- E Huff
Cattle, particularly cows, have been the target of many environmental groups that believe raising animals for food is contributing to climate change and causing environmental harm. While true about the vast majority of American livestock that are raised using feedlots, pastured animals that are rotated among fields actually help to improve environmental conditions.
Eliot Coleman, author of The New Organic Grower, and Barbara Damrosch, gardening columnist at the Washington Post, are two of the most notable organic vegetable gardeners in the country. They are currently outfitting their farm in coastal Maine with a new barn that will hold a half dozen cows and some sheep. The couple plans to use the grazing animals to improve the soil conditions on their farm and help the environment.
According to cattleman Ridge Shinn of Hardwick, Massachusetts, rotating cattle among various grass fields ends up contributing back to the environment more than it takes. "Conventional cattle raising is like mining," Shinn explained. "It's unsustainable, because you're just taking without putting anything back. But when you rotate cattle on grass, you change the equation. You put back more than you take."
Because grass is a perennial plant, it will continue to grow indefinitely, being spurred to new growth each time cows eat it. Grass roots retain water and microbes which helps to keep the soil healthy. As cows graze, they also work manure into the soil along with other decaying organic matter, enriching it with nutrients and carbon.
Allan Savory, a former wildlife conservationist in Zimbabwe, explained that rotational grazing actually reverses the effects of land degradation. Soil that was once dead has now become thriving grassland thanks to the efforts of ranchers who rotated their large herds.
Conventional beef raising, on the other hand, confines cows to densely-packed feedlots where they are bulked up on corn and soybeans for the final segment of their lives. Millions of acres of land that once grew grass have been converted into fields that grow corn and soy specifically for animal feed. Much of these crops are likely genetically modified.
It takes a heavy amount of fossil fuels to grow animal feed crops, fertilize them, apply pesticides and herbicides to them, and transport them to feedlots. Since rotational grass feeding is a natural cycle that feeds animals and replenishes the ground with little to no additional effort, pastured animals actually provide a net benefit to the environment as a whole.
Pastured animal meat is also far healthier than grain-fed meat because it is leaner and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are highly beneficial to maintaining good health.
How Cows (Grass-Fed Only) Could Save the Planet - Time
4 Reasons Why Grass-Fed Beef Is Better - The Daily Green
Grassfarming and the Environment - Eat Wild