Correction to “Raising Steaks”

by Betty Fussell

I’ve just heard from my friends Nicolette and Bill Niman that I’ve  made an inadvertent but egregious error in my text of Raising Steaks that I want to correct immediately because it raises an important issue in the raising of livestock.

After visiting Bill’s breathtakingly beautiful ranch in Bolinas, CA, a a few years ago, I’d gone on to visit the small Purple Sage Feedlot he’d used for his cattle in Caldwell, ID.  This was run by a knowledgeable and caring couple, Rob and Michelle Stokes, who now work with the many kinds of livestock the Nimans now raise exclusively on the pastures at Bolinas.

Back then, Rob had explained to me that the two common feeds standard in the cattle industry were feather meal and distiller grains. But I made a big mistake when I quoted Rob as saying “The two common feeds we use …”(page 114).

I’d never heard of feather meal, so Rob explained that it is made from hydrolyzed chicken feathers and is used because this protein content degrades slowly in a cow’s rumen and thereby helps utilize the animal’s entire gastrointestinal tract. What’s wrong with feather meal is that chicken feathers are an animal byproduct and at that time I didn’t realize the importance of this issue in matters of beef safety, not to mention matters of animal welfare in general.

After I learned a lot more in the course of writing this book about the relation of cattle feed to cattle diseases like E.coli and Mad Cow, I should have realized something was wrong with my notes if I had Rob saying he used this byproduct as a common feed. I quoted him wrongly and I’m particularly sorry because the Nimans, and the Stokes, have always strongly opposed feeding feather meal to animals.

Bill Niman first created his company out of concern for the health and wellbeing of livestock raised for meat and as an alternative to the increasingly scary methods used by the meat industry. Nicolette Hahn spent her lawyer’s career working on the impact of industrial food systems on our environment, as you can read in her new book,  Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms (see my earlier post).

That they are living that life as a married couple, with the Stokes living nearby, well — even though Bill has recently lost his own corporatized company, it still seems like a Technicolor ending with goats romping in the grass and Heidi running to her grandpa with some fresh cheese. We count on the Nimans and Stokes of this world to provide alternatives to that buffalo stampede of the entire industrialized food chain over the cliff.

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Posted on Mar 16, 2009