7 questions to answer for improved grazing

How can graziers be part of the sustainability conversation? It starts with managing grasslands. Answer these questions to be a better land manager.

Amanda Radke

September 19, 2018

3 Min Read
7 questions to answer for improved grazing
Amanda Radke

Currently, we are seeing a lot of negative rhetoric from fake meat companies about cattle and the environment. They fail to see how ruminants benefit the planet by aerating the soil, reducing the spread of wildfire, fertilizing grasslands, upcycling things like poor forages and the by-products of corn (distillers grains), maintaining cover on grasslands, working against desertification of the landscape and converting solar energy to nutritious beef.

What’s more, these companies repeatedly use false numbers to claim that cattle production is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions. They use outdated and miscalculated numbers from a 2006 study titled, “Livestock’s Long Shadow” to push forward their agenda. 

It’s become a somewhat exhausting effort to balance the scales back in beef’s favor. But what continues to drive me is knowing the truth about cattle grazing and the environment and understanding what would happen to our nation’s landscape if ruminants were no longer a part of the management of these grasslands.

READ: Livestock dung heaps are now African wildlife hot spots

On a recent road trip, I caught an episode of the Human Performance Outlier Podcast, which featured an interview with Frank Mitloehner, University of California, Davis department of animal science professor. Mitloehner specializes in the study of greenhouse gases, and his lab investigates agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability.

In this interview, Mitloehner offers incredible information that debunks misconceptions about cow burps and greenhouse gases.

Listen to the podcast here: Episode 39: Professor Frank Mitloehner

Of course, as beef producers, we are constantly working to improve our production practices in order to be more sustainable, more profitable and more successful in our endeavors. A key component of this equation is to be a better forage manager.

An On Pasture article titled, “Can cows save the planet? I don’t know — but maybe they can save the ranch,” discusses the steps producers can do now to be the best graziers possible.

Author John Marble writes, “Can cows save the planet? Can cows reverse global warming? Can cows sequester carbon and prevent erosion and fix habitat problems? Can cows feed the world? Honestly, I just don’t know. These are big, complicated questions that seem to depend on a whole bunch of variables, things beyond my ability to suss out.”

READ: Don't blame cows on climate change

Instead of trying to answer these big philosophical questions about cattle grazing, an action item that producers can do today to be better land managers is to answer these seven key questions.

  1. How many paddocks do you have?

  2. How long is the average grazing/residence period in each paddock?

  3. What is the average rest period for each paddock?

  4. How long is your grazing season?

  5. How many months per year do you feed hay?

  6. What is your grass worth? ($/head/month)

  7. How much does hay cost in your neighborhood? ($/ton)

Marble explains, “Clearly, when we change one of these answers it sends ripples through the rest of the worksheet. And maybe that’s the good news here: by changing one little thing in our grazing operation, we can see predictable, and hopefully positive, results throughout the rest of our program.”

READ: Could we soon be taxed for eating meat?

The article then offers ways to tweak the answers to each question to yield better results in your grazing program. Click here to read the entire article.

The world may be putting pressure on beef producers to save the planet, but for now, the best thing we can do is take care of our land at home, practicing sustainable, regenerative agriculture that yields more grass for a healthy landscape. The rest will take care of itself.

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

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