|Getting Wild Nutrition from Modern Food|
The news bulletins below provide more detailed information about the environmental benefits of keeping animals home on the range.
According to a July 2011 study conducted by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, a 10,000 cow confinement dairy in Idaho produces staggering amounts of greenhouse gases. Every day, 37,075 pounds of pollution spew into the air. This breaks down into 33,092 pounds of methane, 3,575 pounds of ammonia, and 409 pounds of nitrous oxide. Most of the emissions come from the bare dirt lots where the cows spend their time between milkings. The 25-acre manure holding pond is the next biggest source.
Raising dairy cows on pasture results in a fraction of this amount of pollution. What’s more, the green pasture draws greenhouse gasses out of the air and stores it in the soil where it increases soil fertility. The richer the soil, the more nutritious the grass. Cows produce more milk when they are on high-quality feed which makes the natural system even more efficient. We humans, meanwhile, get to drink extra-nutritious milk that has more antioxidants, more omega-3 fatty acids, and more beta-carotene. Nature has the best solutions.
Great Milk! And a Healthier World
Raise dairy cows outside on pasture—the time-honored way—and the world benefits. This is the conclusion of a just-released study conducted by the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
Compared with dairy cows raised in factory farms, letting Bossie graze in the fresh air lowered the amount of ammonia released into the atmosphere by about 30 percent. It also cut emissions of other greenhouse gasses, including methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. Furthermore, the carbon footprint of the pasture-based dairy was 6 percent smaller than that of a high-production dairy herd kept indoors. The milk of grass-fed cows is much healthier for you as well. (Read Jo Robinson’s article Super Natural Milk.)
Follow this link http://wwwars.usda.gov/is/AR/2011/may11/cows0511.htm to read more about the ARS study of dairy cows and the environment.
Eatwild Producer Georgia's Small Business Person of the Year
Congratulations to Eatwild producer Will Harris for being selected Georgia’s Small Business Person of the Year. Harris is the owner and president of the 1,000-acre White Oak Pastures, one of the largest pasture-based farms in the country. The operation employs 40 people and sells its organic, grass-fed beef to Whole Food Markets and Publix Supermarkets in five states.
SBA Georgia District Director Terri Denison said that “Will Harris and White Oak Pastures serve as a prime example of how innovation coupled with opportunity can transform a business or entire industry.” One of Harris’ many achievements is the construction of the largest solar barn in the Southeast. The barn generates 50,000 watts of electricity which is used to run the on-site beef processing plant. Harris is now installing a USDA-inspected poultry plant to process his pastured chickens and turkeys that will employ an additional 25 people.
Sweet-Tasting Grasses Speed the Growth of Cattle and Sheep and Lowers Greenhouse Gasses
This April, British Agricultural Minister Jim Paice announced the results of a new study showing that raising cattle and sheep on high-sugar grasses can lower their greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent.
Everyone benefits from the sweeter feed. The ruminants like the taste of the grass and eat more of it. The sugars allow them to make more efficient use of the proteins in the grass. As a result, the animals reach market size weeks earlier, producing less methane overall.
Minister Paice said: “It is very exciting this new research has discovered that simply changing the way we feed farm animals we have the potential to make a big difference to the environment.”
The study was carried out by Reading University and the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences. High-sugar pasture grasses are now available for sale.
USDA Weighs In: Grazing Good for Soil & Environment
Bring on the cattle! says a new study conducted by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). For twelve years, soil scientists at the Agricultural Research Service branch of the USDA have been studying the impact that grazing animals have on the land. Compared with grassland that has been undisturbed, areas that have been moderately grazed have more carbon stored in the soil. Stored carbon increases the fertility of the soil and slows global warming.
Summary of the study: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/mar11/soil0311.htm
U.S. Scientists: “Grass-Fed Cattle Benefit the Environment”
Which is better for the environment—raising beef cattle on pasture or in the feedlots? On pasture, says a February 2011 report from The Union for Concerned Scientists (UCS) titled “Raising the Steaks – Global Warming and Pasture-Raised Beef Production in the United States.”
Although all cattle produce greenhouse gasses, the UCS has determined that a well-maintained pasture and careful management of the grazing animals can draw greenhouse gasses out of the air and store them in the soil where they fuel plant growth. The overall impact is positive. Feedlots have no living plants – just bare dirt and manure; instead of absorbing greenhouse gasses, they emit them.
We applaud the UCS for going one step farther and researching ways to make raising cattle on pasture even more beneficial to the planet. Here are some of their primary recommendations:
These best practices are in harmony with our
standards at Eatwild.
Eat less feedlot meat
A growing number of people believe that eating less meat is good for the environment. This is true when it comes to eating meat from animals raised in feedlots. But eating meat from well-managed grazing animals is a net benefit to the planet.
A paper released by the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the United States Department of Agriculture makes the following points:
As the controversy about global warming heats up, more attention is being focused on the amount of greenhouse gasses produced by ruminants. Methane gas, a by-product of rumen digestion, is even more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping the sun's heat, making it a legitimate cause for concern. However, the production of methane gas is only a part of the complex environmental equation. An organization called the Institute for Environmental Research and Education (IERE) has been comparing the overall impact on greenhouse gasses of raising animals on pasture or in a typical feedlot.
In the graph below, you can see IERE's side-by-side comparison of the two systems. The black bars represent feedlot animals and the green bars represent pastured animals. Although an animal raised on pasture actually produces more methane (represented by the bars in the category labeled "enteric") than raising them in a feedlot, there are compensating factors. First and foremost, the pasture itself reduces greenhouse gasses through a process called "carbon sequestration" which more than offsets the extra methane. Second, there is much greater use of fossil fuel in the production of a feedlot diet than in the raising of pasture grasses. Third, the manure in feedlots is a major emitter of ammonia, another greenhouse gas. The net result is represented in the final bars on the right.
The verdict: fattening ruminants in a feedlot makes a significant contribution to global warming, while raising them on pasture offsets the grazing animals' added methane production and may actually reduce greenhouse gasses. More work needs to be done on this issue.
Black bars=feedlot animals; Green bars=pastured animals
Keep ‘Em Moving to Reduce Greenhouse Gasses
All ruminants—including cattle, sheep, bison, and goats—belch up a significant amount of methane gas as they digest their grass-based diet. Methane gas is a potent contributor to global warming, so reducing methane production is an important step in protecting the environment.
Animal scientists have discovered that dividing pasture land into separate areas or “paddocks” and carefully managing the movement of cattle through those paddocks produces the highest quality grasses. Cattle that graze on this succulent grass produce as much as 20 percent less methane. This style of ranching is called “Management Intensive Grazing” or MiG, and it’s practiced by most of the ranchers on eatwild.com.
DeRamus, H. A., T. C. Clement, D. D. Giampola, and P. C. Dickison. "Methane Emissions of Beef Cattle on Forages: Efficiency of Grazing Management Systems." J Environ Qual 32, no. 1 (2003): 269-77.
Growing corn and soy causes six times more soil erosion than pasture
Farming cannot be sustainable if the topsoil is constantly being eroded. Currently, the United States is losing three billion tons of nutrient-rich topsoil each year. The graph below shows the results of a new study from the University of Wisconsin Discovery Farms Program. Compared with grazed pasture, gently sloped land devoted to soy and corn production lost six times more topsoil each year. According to Dennis Frame, director of Discovery Farms, if the trend of selling cows and moving to grain production doesn't cease, soil erosion and nutrient losses will continue to climb.
(Article online at MyCattle.com)
Grazing better for the soil than growing grain
Six Minnesota pasture-based ranchers asked researchers to compare the health of their soil with soil from neighboring farms that produced corn, soybean, oats, or hay. At the end of four years of monitoring, researchers concluded that the carefully managed grazed land had:
Depending on the way that cattle are managed, they can either devastate a landscape or greatly improve the health of the soil. To be listed on our Eatwild Pastured Products Directory, producers must certify that they use best management practices.
("Managed Grazing as an Alternative Manure Management Strategy," Jay Dorsey, Jodi Dansingburg, Richard Ness, USDA-ARS, Land Stewardship Project.)
Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are increasing in the Earth's atmosphere, leading to changes in our global climate. The grasses and legumes found in pasture are highly effective at removing excess carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in the soil as carbon, a phenomenon known as "carbon sequestration." Soils in the grazing land in the Great Plains have over 40 tons of carbon per acre, while cultivated soils have only 26. In recent years, land that had been planted in row crops was allowed to revert back to pasture as part of the US government's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The pasture land gained an average of one-half ton of carbon per acre per year during the first 5 years after planting. This means that 18 million tons of carbon were removed from the atmosphere each year as a result of farmers putting over 36 million acres of land into the conservation program.
Long-Lived Cows Reduce Global Warming
Bossy has a short lifespan when she is raised in a confinement dairy, which is the way most cows are raised today. She provides a very high volume of milk, partly due to hormone injections and a high-grain diet, but she lasts for only 2-3 years. Then infertility, disease, physical problems, or inflammation end her milking career, and she is sold at auction for hamburger.
Cows raised on grass are healthier and more fertile, making them good milk producers for up to twelve years. These long-lived and more contented cows may reduce greenhouse gas production (methane) between 10 and 11 percent according to a British Study.
Garnsworthy, P.C., The environmental impact of fertility in dairy cows: a modeling approach to predict methane and ammonia emissions, Animal Feed Science & Technology, 2004. 112: 211-223.
Pasture reduces topsoil erosion by 93 percent
Currently, the United States is losing three billion tons of nutrient-rich topsoil each year. Growing corn and soy for animal feed using conventional methods causes a significant amount of this soil loss. Compared with row crops, pasture reduces soil loss by as much as 93 percent.
(Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Robert P. Stone and Neil Moore, Fact Sheet 95-089 )
The Sierra Club recommends grass-fed beef
The Sierra Club recognizes the ecological advantages of raising cattle on pasture and therefore endorses grass-fed beef. The following remarks appear on its website: "Spared of the necessity of antibiotics and pesticides, grass-fed beef is also friendlier to the environment. Ranchers in the grass-fed market tend to be keen stewards of the land, concerned with proper grazing techniques and the nurturing of native grasses. Indeed, many such ranchers think of themselves as grass farmers first, cattle ranchers second."
Organic beef came in second. "If you can't find grass-fed beef, consider organic beef as a next best choice. While organically raised animals may still be confined in feeding operations and finished on grain rather than natural forage, they should at least be free of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides."
"Green grazing" brings back native plants
A growing number of grassfarmers are practicing "green grazing" or "conservation grazing," a type of management that is specifically designed to restore grazing land to a more natural and sustainable condition.
The T.O. Cattle Company in San Juan Bautista, California has been practicing green grazing since 1993. This process involves carefully controlling herd size and herd movement to "mimic natural disturbance of native ungulates on the landscape." In other words, the cattle are managed so that they have a similar impact on the land as native grazers, which in California include Tule elk, pronghorn, and deer.
Careful monitoring of the project shows that green grazing has: 1) increased the number and vigor of native plants, 2) increased the vegetative cover of stream banks, 3) expanded wetlands, 4) hastened the natural decomposition of cow manure, and 5) extended the growing season of the grassland. In addition, from 1998 to 2000, the percentage of perennial grasses increased from 40 to 50 percent.
Results of this grazing experiment were presented at the Society for Range Management – 2001 Annual Conference in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
Lambs control insects and increase crop yield
Insects can take a toll on alfalfa in the winter months. The usual procedure is to spray the fields with insecticides. A group of forward-thinking California scientists decided to apply lambs instead. Letting the lambs graze the winter stubble eliminated the insect problem and also increased the next year's hay crop by 14% over untreated land and 24% over fields treated with the insecticide Lorsban. Let little lambs eat ivy and alfalfa.
(J.N. Guerrero et al. J. of Animal Science Vol 80, Supplement 2, p. 126. "Grazing lambs control insects in alfalfa."
Grassland may absorb more CO2 than trees
It's a well known fact that trees draw carbon dioxide from the air and store it as carbon, thereby slowing the rate of global warming. But a new study from Duke University reveals that restoring native grasslands might be a better solution than planting trees in wetter areas of the country.
"Grasses are deceptively productive," says lead investigator Robert Jackson. "You don't see where all the carbon goes, so there is a misconception that woody species [such as trees and shrubs] store more carbon. That's just not the case." Grasses store vast amounts of carbon in their underground root mass.
Raising cattle on grass is one way to make it financially feasible to expand our native grasslands. Although cows generate their own greenhouse gasses, the net effect of raising ruminants on pasture is to slow global warming.
For a more detailed summary of this research, go to: http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/aug2002/2002-08-08-07.asp
Jackson, R. B., J. L. Banner, E. G. Jobbagy, W. T. Pockman, and D. H. Wall. "Ecosystem Carbon Loss with Woody Plant
There's no way to say this politely. Grazing cattle, sheep, and goats do a lot of belching and farting. One of the gasses they emit—methane—is a potent greenhouse gas that may be contributing to the warming of the planet. New Zealand, unlike the United States government, is committed to salvaging the 1997 Kyoto Agreement, which was an attempt to set international goals for reducing greenhouse emissions. To do their fair share, the Kiwis have been finding ways to reduce the amount of methane produced by their 50 million livestock. According to a Reuters news bulletin by Graeme Peters, "The minister has ruled out a 'flatulance' tax...and said the government instead would pump more money into research to find a solution."
The research has already paid off. A New Zealand micro-biologist has created a formula of living micro-organisms that can be given to ruminants to destroy methane-producing bacteria. These helpful bacteria not only reduce greenhouse gasses, they boost production and improve the animals' condition.
The New Zealand research is a shining example of how we should be spending our research dollars.
A team of researchers from Colorado State University led by Richard H. Hart studied plant communities in an area of Colorado that had been either protected from cattle grazing or grazed lightly, moderately, or heavily for 55 years. According to the investigators, "plant species biodiversity was greatest on the moderately-grazed pasture. It had more kinds of plants than the lightly or heavily grazed pastures and was not as completely dominated by the most common species as the ungrazed exclosures. Diversity was least in the ungrazed exclosures, which were overrun by plains pricklypear cactus." The researchers went on to say that "Rangeland today, moderately or heavily grazed by cattle, looks much like the same rangeland looked in the 1800s, before the Great Plains were settled." (Learn more by reading Plant Biodiversity on Shortgrass Steppe after 55 Years of Zero, Light, Moderate, or Heavy Cattle Grazing.)
In a conventional feedlot operation, large amounts of manure are deposited in a relatively small space that is devoid of living plants. Because there is an over-abundance of manure and nothing to fertilize, the manure becomes a "waste management problem" rather than a natural resource. Feedlot operators spend millions of dollars a year trying to curb the offensive odors, groundwater contamination, and surface runoff.
In sharp contrast, when animals are finished on pasture, their manure is deposited naturally over a large area of grassland, allowing the nutrients to be put to immediate use. In the photo at right, you can see a vivid illustration of how plant growth is encouraged by a well-managed grazing program. The aerial photograph shows grazing land managed by the T.O. Cattle Company a family-owned business that produces grass-finished beef. (Click on the photo for larger version) The photo was taken less than a year after Joe and Julie Morris began grazing their animals. The large triangular area of dark green just below the center of the photo is the land grazed by the cattle. The lighter green and less fertile areas surrounding the grazed land were either totally rested or less intensively grazed.
Operators of large poultry operations feed low levels of arsenic to their chickens in order to enhance the birds' appetite and increase their feed efficiency. On the Delmarva Peninsula (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia), 600 million chickens produce more than 1.5 billion kilograms of raw manure annually, which translates into an annual load of 20 to 50 thousand kilograms of arsenic.
Pastured poultry farmers do not feed arsenic or other artificial growth stimulants to their chickens.
("Environmental Fate and Transport of Arsenical Feed Amendments for Animal Agriculture." Cherie V. MIller, U.S. Geological Society.)
A high percentage of the grain fed to feedlot cattle and bison is from genetically modified (gm) crops. According to an August 22nd article in the New York Times, there is new evidence that gm corn is harmful to beneficial insects. Researchers gathered leaves from plants growing in and around gm corn fields and fed them to Monarch butterfly caterpillars. According to the Times, "Twenty percent of the caterpillars eating leaves bearing genetically engineered pollen died, while all caterpillars eating leaves with regular corn pollen survived."
Another good reason to raise animals on grass rather than grain.
Low milk prices are threatening the survival of small dairy farms, and the most common way to increase profitability is to add more animals. But adding more cows means adding more feed and potentially overloading the land with excess nitrogen and phosphorous from manure.
A team of researchers from the US Regional Pasture Research group in Pennsylvania looked at the most environmentally friendly way to increase herd size. They determined that grazing the cows on intensively managed pasture "provided the best benefit to the farmer and the highest potential for reducing nitrogen leaching losses into ground water." They concluded that "these results illustrate that dairy farmers should consider adding rotationally grazed pasture as they expand or alter their land base and cropping strategy." Read Crop Options For An Expanding Dairy Farm In Wisconsin.
To cut costs, an increasing number of beef feedlot operations rely on chicken manure as a cheap source of protein. One drawback is that the manure can contain high levels of residues from all the drugs and chemicals routinely fed to commercial poultry. In a feedlot of about 1,000 head of cattle, 146 animals died within a period of a few months from serious digestive disturbances. Autopsies showed very high levels of copper in the animals' livers. Further investigation determined that the animals had died from copper poisoning and that the source of the copper was manure from poultry treated with copper sulfate to avoid a common disease called "aspergillosis". What goes around, comes around.
(Tokarnia CH et al, "Outbreak of copper poisoning in cattle fed poultry litter." Vet Hum Toxicol 2000, Apr 42(2):92-95.)
Most of the chickens raised in the United States are routinely dosed with antibiotics. The argument is that the drugs reduce infection, hasten growth, and therefore increase profits. Danish poultry producers challenged that assumption in a large-scale experiment.
On February 15, 1998, the entire Danish poultry industry voluntarily stopped the use of antibiotics as growth promoters. They discovered that withdrawal of the drugs "did not result in major disease problems in the flocks." Although the drug-free birds consumed slightly more food (1.82 versus 1.78 kg feed per kg live bird) they weighed more at slaughter. Meanwhile, the savings from stopping the routine use of antibiotics increased net income by 25 cents per 100 broilers. That may sound like chicken feed until you realize that the Danish poultry industry produces more than 100 million birds per year. That's a net gain of $250,000.
But there are important benefits that are not included in the bottom line. Danish consumers now have the luxury of purchasing antibiotic-free chicken. Furthermore, the industry has stopped contributing to the possible creation of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. A win-win-win situation.
Meanwhile, back in the USA, poultry producers gear up for a more aggressive defense of agribusiness as usual
Contrast the progressive, pro-environmental, cost-effective Danish experiment just described with the defensive posture of some members of the American poultry industry.
A speech by two industry spokesmen was summarized in the March 2000 issue of The Poultry Letter as follows: "Currently, there are many critics of agriculture: environmentalists, consumer groups against antibiotic use and against GMO's (genetically modified organisms; use of biotechnology in food production), etc. Agriculture needs to counter false charges and educate the general public and government officials. However, there are challenges. Consumer activists are perceived as credible. Additionally, the media is interested in communicating emotion rather than facts... The consumer views of poultry are generally good because poultry has many positives - nutritious, low fat, low cost, etc. However, there are some negatives which are increasing in their concern to various groups - animal welfare, worker safety, antibiotic use, environmental contamination, etc. Agriculture must aggressively defend itself and educate the general public and government officials."
Much of the grain fed to our conventionally raised livestock is genetically modified or GM. The only way to keep pollen from GM crops from "out-crossing" to unmodified plants is to create a sufficiently large buffer zone. A recent British study found that bees transport pollen more than 4,000 meters—a much larger buffer zone than most farmers maintain. This finding "stunned the Ministry of the Environment, and a spokesman said that existing isolation guidelines will have to be reviewed."
Oregon State University researchers found that tadpoles and young frogs raised in water with low levels of nitrates typical of fertilizer runoff ate less, developed physical abnormalities, suffered paralysis, and eventually died. In control tanks with normal water, none died. "We're looking at levels of nitrates so low we didn't think we'd get any effect,'' said Andrew Blaustein, a zoology professor." Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency regional office in Seattle said they could not comment until they have reviewed the study, published in December 1999 in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
The ground water in properly managed grazing land has been found to be as free of nitrate and other contaminants as the water from nearby forest land.
Grazed pasture is the best land use for storing carbon
Growing plants take carbon dioxide out of the air and "fix" it into the soil as organic matter. The more carbon dioxide that's taken out of the air, the lower the rate of global warming. Until recently, forested land and ungrazed grasslands were thought to be the best "sinks" or storehouses for carbon. The study iillustrated below concluded that well managed grazed pasture may be far better.
"Soil Organic Carbon in fields of switch grass and row crops as well as woodlots and pastures across the Chariton Valley, Iowa." Final Report. Lee Burras and Julie McLaughlin, Iowa State University, January 25, 2002.
Mother Nature knows better once again
The concentration of carbon dioxide in our air is rapidly rising, a condition that contributes to the greenhouse effect and potential global warming. The more of the carbon that can be contained in the soil, however, the less that escapes into the air. A report released by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service finds that soil stores 2 to 3 times more carbon when the grass was grazed than when it was harvested for hay or not harvested at all.
Another benefit of grazing, the researchers noted, was that grazing also reduces costs by lowering needs for herbicides and producing income from the livestock. They estimated that even putting as little as 10 percent of existing cropland into rotation with grazing would produce significant cost reductions.
More information is available online at http://ars.usda.gov/is/pr.
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