The other day, I was over at my neighbor’s, R&R Farm, helping to clear some feed corn stalks from their vegetable garden. The intention was to till up the row nearest the cow and chicken pasture, then replant it in German White garlic for next year’s crop. It was somewhat cool, but the ground was dry enough, finally, to be able to till.
Before continuing, it seems more description will help here. The area of their vegetable garden is a little over a hundred feet long, and it is bordered on one side by the aforementioned cow and chicken pasture, which is separated by metal fencing that keeps both the cows and the chickens on the other side of the fence, that is, in the pasture. Now, throughout the year, Jen and Kirk, the owners of R&R Farm, toss random vegetables and weeds into the pasture, where the cows or chickens eat up those scraps. As a result, when they see human activity in the vegetable garden they mosey on over to see if any goodies will be acomin’ their way.
And mosey they do… at least the cows. The chickens tend to sprint. While I was pulling out those confounded dead corn stalks, in what seemed like only a couple of minutes, there were two cows up against the fence watching my activity. One minute there were none, then, multiple spectators. And not to forget the chickens, they were there too. They are always near. But anyway, there I was with dead corn stalks in my hand and animals looking for a treat only feet away. Surely they wouldn’t want a corn stalk, would they? On one of the stalks there was an ear of dried corn still attached, so I pulled it off, and thus my experiment began…
The vast majority of beef cattle in this country are raised, at least the last portion of their lives, on CAFOs or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. These operations have as many as a thousand cattle that are penned in cramped lots of concrete, where they are fed mostly a diet of corn, (genetically modified, of course), so as to fatten them up as quickly as possible for slaughter. (If you would like to see how they operate, watch Food, Inc.) The situation of CAFOs is both cruel and very unusual punishment for the cattle, where they are fed an unnatural diet, in cramped and disgustingly unsanitary conditions. But without getting too much into that topic, suffice it to say, that that type of farming is completely opposite to the type of cattle raising on R&R Farm, where the cattle are raised on… grass!
The reason I bring this up, is that on CAFOs, corn is the main, if not only, source of nourishment for the cattle. The thing is, corn is not part of a cow’s natural diet. Grasses are there natural diet. Some genius figured out that since corn growing is subsidized by the government, and is endless in supply, why waste land for cattle to pasture, when you can pen a thousand of them up and feed them all the wonderful subsidized corn they can eat, which does fatten them up, and since they are sold by the pound… more cashola! And the cattle form of factory farming was born! Agriculture became more about money than health, for humans or the cattle…
But enough on that. The issue for that particular day on R&R Farm, was that I was standing near a couple of cows patiently awaiting a treat, and I had an ear of feed corn, albeit not genetically modified, in my hand. So, I pulled back the husk to reveal the golden kernels and stuck it over the fence toward one of the cows. The cow did not seem to be too interested in what I had to offer. After a minute, I dropped it on the ground near it to return to work.
After the ear of corn was on the ground, the cow bent and sniffed. “What’s this?” was what it seemed to question. It brushed it with its nose, then stared at it for a while,… then slowly mosied away. I was actually stunned to witness that. For some reason, I thought the cow might actually lick the ear of corn, if not nibble on it. But no! Nothing doing! It had absolutely zero interest in that product which is almost exclusively fed to CAFO cattle. (Of course, the CAFO corn is genetically modified…)
Before the cow had mosied too far away, I felt guilty about my experiment. The cow had anticipated some treat and all it was offered was junk food, that is, food to it that is junk. I saw a lambsquarter weed that was only about three feet tall, (they don’t grow the eight foot weed variety I produce on my farm), and pulled it from the ground. The cow saw my activity and paused. As I walked to the fence with the greenery, the cow approached. It sniffed what I offered, and promptly bit into it! Cows like lambsquarter!
I am simply amazed to watch the different animals on R&R Farm when offered the different types of vegetation. If their senses tell them it is good, they devour it quickly. If the senses deem the food not desirable, they leave it alone. In a similar way that is how I grow my vegetables. Instead of concocting some formula for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to add to the soil for a certain crop, I add lots of organic compost, which has all kinds of healthy minerals in it… and let the plants decide what to eat!
Over the year, I have watched and learned some of the animal’s dietary preferences. While pigs love wild chicory, especially the root, they will not touch bell peppers. And while cows like pig weed and lambsquarter, they won’t touch corn, unless, of course, they are confined in tight quarters with corn as the only option for food!
And as for that lonely ear of corn abandoned on the grass of the pasture… fear not, for there were chickens on the pasture as well. Chickens love grain, especially corn!