Grass: It’s What We Do

There has been much talk lately about the alleged contribution of cattle to the greenhouse gas levels. It is true that a cow creates methane during the cycling of grass through her 4 stomachs, and burps methane in the regurgitation stage, and the critics have pounced on that point to find one more reason to decry the consumption of beef. I have always been suspicious of the allegation, having spent many years watching the opponents of beef searching for new ways to criticize it. With studies now revealing that saturated fats do NOT contribute to heart or stroke conditions, and the government preparing new dietary guidelines which are believed to include higher levels of animal fats in our diet, the anti-beef crowd had to find something new.

This latest challenge will fizzle as well because properly managed grasslands are environmentally friendly. And poorly managed grasslands are at worst a neutral to the environment. A recent study, sent to me by one of our members, demonstrated that properly managed grasslands had a net positive effect on greenhouse gases. That is, it trapped more carbon than the cows emitted. By a significant amount.

One issue the study ignores is the methane plume created once the steer leaves the pasture and enters the feedlot in the conventional protocol. My guess is that there is a lot more carbon producing activity in those feedlots than occur in any pasture, well-managed or otherwise. If you’ve ever entered the “smell zone” of the massive feedlots around Amarillo, you know what I mean. So 100% grass-fed would eliminate that hot spot as well.

As the Competition Reacts

You know you are having an effect on the factory food chain when they start making things up. The first instance of this was Texas A&M’s claim that they had conducted a study and found that eating grass-fed beef did not change one’s blood chemistry in the least. When their data was demanded, they refused to release it. When the study was leaked by someone in the department, it revealed that the “study” was conducted over 2 weeks and added a grass-fed beef hamburger twice a week during those 2 weeks, the participant eating from the conventional stream the rest of the time. So the participants received 4 four ounce beef patties over a period of 2 weeks and 42 meals. Shame on you for suggesting this was in any respect a fair study, A&M.

The latest false attack claims that grass-fed cattle expel more methane than grain-fed cattle, thus “adding more carbon to the atmosphere”.  So their point is that feedlots are better for the environment than pastured beef?

Let’s consider that proposition.  First, I find the base premise hard to accept. Any cattleman will tell you that grain has to be introduced slowly to cattle in the feedlot, and fed in combination with hay, in order to avoid killing the animal. The corn creates so much gas in their system - a system designed for grass not grain - that their stomach will literally swell with gas and asphyxiate them by crowding out the ability of their lungs to function. So I doubt the verity of the narrow claim made, i.e., that grass-fed cows create more methane gas than corn-fed.   But let’s accept their premise for the sake of discussion. When looking at the whole picture, is it possible that corn-fed is more environmentally beneficial than grass-fed?  Corn doesn’t simply appear at the feedlot. It has to be planted, cultivated and harvested first. That is all done by diesel tractors. It is then transported to a storage facility where it may be either ground or ground and cooked, all of that requiring the burning of energy. Then it has to be transported to the feedlot where it is distributed to the cattle with - you guessed it - a gas or diesel powered vehicle.  Consider also the fertilizers and herbicides required to grow the corn and the highly concentrated animal waste deposited at the feedlot. When the soil cannot use all that is deposited, and it never can, it ends up in our waterways and acquifers.  In the meantime, the grass-fed cattle have been grazing contentedly in their pastures. Are we really expected to accept this malarkey from the feedlot folks and their PR departments?