Cattle have been a part of agriculture since the very beginning. Humans have been relying on them to meet their needs for everything ranging from meat, dairy and agriculture to sometimes even companionship. Cows have done a lot to support mankind. It’s past time to give back to these (mostly) friendly and peaceful animals. Why not benefit the environment at the same time? Sustainable cattle production practices, like rotational grazing and pasture use, help cattle stay healthy and maintain the environment.
It all starts with the land. Pasture-based feeding has proven to benefit cattle and the land as opposed to grains and confined areas. The grains provided to cattle as feed often come from unnatural mass productions in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). In these operations, the cattle are kept in very tight stalls and given very little space to move. There is nothing natural about CAFOs. Grasses in pastures, on the other hand, build healthy soil matter by adding organic matter, disrupting the lifestyle of weeds, reducing the use of chemicals and allowing the cattle more freedom to roam. Instead of being cooped up in a small space and being fed grains that only slightly satisfy their five stomachs, cattle are able to socialize and naturally express their behaviors in a pasture that nourishes them while in turn, giving back to the land through the use of sustainable practices. . Not to mention that pasture-raised meat is better for consumers, as it is lower in calories and total fat and has higher levels of vitamins.
As Myriah Johnson, senior director of beef sustainability research for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said for Drovers: “The fundamental value proposition of beef to the food system is the transformation of lower value resources, such as grasses and plant byproducts, to higher value protein full of micronutrients, which nourishes people.”
Going hand in hand with land management is rotational, or controlled, grazing. This practice focuses on not allowing the cattle to completely take over and eat all the grass down to the very base on the entire field, but instead use paddocks. A paddock encloses an area of land, cutting the cattle off from the rest of the pasture. This allows the cattle to graze one area of the land at a time, which means the paddocks not being grazed on can grow. When the good part of the grasses have been grazed, the cattle are then moved to the next paddock to start the process again. Noah Earle, who raises grass-fed cattle, moves his cattle from paddock to paddock every one to two days. Meanwhile, Jeff Jones, a fourth-generation cattle farmer, moves his cattle once a week.
The lack of chemicals, which encourages crops to regrow, using natural resources like manure and the carbon intake of healthy grasslands all contribute to the health of the environment. Room to move, constant access to the good parts of grasses by paddock use and proper socialization helps cattle to be healthier.
The whole idea of these sustainable practices is to create an ecosystem that utilizes everything the land provides and can be found on the farm. The needs of one element are met by another. “It’s all about mimicking nature,” Earle said.