Cattle grazing is critical for a healthy ecosystem

Check out the latest headlines on the benefits of cattle grazing for a healthy planet.

Amanda Radke

May 7, 2019

4 Min Read

The war against beef is greater now than it’s ever been. As discussions about climate change heat up, the focus seems to largely be on the cow, and the solution proposed by so many is for society to move toward a plant-based diet.

This recommendation is wrong on so many levels, and I think I’ve defended meat eating and beef production more ways than I can count. However, it’s critical for cattlemen and women to continue to have these conversations to redirect the narrative that cow farts (or rather, cow burps) are destroying the environment with excessive greenhouse gas emissions.

No matter which way you look at it, ruminant animals like cattle are critical components of a healthy ecosystem.

From a nutritional standpoint, beef packs the greatest punch per calorie. Loaded with zinc, iron, protein, B vitamins and healthy fats, beef satiates while fueling our bodies and brains.

From a resource standpoint, cattle are beneficial through the many by-products we gain from beef production. Leather goods, makeup, deodorant, insulin for diabetics and so much more — I challenge any industry to tell me the eco-footprint of creating these items synthetically is greener than utilizing the entire cow from nose to tail.

From an environmental standpoint, cattle play an irreplaceable role in maintaining top soil, promoting biodiversity, protecting wildlife habitat, reducing the spread of wildfires, providing natural fertilizer and so much more.

Related:Research confirms: Beef production is not a major contributor to climate change

Plus, cattle utilize land that would otherwise remain unproductive for humans. By grazing this steep, hilly, rocky and rough land, cattle convert non-edible cellulosic material into nutritional beef. If sat unused, these grasslands would quickly turn to empty desert wastelands.

I promise you, broccoli and almonds aren’t going to grow on the rangelands of the South Dakota prairie. Much of the Plains can’t be used for anything else besides livestock grazing. And the result is a great-tasting, nutritional product (and by-products) that nourish the world.

On the note of sustainability, I’ve rounded up some recent headlines worth checking out. Here is what’s being said about cattle and land use in recent news stories:

1. “Critical role of grazing animals in an ecosystem” from the Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems

Here’s an excerpt: “The sight of animals—horses, cattle, sheep, and goats—grazing in a field or pasture is pleasantly bucolic. But in addition to being picturesque, these herbivores play a critical role in local and global ecosystems.

Related:Eliminating cattle production will not solve climate change

“For example, the presence of grazing herbivores is known to have an effect on plant health and productivity, biodiversity and species composition, nutrient cycling, and other processes. Also, because grass has a higher albedo than bare soil, grazing reduces the amount of sunlight that is reflected back into Earth’s atmosphere, which impacts the global climate.”

2. “Grazing to heal the Earth” by Wendy Pratt for TEDxIdahoFalls

According to TEDx Talks, “Wendy Pratt shares a rancher's experience to an age-old relationship of grazing animals and grassland ecosystems. She shows how utilizing the planet's naturally occurring cycles helps heal our world plus how one individual can make a difference.

“Wendy is a fourth-generation cattle rancher near Blackfoot. She advocates for regenerative grazing and for blurring the lines between urban and rural viewpoints. She writes a ranch blog and can be found at The Pastoral Muse. She and her husband Mark have three children.”

3. “Losing Ground — Urban Sprawl Documentary” featured on Angus TV

In this film, viewers are exposed to the impact of urban sprawl on American agriculture.

4. “Beef is healthier and more sustainable than ever before” by Hillary Makens, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

Makens writes, “In the U.S. today, the same amount of beef is produced with one-third fewer cattle as compared to the mid-1970s, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. If the rest of the world were as efficient as the U.S., global beef production could double while cutting the global cattle herd by 25%.”

5. “Grazing crop residues and cover crops” from Penn State Extension

A synopsis reads, “Grazing has been largely excluded from our croplands but is receiving new interest as an additional profit center for farmers as well as a way to improve soil.”

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

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