Upcycling is the unsung story of America’s beef cattle

Cattle play a critical role in a health ecosystem, and one of their secrets is their ability to upcycle forages and convert it into nutrient-dense beef.

Amanda Radke

November 24, 2020

4 Min Read

Earlier this week, I urged BEEF Daily readers to lean into their agricultural advocacy efforts, even on the days when the tone on social media seems particularly hostile.
If we continue to push forward, being a positive light and presenting factual information, perhaps we can move the needle in consumer confidence and enthusiasm about beef.

A great talking point we can focus on is the environmental piece. The fake meat companies like to claim that they have the superior edge in planetary health. However, we know that when cattle graze and consume forages and feedstuffs that are inedible by humans, it is a responsible use of our natural resources.

Combine that with their ability to convert this inedible cellulosic material into nutrient-dense beef, and it’s a winning story to share with consumers.
From fertilizing the land with their manure, to aerating the soil with their hooves, to reducing the spread of wildfires when they eat brush, to being a critical piece of a healthy ecosystem, there is much to celebrate when it comes to the incredible beef cow!

Today’s blog is a roundup of articles that might prove useful in sharing this upcycling message with consumers. 4-H and FFA kids can also use this as a resource and prepare talking points for public speaking competitions or topics to research in the classroom.

Related:Reseeding project will use cattle grazing to restore ecosystem

Check these resources out, and then share this story far and wide:

“Meet the beef cow: AKA ‘The Great Upcycler’" by Larry Stalcup for BEEF

Here is an excerpt from the article: “Cattle also consume by-products from biofuel and food industries, such as distillers grains from ethanol production and wheat middlings from flour milling. Use of these by-products as cattle feed decreases the respective industry’s waste by providing an alternative use of the by-product compared to sending it to the landfill.”

“Cattle are up-cyclers” by John Maday for Texas A&M University Agricultural & Life Sciences

Maday writes, “Beef’s critics often point to pigs, poultry or fish having better feed conversions than cattle, Wickersham notes. However, simply considering calories in versus calories out does not tell the full story. Non-ruminant livestock tend to consume entirely grain-based, high-protein diets, while cattle gain weight on roughage-based diets, with, of course, some protein supplements and a shift toward corn in finishing rations.”

“Cattle and the environment leading the way in conservation” featured on Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.

Here’s an excerpt: “Cattle have a unique four-chambered stomach, the largest chamber being the rumen, which helps them get the nutrients they need from parts of fruit and vegetable plants that humans don’t consume or can’t digest—like carrot tops, almond hulls or grasses. These leftovers are often mixed into their feed, along with other grasses or hay like alfalfa and grains like corn. Cattle are acting as “upcyclers” in our food system by upgrading human inedible material or food waste into high-quality protein and essential micronutrients.

Related:Making your cattle even more efficient upcyclers

“For example, in Wisconsin, about 62,000 acres are dedicated to potato production, which results in almost 1.3 million tons of potatoes annually. Culled potatoes, or those that do not meet prescribed appearance standards for supermarket use, are instead incorporated into properly balanced feed rations for cattle.”

“FAO affirms cattle’s critical role as upcycler” by Sarah Place, Ph.D. for Medium

According to Place, “In the livestock feed versus human food debate, we haven’t been using the right numbers. Rather than being a drain on global resources and competing with human food supplies by eating lots of grain, livestock are often net contributors to the global protein supply. That’s the conclusion of a new study from scientists at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“Livestock, especially ruminants like beef cattle, play a key role in a sustainable food system. They allow us to produce food on marginal lands that are unsuitable for cultivated agriculture. Cattle act as ‘upcyclers’ in our food system — they upgrade plants into high quality protein for people.

The FAO researchers developed a global database of what livestock eat and found 86% of the feed is human inedible. Mostly, livestock eat grasses grown on marginal lands and other forage crops, like alfalfa. Marginal lands are those that are too rocky, steep and/or arid to support cultivated agriculture, such as fruit or vegetable production. Globally, livestock also eat over 1.9 billion metric tons of leftovers from human food, fiber and biofuel production.”

“Super cow! How are cattle both recyclers and upcyclers?” by Anne Burkholder for Innovative Livestock Service

Burkholder writes, “Cattle aren't just recyclers! They are also upcyclers! As recyclers, cattle make sure that leftovers are used instead of wasted. As upcyclers, cattle upgrade inedible plants into a highly nutritious and protein rich food.

Both instances ensure that we do more with less. The best news is that United States farmers and ranchers outperform the global statistics! The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reported last fall that human inedible forages and plant-derived leftovers provide more than 90% of what grain-finished beef cattle eat in their lifetime.”

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

Subscribe to Our Newsletters
BEEF Magazine is the source for beef production, management and market news.

You May Also Like