Earth Day and ranching go hand in hand. Ranchers are stewards of the land and we all take pride in that fact. We work our hardest to utilize the newest technology and any other ways at our disposal to make ourselves the most sustainable we can possibly be. We rely on the land and we take pride in giving back to that same land.
Lets go into details. Just how sustainable are we as ranchers?
The biggest myth surrounding beef is “cow farts”. We have all heard the celebrities and media talking about the emissions associated with beef – but did you know that beef cattle and beef cattle feed production is only responsible for 3.7% of the U.S. emissions according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If we look at all of agriculture, including beef production, it accounts for around 9% of total U.S. emissions. By contrast, transportation accounts for 27% of emissions in the U.S., obviously a much much larger percentage. Furthermore, if all livestock in the U.S. were eliminated and every American followed a vegan diet, greenhouse gas emissions would only be reduced by 2.6%, or 0.36% globally, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. This would lead to an increase in use of synthetic fertilizer and increased soil erosion – so the research is blaring – eliminating agriculture in the U.S. is not the solution.
Not only are cow farts not as bad as some celebrities might be falsely stating, beef cattle are upcyclers. Did you know that the feed a grain finished cow will eat 2.6 pounds of grain for a pound of beef, and 90% of that grain in inedible to humans? A beef cow will be fed a diet that includes waste feedstuffs from the region they are living in (for example, corn stalks, cottonseed hulls, soybean hulls). A beef cattle only takes 308 gallons of water per pound of beef, which equates to 5% of water withdrawals – and the majority of that water is recycled!
Now I know I love a good steak, but turns out beef by-products are in our every day life. Did you know that cattle organs and glands are used to produce medicine, insulation, antifreeze, shampoos and conditioners, and instrument strings? Fun fact – some cattle tissues can be used in human heart valve surgeries – talk about up cycling! Bones and horns are used to make photo film, vitamin capsules, charcoal and glass. Inedible beef fat is used to make airplane lubricants, hydraulic brake fluid, biodiesel and medicine.
Beef cattle can be used as natural weed exterminators – interrupting the cycle of weeds, and adding back nutrients to the ground which in term fosters the growth of grasses and desirable plants. More than 40% of the land in the continuous U.S. is pasture and rangeland that is too arid, steep, rocky, or otherwise unfit for cultivated agriculture. Cattle can thrive in these conditions – coexist with the wildlife and mitigate fire risks. Cattle are natural wildfire suppressants – after the catastrophic fires in California a couple years ago, scientists once again dove into just how much impact grazing has on wildfire risk. They found that domestic livestock grazing can be used as a tool to lower wildfire risk, as well as reduce the ultimate impact of the fire, by slowing down how fast the flames spread and how hot the fire burns. They do this by grazing down the annual and perennial grasses, promoting new growth and leaving far less dead underbrush that acts as kindling to a fire. The researchers found that in ungrazed areas they found much larger, faster burning and hotter fires with larger flame heights.
The beef sustainability facts do not end there – I could talk for pages, but let’s leave it here and we will be back soon to go into more depth. Happy Earth Day – and happy almost weekend.
We care about our land and animals. Many of us are multi-generational ranchers, and we strive to leave the land better than we found it for the next generation. So please, instead of reading what a celebrity has to say about a cow farting, reach out to a rancher. We love what we do and we want to share it with you.