From by-products to nutritious beef, there are a lot of great stories to share about cattle production and ranchers’ contributions to feeding the world and caring for the land.
Yet, I think the Cinderella story of them all is the fact that cattle are upcyclers, meaning they can convert cellulosic material like grass, which is inedible by humans, and convert it into nutrient-dense protein and life-enriching byproducts.
And not only do they convert grass to beef, but cattle are using marginal land that is too steep, hilly or rocky for farming. Without cattle grazing, this land might otherwise become a barren wasteland, but with each bite of grass, each step of the hoof and each rain drop cycled through the cow and distributed back onto the land as waste, the incredible beef cow is an all-purpose machine, that is a critical component of our ecosystem.
Of course, the mainstream media would tell like to tell us otherwise.
According to Alicia Halbritter for the University of Florida, “Nearly 620,000 ranching operations occupy 337 million acres in the U.S. Cattle pastures account for every 1 in 5 acres of non-urban land in the United States and is home to over 20.4 million beef cattle.”
In an article titled, “Ranching: It’s Not Just About The Beef,” she writes, “Pastures for livestock create beautiful, wide open spaces across the U.S. where nature thrives. Natural vegetation and improved pasture grow simultaneously while wildlife and livestock commingle. Open land allows for natural environmental cycles to occur, allows ground water and aquifer recharge locations, and can help filter pollutants before reaching critical areas. Shear land volume is one of many ecosystem services that ranching provides.”
Last week, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Public Lands Council (PLC) launched a digital campaign that celebrates the value of cattle grazing.
Created to explore key elements of grazing that benefits the environment, rural communities and local economies across the United States, the four-week campaign features videos, blogs and testimonies from ranchers on how they manage their land.
In a video, Rich Atmore, a California rancher who survived the destructive 2017 Thomas Fire, describes how he mitigated the intensity and damage of the wildfires around his home with livestock grazing.
“Wildfire mitigation is just one of the many benefits of livestock grazing," said Jennifer Houston, NCBA president. “Cattle positively contribute to the environment and our food production system, and it’s a story many need to hear. We need to arm the public with facts; it’s livestock who provide natural nutrients to the soil, ensure our native grasslands remain intact, and ensure rural America remains economically supported.”
NCBA and LPC’s campaign will highlight how cattle grazing can prevent wildfires, cycle nutrients through the soil, foster healthy habitats for wildlife and support rural economic development.
“Whether someone enjoys fishing, biking, or camping on public lands, its livestock grazing that preserves this open space for others to enjoy,” said Bob Skinner, PLC president. “Without ranching partners, the federal government would face difficulty maintaining such large landscapes. My hope is our campaign highlights the value added by grazing and expands the positive perceptions surrounding ranching.”
We all have great grazing stories to tell. No, pastures aren’t sexy, and cows ruminating on grass is hardly newsworthy. However, I believe consumers, if given the opportunity, will fall in love with the wide-open spaces and rolling hills that we all enjoy on our ranches.
Grab your iPhones and snap some photographs. Maybe it’s a butterfly landing on some wildflowers, a cow grazing peacefully, a calf sipping water from the creek, a bird perched on top of the old herd bull or new growth after a successful grazing rotation — these images and stories are worth sharing! Let’s get to it!
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.