here have been times I've seen people say eating beef is bad for the environment because it takes X pounds of grain to get a pound of beef. (There are also other arguments.)
Since I live on a large beef ranch in Montana, I figured I'd try to dispel a few of these myths.
Cattle aren't naturally grain eaters. They like grasses and alfalfa. They'll eat most sorts of tender plants. They will eat grain, but they'll also eat the plant if they can. This means that cattle can eat things people can't, such as the corn stalk or beet tops. Thus, we do not need to sacrifice human food for cattle. Most feed lots use grains to fatten cattle since that's the quickest way to put weight on them. Even so, they most likely did not eat grain for their entire lives. If you're worried about this issue, try to eat grass fed beef.
"But couldn't people grow grain on that land instead of letting cattle graze it?" You might ask.
Even if cattle are eating hay, you can grow a lot more hay on land than wheat or corn. This is because instead of eating just the grain from a plant, cattle can eat the entire plant.
Secondly, cattle are often run in places that it would be impossible to farm. Most of our land is this way. When we can get as little as a foot of moisture in a year, it's simply too risky to grow crops that need to be harvested on the non-irrigated fields. In a good year, we can harvest some hay, but in a bad year, we simply turn the cows on it and let them graze. This saves us time and money. If we grew crops we had to harvest, such as crops meant for humans, we'd have to expend fuel to harvest crops in a bad year. The cows are the most economical way of getting a poor hay crop harvested.
And that was our "good" dry land. (Dry land is a term used for fields that aren't irrigated.) Let's move on to what the rest of our country is like. The land has tall hills and deep draws. (That's the term we use for little valleys with no water in them.) These draws are the only places there's enough water for trees to grow. (Water runs down the draws in the spring runoff or sometimes if we're lucky enough to get an inch or two of rain.) The hills are often steep, something you can't even climb with an ATV. These hills shed water, making it nearly impossible to grow anything besides grass even if you could get some machine to the slightly flat places to plant something. Some places are so rough trying to ride a horse across a pasture gets to be a hassle. The only way to use this land is with livestock like cattle. Being on four legs, they can pick their way up steep hills, through gullies, and around rocks. They turn the otherwise wasted grass into beef, something humans can eat.
"Do cattle hurt the environment?"
Not with good management. Perhaps in some areas, a few more trees would grow if cattle didn't eat them off, but other than that, they don't cause much trouble. (And we don't have any deforestation here since there is no forest.) They eat the grass off, helping to prevent dangerous prairie fires. (These fires can be very difficult to stop if they're in a pasture that hasn't had cattle for a few years.) By eating the grass, they also allow lush new grass to grow. We rotate our pastures, which gives each pasture a break to regrow. Many ranches will stay in a family for generations so the owners are careful to take care of the land. That way, their kids will have a place to raise their cattle.
When it comes to wild animals, the cattle don't harm them either. Turkeys, pheasants, and other game birds like scratching through cattle manure for undigested seeds, and in the winter,ranchers hay their cattle. Some hay has seeds in it, which are eaten by birds who need something extra in winter. To store the hay, we put it in hay stacks. During the winter, the deer come to the hay stacks and eat the hay. It's a minor annoyance since we have to spend money for that hay, but it's part of the life on the ranch, and besides, the deer need to eat too.
A few more notes:
Unlike some ranches, our family doesn't use hormones or antibiotics for our cattle herds. We will use antibiotics if we have a sick animal that isn't responding to vitamins and pampering, but other than that, we try to do it the natural way. We do give our heifers one vaccination, but only because that is required by law if we're transporting them across state boarders.
___________________________________Journal Skin by: Zaellrin