Tag Archives: Cattle

Lower bovine jaw.

Neolithic cattle farmers were much more specialized than you’d think

Ancient farmers 5,400 years ago had much a much more refined understanding of animal rearing than you’d suspect, research from the University of Basel reveals.

Lower bovine jaw.

A lower bovine jaw found in the settlement.
Image credits University of Basel.

The study was performed by researchers from Switzerland, Germany, and the UK, led by Prof. Jörg Schibler from the University of Base. It focused on the ancient settlement of Arbon Bleiche 3, which once hugged the southern bank of Lake Constance, Switzerland.

Arbon Bleiche 3 is considered to be one of the most important Neolithic sites in the country of banks and chocolate. This is largely thanks to Lake Constance, whose silt deposits helped preserve the bits of organic material (such as houses’ timber elements) in their original form. Using dendrochronological (tree-ring dating) methods, the researchers were able to date the wood’s age down to the year. As such, they were able to determine that the settlement saw occupation for only 15 years in the 34th century BC.


Now that they had a “when”, the team also wanted to know “what was going on” during the time this settlement saw use — in particular, they were curious to see the socio-economic system the inhabitants were using 5,400 years ago. And the fastest way to get a glimpse into that system was to look at livestock and land use patterns in the community.

Toothy questions

Teeth and bones from some 25 heads of cattle were also unearthed at the site, which the team used to get their answers. Using strontium and carbon isotope analysis, the team was able to determine that the farmers in Arbon Bleiche 3 used three different livestock rearing strategies in parallel.

The herd was divided into three groups. One was kept close to the village around the year, a second one was kept on pastures far from the settlement. The third group alternated between these pastures, being sent on more distant pastures for a few months every year. Analysis of enamel and plant traces in the teeth suggests that some of the cattle were taken to higher pastures during the warmer seasons, potentially signaling the birth of modern Alpine pastoral farming.

Seeing such a specialized distribution of grazing lands hint to a more elevated society and more complex social systems than previously believed. Using a wider grazing land allows more animals to be reared while avoiding overgrazing, but requires social systems robust enough to dictate who gets to graze where, and then to ensure that these social contracts are observed.

The team further reports that different cattle herds moved about in different ways. Beyond the 27 houses and the farmer families that lived there, other groups specializing in different kinds of cattle farming also resided in Arbon Bleiche 3. All of which further point to refined social systems governing the settlement, as well as a keen understanding of the wants and needs of different species of livestock.

The paper “High-resolution isotopic evidence of specialised cattle herding in the European Neolithic” has been published in the journal PLOS One.

US cattle farmers have been feeding cows candy for years, spilled Skittles reveal

A trucking accident on the Dodge County highway revealed the US livestock industry’s sweetest secret — farmers have been feeding cows defective Skittles on the down low to avoid paying for corn.

Image credits Dodge County Sheriff’s Office / Facebook.

Wisconsin cattle farmers are in a sticky situation with customers after a truck spilled thousands of Skittles on County Highway S intended as animal feed. The candy, all colored in pink and carrying the brand’s distinctive white ‘S’, didn’t meet quality standards and was actually cheaper than corn.

The Sheriff’s department reported that the Skittles were boxed up in the back of a flatbed truck. Due to rain, the crates got wet and slipped onto the road and broke apart, spewing candy everywhere. Highway maintenance teams were deployed to dispose of the sweets.

In wake of the finding, public voices raised concern that this practice would negatively impact the quality of meat. Experts, however say that there’s no cause for alarm — as the practice has been going on for a few years now. The candy is not only cheaper than traditional feed (especially the defective ones) but they may actually provide a host of other benefits.

“Cows need carbohydrates, as well. They need sugar. It provides energy and calories for them,” said Liz Binversie, Brown County UW-Extension Agriculture Educator. “Your body doesn’t really distinguish candy vs syrup vs corn vs whatever,” she added.

“It actually has a higher ratio of fat (than) actually feeding them straight corn,” said Joseph Watson, owner of United Livestock Commodities, who swapped for candy during the 2012 drought when corn prices skyrocketed.

And some argue that the practice may also be more environmentally friendly than using traditional feed and throwing these candies out. John Waller, a professor of animal nutrition at the University of Tennessee, said for NBC:

“I think it’s a viable (diet).”

“It keeps fat material from going out in the landfill, and it’s a good way to get nutrients in these cattle. The alternative would be to put (the candy) in a landfill somewhere.”

I do see his argument — waste is nobody’s friend. But how can Skittles be ‘defective’? It’s candy. It’s supposed to be sweet, and that’s all it has to be. If you look at the big enough picture, producing a pound of the stuff has a higher impact than producing a pound of corn. It makes sense to feed it to cows rather than dumping them, sure, but I’d rather not have to make the choice in the first place.

Still, with corn prices at an all time high, it’s unlikely that the farmers will wean off candy any time soon.  At the end of the day the cows get to chow on some sweets and I guess that’s nice.

Another upside to the whole story is that the Dodge County Sheriff’s posts about the incident are pure gold:

They later said that the crash actually helped, since the roads had been icy for days and the candy provided “extra traction”.

Never change, Dodge County department.

China builds massive cloning factory to feed its people

Here’s a little exercise in imagination; you’re going over to some friends’ place for dinner, and they present you with a huge steak that looks so delicious it makes your mouth water. You cut out a bite and just before your lips touch the much-craved morsel you hear your host saying it’s “top quality cloned-veal.”

What do you do now? Do you eye your steak suspiciously and then try your best to ignore it the whole meal or do you chow down on your not-so-unique cut of veal?

One of these things is just like the others.
Image via wikipedia

A controversial choice

It seems that there are as many opinions regarding the use of cloned meat for food as there are peoples. On one side of the spectrum, we have the European Parliament, who recently passed a law that outright bans the sale of cloned livestock. At the same time, despite evidence that cloned animals live shorter lives than their born-and-bred brothers, the FDA considers “there are no complications that are unique to cloning” and so the meat is safe to eat. US law doesn’t require any special labeling for cloned meat, while officials don’t really know how common the use of cloned meat in food is, most cloned cattle in the country are probably not sold for food but used as breed stock.

And now China steps up to color the other end of the specter — a massive, 200 million yuan (over $31 million) commercial animal cloning facility will be built in the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (a government-owned business area about 100 miles out of Beijing) with the sole purpose of cloning China’s cattle. And given the country’s already immense population, positive birthrate but most of all its burgeoning middle-class, it’s gonna be a lot of cattle.

“We are going [down] a path that no one has ever travelled. We are building something that has not existed in the past,” said Xu Xiaochun, chief executive of BoyaLife, the company behind the new operation for The Guardian.

The company intends to produce 100,000 cow embryos each year, providing around 5 percent of the meat eaten in China. BoyaLife also plans to clone champion racehorses and dogs used to sniff out victims of natural disasters or stashes of illegal drugs. Xu also told The Guardian that the new clone factory would be used to prevent endangered species from going extinct.

“This is going to change our world and our lives. It is going to make our life better. So we are very, very excited about it,” Xu added.

South Korean company Sooam Biotech will also participate in setting up the cloning complex, lending their expertise in this field (apparently they can even clone your dog for you, if you wand that for whatever reason) to the factory processes. The company is run by scientist Hwang Woo-suk, once known as “the pride of Korea” and the “king of cloning,” who has since fell out of grace and was dismissed from his post at Seoul National University when it was found he fabricated a series of experiments in 2006. It seems he was guilty of “research fraud and gross ethical lapses in the way he obtained human eggs for his experiments.”

Still, his partners from China aren’t discouraged by this, and work on their factory is in full swing, and almost complete.

 “We want it to be modern, we want it to be cutting edge. We want it to represent the future,” Xu concluded.