences 1).

There has been a steady decline of sheep industry in the past years due to reduction of the number of sheep heads since 1940s. 42 million heads of sheep were recorded in the 1942; the number had gone down to 6.2 million heads as of January 1st, 2007 (The National Academy of Sciences). Since the demand for mutton remained stable for the above period such dramatic decline has no sound explanation. The situation can be explained by stiff competition from other countries forcing most sheep farmers to struggle to maintain the industry. Sheep farmers do not have direct control of such external factors as globalization. To curb this situation the farmers have to embrace new technologies in order to improve efficiency (The National Academy of Sciences 1). The America Sheep Industry Association is urging farmers to increase the number of heads of sheep and also their productivity (Sheep101).Sheep operations in the United States consist of two types, namely: Range Sheep Operation and Farm Flock Sheep Operation

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Range Sheep Operation

This type of operation is practiced mainly in the Western States of this country. The sheep are, usually, reared in “traditional” conditions. The animals are allowed to graze in native unfenced or unimproved pasturelands under the watchful eye of a shepherd. The flock usually consists of 1000 heads of sheep with their lambs (The National Academy of Sciences 1).

Farm Flock Sheep Operation

This type of activity is practiced mainly in the mid-Western and Eastern States of United States. The animals are grazed and on small and well-improved pasturelands. Sheep in this operation are mainly kept for meat and wool or pelt textiles and milk for producing cheeses and yogurt as well. Pure sheep breeds are also being kept for exhibition in trade fairs (The National Academy of Sciences 2). Though, these operations are declining because small flocks must be productive in order to have the best market (Sheep101).

Lamb Feeding Industry

Lamb feeding industries are concentrated mainly in the Colorado. Others include Texas, California, Iowa and Oregon. Commercial lambs have to undergo several stages of feeding before they are ready to be supplied to the market. First, the animals are grazed on traditional pastures, and then they are fed according to specially designed feeding system, like COFAs feeds, to grow and gain weight quickly. Finally, the animals are released to the market (Forman 222; The National Academy of Sciences 2). The locals prefer buying lamb directly from farmers for higher quality. Despite stable demand for mutton, lamb breeders faced difficulties due to high cost of feeds and high price in mutton. It can also be attributed to high demand on light-weight slaughter lambs by other markets (The National Academy of Sciences 2).

The Sheep Dairy Industry

Though cows produce the largest quantity of milk among other livestock and it’s by-products like cheeses and yogurts, sheep has the potential to out-weigh cows in the milk and its by-products production industry. The demand for sheep dairy products has recently been high. To satisfy this demand, the United States has had to import sheep milk by-products other active sheep-rearing countries (The National Academy of Sciences 4). Local sheep industries do not have the required equipment to produce the required production on a large scale. Many local sheep farmers produce sheep dairy products in small scale in their homes (The National Academy of Sciences 4).

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The Beef or Cow Industry

Beef is another commonly and most consumed meat apart from mutton, pork and goat meat in the United States. As of April 2011, in its report USDA, NASS Livestock Slaughter 2010 Summary 26.6 billion tons of beef and 145 million of calf meat have been realized (Sheep101). This revelation proved that beef is highly consumed red meat compared to any other livestock meat. The feeding nature of beef cattle has rendered them the most favored source of red meat protein. Land that cannot be used to produce cash crops, like corn, can be used by the state government to grow cattle food.

Though beef production is widespread throughout the United States, large-scale production is experienced in the western states of the country (US EPA), as well as the sheep production industry. The reason is that the western states have a favorable climate and conditions for the livestock industries.

Beef cattle in the beef production industry in the United States is believed to be native cattle from European countries while others were brought from Tropical countries. ‘Bos taurus’ is believed to have originated from European countries like the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Belgium. ‘Bos taurus’ were kept for quality meat and milk production. ‘Bos indicus’ from tropical countries in the South-East Asia and Africa  known for their harsh climate can tolerate high temperature and humidity. Therefore, the cattle of this breed is more resistible to infective diseases carried by insects like ticks, mosquitoes and tsetse fly. The ‘Bos indicus’ are mainly kept for their meat and milk production, hide and, most importantly, they are used to perform domestic works (US EPA). America had no domestic cattle until the second voyage by Columbus. The Spanish longhorn cattle were brought to Mexico by Vera Cruz, and from here cattle spread throughout the United States especially the Western side of the country (US EPA). Over the years, consumption of protein has increased and its effects seen in the improved human diet. In this regard, beef and milk are the best and at the same time, the most expensive sources of protein (US EPA). Cow-calf operation on feedlot cattle is widely spread in the Corn Belt, Pacific Northwest and Southwest where it is always carried out on land that is not being used for crop cultivation.

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The cow or the beef industry has declined over the last twenty years. In 1986, there were one million beef cow operations while the year of 2000, recorded only 830 thousand beef operations and 2012 – 723 thousand respectively (US EPA). The Cattle inventory of the 1st of July 2014, saw 98 million heads of beef cattle, which was 3 percent less from a year ago. The number of heads of cows has remained steady – 30 million. There are still many beef operations in the country, though the number of heads declined (US EPA). In is worth saying, the industry has created job opportunities for over one million jobs to people of the United States.

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Apart from residential reasons, most land in the States has been kept aside for farming, especially cash crop farming. As mentioned above, corn is the most grown cash crop in most of the states in the country. Most shelves in the supermarkets around the country are filled with corn products ranging from flour to animal food (Pollan 897). Most Americans are health conscious, and they would not hesitate to substitute meat with vegetables or grains. Concerns are being raised over the health and quality of animals fed according to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, CAFO. In the United States, large-scale sheep breeding is mostly centered in the Western states including Texas, California, Colorado and Idaho just to mention a few. According to a 2012 report by USDA NASS, Texas is a leading large scale sheep operation state followed by California. (Sheep101).

Personal Experience

Due to large-scale beef operations, veal is available in the nearby supermarkets in large quantity throughout the country. Compared with beef, due to decline in sheep operation around the country, sheep meat can be found in the supermarkets in considerably smaller quantities. Most people prefer to purchase mutton directly from the nearby sheep flock farmers. Muslims, who the author of this paper is among, prefer buying live animals or meat from a trusted sources. People may also prefer meat from flock farmers for health concerns. Many people interviewed believe local supplies are safe and free from manmade feeds, which to some extent might contain chemicals. In this regard, local supplies are in a beneficial position since that they feed the cattle and sheep on pastures and grains such as feeds made from corn and hay. NorthBourne Food is a company in Texas engaged in beef, lamb and pork delivery. The company prides itself in supplying high-quality meat (NorthBourne Foods). For those who like buying fresh and quality veal and mutton, Rehoboth Ranch is the right place. Rehoboth Ranch is located in the green pasturelands in Texas, the home for natural livestock products (Rehoboth Ranch).