Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

When the wind picked up from the south on John Schweiser’s farm outside Rocky Ford, Colo., the sky would go black. A charging wall of dust would force the 80-year-old farmer and his wife to hunker down in their ranch-style farmhouse.

“You’d look up and here’d come this big ol’ rolling dirt,” Schweiser said. “You couldn’t see how high it was.”

Jeremy Bernfeld / Harvest Public Media

The largest association of U.S. physicians is calling for tighter rules on antibiotic use in livestock.

The American Medical Association (AMA) says there should be an outright federal ban on using antibiotics to plump up farm animals. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration asked pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily phase out the use of antimicrobial drugs that promote growth in livestock.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Drought is re-shaping the beef map and raising the price of steak. Ranchers are moving herds from California to Colorado and from Texas to Nebraska seeking refuge from dry weather. And cattle producers in the Midwest are making the most of it.

(Courtesy USDA)

Farm work has always been one of the most dangerous jobs in America -- as the government has reported, academics have researched and those doing the work well know.  

But new research from the University of California-Davis suggests for the first time that it’s a much more dramatic problem than the federal government recognizes, making the hazards faced by agriculture workers the most undercounted of any industry in the U.S.

Peggy Lowe / KCUR

When the people from the drug company came out to visit Tyler Karney at Ordway Feedyard on Colorado’s eastern plains, he was a little skeptical.

They said their product, Zilmax, could put another 30 pounds on an animal in the last days before slaughter. Then he started blending it into the feed for the 6,500 head of Holsteins at this huge feedlot.

“We feed it the last 20 days of the feeding period and when you drive by, you can actually see a physical change in the animal,” Karney said. “They’re chest floor’s wider and just, a boxier animal. It’s kinda hard to believe.”

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Over the last 20 years, the number of sheep in this country has been cut in half. In fact, the number has been declining since the late 1940s, when the American sheep industry hit its peak. Today, the domestic sheep herd is one-tenth the size it was during World War II.

The decline is the result of economic and cultural factors coming together. And it has left ranchers to wonder, “When are we going to hit the bottom?”

New Reporting Series Covers 'America's Big Beef'

Dec 7, 2012

On Monday, Harvest Public Media launches a five-part series called "America’s Big Beef: An Industry in Transition." It's a deep dive into the big business of cattle.