By Juan Escandor Jr.
MASBATE CITY---A lot of articles regarding the greenhouse effect and the environmental implications of cattle production had been written that spawned the idea of producing beef in laboratories.
But an organic ranch manager here, who had been into cattle ranching for 42 years, debunks the notion that cattle raised in ranches contributes much to the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
Does cattle production increase greenhouse gas emission?
“That is correct and that is wrong,” Adrian “Randy” Favis, 63, manager of Grassfed Ranch, responded. “It is correct because of the way some people grow cattle. They put them in feedlots which is unnatural.”
Certified organic ranch
Grassfed Ranch, owned by Favis Development and Management Corporation, is certified by the Organic Certification Center of the Philippines (OCCP) as the only third-party certified organic ranch in the country.
Favis, who earned his agriculture degree at Xavier University in 1976, said that cows have a four-chamber stomach and can covert grass to beef. “So, why are they putting them on cement and feeding them grain which they are not supposed to eat anyway.”
He said large feedlots for cattle produce tons of manure which does not only emit greenhouse gasses but also require machines to push them out and lots of water to clean them up.
“Feedlots are unnatural way of producing cattle and they (people blaming cattle production for greenhouse effect) are correct that this kind of production contributes to the accumulation of greenhouse gasses,” Favis agreed.
Common in the United States for livestock production, the Department of Agriculture in that country defines feedlot as “a lot or building or combination of lots and buildings intended for the confined feeding, breeding, raising, or holding of animals and specifically designed as a confinement area in which manure may accumulate, or where the concentration of animals is such that a vegetative cover cannot be maintained within the enclosure.”
Favis said, unlike the operation of feedlots, cattle ranching is environment friendly and sustainable because the animals are raised the natural way in the wild. “It has the biggest mitigating factor to change the imbalance in greenhouse gases because the biggest carbon bank is the soil,” he added.
Reduction of carbon footprint
“If you grow cattle the way they are supposed to be raised, you will be actually reducing the carbon footprint in the atmosphere by trapping it into the soil,” Favis shares.
He said being an organic ranch, they do not use antibiotics and hormones in the production with the exception of some sudden instances; they have to use antibiotics when the animals inoculated are recorded and never enter in the food cycle.
Favis uses a computer software called Herdmaster developed in Australia to monitor anything that is done to every single cattle in the ranch, like the application of medicines.
But they use Cydectin, Fenbendazole and Ivermectin---three USDA-approved dewormer for organic program, he said. “For as long as we stay in those three (USDA-approved dewormer) we’re still organic,” he added.
Favis said when an animal in a conventional ranch gets sick needs a hospital pen to treat them with antibiotics and other medicines.
“In my case, following the organic practice of ranching, when the animal gets iffy, I sell it immediately. I don’t need hospital pen,” he said.
Favis qualified his statement that the animals he sells immediately at the local market do not have disease but those that have injuries or those that are too thin because of a drought.
He said for the past 15 years he has not vaccinated his cattle although he said it is allowed for an organic cattle producer.
“Vaccines are preventive medicine. They are modified live virus. The only vaccines I’ve ever used here are for hemorrhagic septicemia, which is like a flu, and Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). But the Philippines is now FMD-free, so we don’t need vaccination for this,” Favis said.
In 2011, the Philippines was declared FMD-free without vaccination by the Office International des Epizooties (OIE), the world body tasked to monitor animal health global.
Favis said the cattle in his ranch are free-ranged and grow on grass they eat in the sprawling ranch which requires soil management practices in order to ensure whole-year-round supply of grasses.
Soil, grass management
The principles of soil and grass management are about making the soil healthy so that the grass will grow abundantly and giving enough time for the grass to recover from grazing, he said.
Favis said he practices intensive grazing which is concentrating the animals in one area so that they can deposit their manure and urine to enrich the soil with micro-organism. After which, he said, he moves the animals to another area.
“By moving them on, you break the life cycle of parasites like ticks, fly and worms. At the time these parasites are ready to infect the animals, they are gone. It minimizes the need to use chemicals to destroy the parasites’ life cycle,” he said.
Favis said he observes recovery period for the grass to grow which starts growing three days after the animals have eaten them. He said during wet season, the recovery period is 21-28 days and for the dry season, 35-40 days.
He said it is important to study the vegetation of the ranch and divide them into paddocks where the cattle graze by rotation.
“Now we are experimenting with electric fencing so that we can concentrate one herd in smaller area, then move them, even if you have to move them every day,” Favis said. He explained the electric current in the fence is not fatal and not a steady current but a pulse and the cattle easily learn to adjust.
He said he is practicing the ratio of one hectare to one head of cattle but he wanted to push the ratio further.
Starting from scratch
Looking back, Favis was a fresh graduate from college when his father bought the property in the village of Tigbao in Milagros town and entrusted it to him to start a ranch of which about three hectares of it had been occupied by settlers.
“We started from the scratch, no cattle, no fence. We bought about a hundred and twenty heads locally, some bulls from Saranggani in South Cotabato. Then we started breeding using the best genetics we could get. Sometimes in 1976, we imported about a hundred heads from Australia for our breeding stock of red and grey Brahmans. Then, we started doing artificial insemination using American bloodlines. Now, I’m using Australian bloodlines with focus on fertility which is the profit driver,” he narrated.
In 1988, Favis opened a meat shop in Landmark Supermarket and Trinoma and later after they were certified organic they opened an organic meat shop which is The Farm, then the restaurant with the same name in Rockwell. They also branched out in Tagaytay, Nuvali and Farmer’s Center in Alabang.
He said they practice aging of beef up to 21 days for it to tenderize and make it taste better through wet aging by putting the beef cut in vacuum pack or dry aging in which the carcass is hung for the fluids to drip. He said the aging process does not spoil or make the meat rotten even though it may get discolored. He cautioned that aging the meat must not go beyond 21 days.
Favis said that in 2010-11, his son Martin who was then living in the United States started learning about organic and healthy food especially since he is asthmatic.
He said Martin convinced him to make organic the cattle raising in the ranch although he had been practicing organic ranching without certification from the OCCP.
“We approached the OCCP and we were certified and we found out that we are the only organic cattle ranch in Philippines. But I don’t know if it had changed because there might be other ranches that may have been certified also,” Favis related.