This post is a collaboration with Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. on behalf of the Beef Checkoff. I received compensation, but all opinions expressed here are my own.
There are lots of people who have a deep and genuine concern surrounding cattle and how they affect climate change. Honestly, I do too.
I too am deeply and genuinely concerned about the well-being of our environment and climate. My concern, however, is not what happens if we keep raising cattle and eating Beef but rather, what happens if we stop.
I am legit afraid of the unintended consequences the climate and environment would suffer without Beef and the cattle that produce it.
Why, of all things, is that my fear?
Well, because, I’ve spent my entire life raising cattle, and I’ve seen the positive impact cattle can make on the environment first-hand.
Cattle saved these Sandhills that I call home.
The Nebraska Sandhills are one of God’s great wonders and are truly a thing of beauty. What was once a barren desert made up of 20,000 square miles of sand dunes, is now a unique ecosystem that is home to a countless number of plant and wildlife species. This diverse and fragile landscape is thriving now because of the cattle that graze these hills, the impact they make, and the people who manage them.
Would grass grow in the Sandhills without cattle to graze it? Sure – but not for long.
Standing grass blocks sunlight hindering new plant growth. When cattle graze a pasture, they eat the more tender grasses and trample some of the less tender grass and plants into the ground. As the cattle graze and trample, they produce digested plant matter (more commonly known as poop). The combination of the grazing, trampling, and pooping fertilizes and secures the soil. Secure soil retains moisture, promotes healthy plant growth, prevents erosion, and promotes carbon sequestration.
As ranchers, we don’t graze our cattle all willy-nilly, letting them graze wherever they want whenever they want. Nope. Each year, we come up with a grazing plan.
The grazing plan serves as a guide on where and when we should graze certain pastures. It’s based on the nutritional needs of the herd, time of year, observations we’ve made during the previous year, and which pastures could stand to have a little more litter (more about litter HERE). Strategic grazing (and littering) helps us protect and preserve the Sandhills’ resources and beauty, ensuring we will be raising cattle far into the future.
Cattle are upcyclers.
Like most of the grazing land in the U.S., the Sandhills are unarable. “Un-arable” means that they are not suitable for growing any sort of fruit and veg a human could digest let alone want to eat. As the name suggests, it’s hilly here, our growing season is insanely short, and the soil (and by “soil” I mean sand) isn’t great at holding water and the nutrients needed to grow things people like to eat. So, not great for farming.
Trust me, I’ve tried gardening in the sand. It doesn’t work very well.
These hills, however, are great for growing grass (provided there are cattle here, see above). And cattle eat the grass and turn it into a something we can eat – Beef. They can do this because they have a four-chambered stomach. The largest chamber is the rumen, which helps them break down the cellulose in the grass and utilize nutrients we humans can’t on account of our lack of rumen and inability to digest cellulose.
In other words, they upcycle.
But their upcycling superpower is not limited to grass. They can turn all kinds of things we can’t eat into delicious, nutritious beef – things like beet pulp from making sugar and distillers grains from brewing or ethanol production. They can also more efficiently use the nutrients within a kernel of corn than we can.
The point is that cattle have the unique ability to turn something that would otherwise be waste into something we can actually eat.
Not all of what the cattle do to benefit the climate is measurable. There isn’t always a number or statistic to attach to improvement. More often, it’s a tangible result you see.
Take, for example, the way cattle helped to save the Sandhills using their upcycling capabilities and impact to cover sand dunes with grasses and plants. That’s something you can see, and you know there’s more carbon being sequestered through the vegetation than the bare sand. But it’s not necessarily something that can be measured.
For the sake of brevity, I kept this short. But there’s so much more we could visit about on the subject of cattle and climate change. So, if you have questions, would like further clarification or more examples of the unmeasurable ways cattle combat climate change, please feel free to reach out. I’m here and I’m happy to help! 🙂