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Letters – for Apr. 11, 2011


I got my March issue of CATTLEMAN and was reading the letter from Lucie Lamoureux from Montreal. (Ms. Lamoureux thought the picture of a bear attacking cows on the cover of our January calving issue was an arranged photo — Ed.)

Has she had anything to do with cows or ever looked at a CANADIAN map to know where Ft. Fraser B.C. is? It is in the mountains and it is the natural range of black bears. Arranged! Predators are a way of life on a ranch in the interior of B.C. If you had a trained bear the cows would react the same way.

I have been hit by cows that were chasing a dog. Guess where the dog went? Yep, right between my legs. It was a Baxter Black moment. Figure it out, predators are a threat and cows will fight to the death to protect their calves.

A mountain pasture is very peaceful and cows love it but every once in awhile all hell breaks loose.

By the way what predators do you have more of in Montreal? Chevies or Fords?




I am referring to the “Eat less water” heading in the Special Information Feature in the March 12, 2011 issue of the GLOBE AND MAIL. That item used one of the often-quoted estimates that it takes from just over 10,000 to 15,000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of beef.

I totally agree that we, as humans need to look at our water footprint. At the same time the estimate of water use for beef production is vastly overstated.

A very generous estimate of the water consumption of a mother cow and her calf until it reaches market is probably not more than 44,000 litres. Another thousand litres might be used in processing the carcass. The end product is a live animal weighing about 1,300 pounds and about 442 pounds of meat that we can eat. Thus the amount used by the animal and processing a kilogram of edible meat will consume no more than 220 litres, probably less. A quarter-pound hamburger (125 grams) therefore represents a water consumption of 27.5 litres, just over one per cent of the 2,400 litre estimate quoted (by the GLOBE &MAIL). How can that be?

The reason for this gross overestimate is because it includes all of the water needed to produce all of the grain and forage consumed by the cow and calf. This would be valid if that water had an alternate use. But that is not the case. Much of the life of a cow and calf is spent on dryland pasture, which would not produce any food but for these grazing animals. The rest is mainly from dryland crops. Even some of that is inedible crop residues. The rain which falls on this dry land is not available for any other use so it should not be included in the estimate of water required to produce a hamburger.




The old saying “too much of a good thing” doesn’t seem to apply to Alberta’s beef packing companies. The recent announcement that XL Foods (a Nilsson Bros. company) will receive $1.6 million in Growing Forward/ALMA funding over the next two years to increase the value-added production capacity of its Lakeside, Brooks plant follows hot on the heels of a $3 million gift to Cargill Meat Solutions to improve its High River Plant. In a province that prides itself on “free market” ideals, these actions are proof that in Alberta the facts are negotiable as long as the ideology stands.

As both these plants were built in Alberta initially with the benefit of subsidies a sense of entitlement seems to have been afforded them which doesn’t appear to apply to new entrants in the beef processing sector. During the BSE crisis the owners of these two plants received tens of millions of dollars direct compensation in addition to the windfall gains they made through manipulating market prices to siphon off compensation payments intended for cattle producers. The icing on the cake was utilizing the captive supply situation created by the U.S. border closure to procure Canadian cattle cheaply and sell boxed beef into the hottest market the U.S. had ever seen.

This is particularly galling to cattle producers, especially cow-calf operators who bore the brunt of the losses after BSE. Many of these ranchers approached the Alberta Government with proposals to build producer owned or controlled packing plants with the intention of creating more competition for live cattle, accessing new markets and enhancing producers’ returns. Almost without exception these requests were turned down. Seven years later our beef sector has been gutted of equity, greatly reduced in size and the government policy of subsidizing the established mega-packers has clearly failed.

How ironic that in the recent throne speech the government recognized the need to diversify markets into Asia and rely less on the U.S. — something ranchers told them in 2004 — yet the subsidies continue to be directed at maintaining the status quo.





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