Prosper Meats and Animal Welfare

December 05, 2019

Prosper Meats and Animal Welfare

GAP & Pasture Raised


We at Prosper Meats take great pride in the fact that we have achieved a rating of 4 - “Pasture Raised” from the animal welfare group, the Global Animal Partnership (GAP).


GAP is one of the largest animal welfare food labeling programs in North America. They work with all facets of the food industry including farmers, manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, and more to provide independent certification and labeling of food to ensure humane animal welfare standards. Getting a high GAP rating means that a 3rd party auditor has thoroughly inspected all aspects of a farm and can officially state whether or not they are doing things in a humane way. GAP auditors continually perform these audits every 10 months. 


So what is “4 - Pasture Raised”? It is not quite the same as the “Pasture Raised” certification given by the USDA or other such offices. The GAP certification of Pasture Raised is a bit more rigorous than most, and because of our belief in transparency we’d like to tell our customers exactly what this entails. At Prosper Meats we believe you should know about how your beef is raised, from seed to plate. This article will inform you about many of the most prominent certification standards, but if you would like to see all of the standards in their entirety, click here.


If you’re thinking that Pasture Raised relates to the outdoor environment in which the cattle live, then you’d be correct, but it is also much more. The life of beef cattle is more involved than one might think, and for those new to the process it helps to think of the lives of cattle in a few separate stages: Their reproduction and childhood; where they spend the majority of their lives and what comprises their diet; and finally the methods of medical treatment as well as transportation when their journey comes to an end. GAP looks at these aspects (and more) in the lives of beef cattle raised on farms, and they work tirelessly to try and improve the lives of these animals. We thank them for their service because, like them, we understand that people have to eat, but people don’t have to be cruel to the animals we raise for food even if that mentality hurts the “bottom line”. 

 

Pastures & grazing environment


Because the GAP ranking is named "Pasture Raised", it seems appropriate to start with the life of our cows on the pasture. It seems doubly appropriate as this is where some other non-certified cattle farmers creatively cut corners to save money at the expense of their livestock.


To meet the GAP’s high level of animal welfare for a Pasture Raised certification, cattle must spend their entire lives on our pastures unless leaving them outdoors would be harmful, as it might in some winter months. GAP prohibits removing an animal from range for more than 4 months a year, or for more than ¼ of the animal’s life. The cattle at Prosper Meats spend at least 3/4 of their lives on range when seasonal conditions permit, and they are taken indoors far less than 4 months out of the year. (Just remember folks, our farms are located in snowy Colorado.)


To some, this information is enough. But those truly concerned about animal welfare know that some conventional cattle farmers will still find ways to cut corners in these regards. After all, what is the definition of pasture? Can a pasture be a tiny plot of land filled with cattle? Is a parking lot with a few swaths of grass a pasture? Luckily, GAP has thought of this too and concluded that to meet a Pasture Raised standard, cattle may not be confined to an outdoor area that is less than 250 ft²/24m² per animal. That means large, open spaces.  


Now what about the land itself? Our pastures at Prosper Meats are proper pastures. We have been GAP certified to show our pastures contain at least “75% cover”. This means that over 75% of our pastures are covered in vegetation. Now, a lot more than 75% of our pastures are covered in vegetation, but the standard is either 75% or 100%. In Colorado, the arid climate combined with the nature of Colorado grasses means that there are stubborn, but small, patches that occur from time to time. Below is a photo from our pastures to help you envision them properly.

 

People may not realize that cows, like us, need to not only come indoors for inclement weather, but they also need to be able to shelter themselves from the sun when the weather is fine. GAP goes on to set standards for providing shelter to the cattle on pasture. They say that animals must have continuous access to a structure for shelter, and these structures must be well maintained to avoid risk of injury. When taking shelter, cattle must have continuous, unobstructed access to the outdoors, and bare concrete and/or muddy surfaces are unacceptable as the only surfaces. 


A “Pasture Raised” certification means that in the everyday lives of our cattle, they have access to shelter on our pastures. We build and maintain these shelters so that they are clean, comfortable, and able to be accessed when the cattle choose to access them. That's correct, unless there is severe weather our cattle are only sheltered when they want to be, and they can choose to walk outside whenever they please. 


We should mention again, that the definition of shelter could be vague enough for some to find shortcuts. Can an indoor shelter be so small that cows have to be crammed inside for them all to fit? Can it be a concrete shed? Luckily, GAP has thought of this too and concluded that to meet a Pasture Raised standard when housed indoors, animals must have enough space to be able to lie down and get up simultaneously without bumping or pushing another animal; move about freely; exercise, sleep, rest, and ruminate undisturbed; groom; play; and perform normal social behavior. To reach a GAP Pasture Raised standard like ours, the indoor spaces must be clean, comfortable, and large enough for all of the cattle in a pasture to comfortably fit. This is a major change from the housing of typical beef cattle.


Weaning & Reproductive Control


The average person isn’t familiar with all of the practices used by farmers to care for the reproductive health of their animals. The practices of weaning and castration are many and the GAP standards are rigorous to ensure animals are raised in a humane way. We won’t go into all of the details, and again, they can be found here, but we do want to highlight a few that most folks will understand and be happy to hear about. 


Weaning is a part of life that even we humans have to think about when raising our young. If you’re a parent, you have had the thought “when is it OK to stop breastfeeding my child?” It is obvious that, whether in humans or cattle, the premature cessation of access to milk can be traumatic for the infant, as well as the mother. Prosper Meats will not consider weaning a calf until at least 6 months of age, a time that is widely considered to be appropriate for the young animals. If at 6 months we deem that it would be too stressful for a particular calf, then we let them go longer. We all know that babies are sensitive, and the same is true for cattle. Although weaning is a necessary part of cattle farming, it shouldn’t be a harmful one.


Don’t worry, we won’t go into too much detail about the reproductive control processes used in cattle farming either. But rest assured, we take this process as seriously, if not more seriously, as we do all of our other standards. We only use humane, painless methods of castration and we are held accountable to this standard every 10 months by GAP certifiers. The fact is we cattle farmers do have to have a way to control animal population for their safety and wellbeing. The humane approach that we have chosen is not the cheapest or most efficient route, but it’s the right thing to do.


Medical Treatment & Transportation

 

GAP ensures that any farm they certify cares for sick or injured animals. If an animal is sick, we provide extensive records on what we did to care for the animal. The only use of antibiotics is when a cow is sick and needs them, same as when you or I would. If an animal is injured, we separate it and allow it to rest comfortably and recover. If an animal is “bullied” by other members of a herd, as does sometimes happen, we separate that cow from the “bullies”, let it recover, and ensure it is peacefully integrated with a different herd. We have extensive records relating to these practices as well, all of which are considered when giving a humane ranking. Allowing a cow to suffer from sickness or stress in inhumane, and we believe it doesn’t result in the same quality product.


When it comes to raising beef cattle, there is almost always a necessity for transport during, or at the end of the cow’s life. Prolonged periods of travel aren’t good for a cow’s wellbeing, simple as that. A GAP Pasture Raised ranking ensures that the maximum transport time off the farm never exceeds 16 hours total. This total drive time means that a break for the cows to walk around so that a longer drive can be attained is prohibited. It is a 16 hour max transport time no matter which way you slice it. 


There are additional standards for the quality of the transportation as well as the ramps and methods used for loading cattle inside. There is no place for shoddy cattle transport or dangerous methods of loading cattle onto a vehicle. The last journey of these animal’s life should be just as kind and dignified as the rest. 


Final thoughts


It would take a much longer article to explain all of the criteria that we have met to achieve our Pasture Raised certification, but we hope these larger points have been eye-opening when it comes to all of the effort we have put into making sure we raise our cattle the humane way. When you buy beef from Prosper Meats, you can be confident that you are buying a product that comes from animals who were treated in a kind, humane way for the entirety of their lives. If you have any additional questions or would like more information, please contact our support center. 







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