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How Grass Fed Cows Help the Environment: Keeping a Family Cow

How Grass Fed Cows Help the Environment:  Keeping a Family Cow

You may have heard of the damage cows can do with their production of methane and greenhouse gas emissions. But what about grass fed family cows?  Do they help the environment?

Grass fed cows help the environment by grazing.  This grazing produces new growth.  Trampling their manure and other plants turns the soil into rich organic matter.  Healthy soil keeps carbon dioxide underground and out of the atmosphere.  

In this article, we will discuss how grass fed cows help the environment and why you, if able, would want to keep a family cow.  I think you’ll be surprised at all of the benefits

Grass Fed Beef Benefits

When you think of a grass fed cow, what comes to mind?  A happy cow grazing on a pasture or eating the corn fields?  Of course, grazing on grass.  Cows were not meant to be contained in feedlots eating corn day in and day out.  Grass fed cows are leaner, healthier and contain higher conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)Grass fed beef also contains higher levels of omega 3, 6, vitamins, antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.  Grass fed beef shows a 10 fold increase in vitamin A,  β-carotene levels.  

According to the BMC Nutrition Journal, grass-fed beef has more SFA lipids, it’s higher in Vitamin A and E when compared to grain-fed beef.   

Grass Fed vs. Grain Fed

Grain fed cattle live out their last months on feedlots where they are stuffed with corn and soybeans.  This fattens the cattle and creates that marbled effect on the meat.  These cows are usually kept in crowded unsanitary conditions. 

The carbon footprint of grain fed cattle mostly comes from growing the GMO feed, which requires fossil fuel fertilizers, pesticides and transportation.  Grain fed cows are also given antibiotics and other growth hormones.  This has led to an over consumption of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance in humans.  When you eat grain fed cattle from feedlots, you are consuming these antibiotics and other drugs with each bite.  Regular consumption of this beef will destroy your gut microbiome and immune system.

Grass fed cattle produce more methane than grain fed because high-fiber plants are harder to digest than grains but their net emissions are lower because they produce healthier soil.  Grass fed farmers generally do not inject their animals with antibiotics or other drugs.  They care about the health of their animals and often provide far more sanitary conditions.  These cattle are rotated on pastures and roam on acres of land.  

Grass Fed Beef Lies

You’ve probably seen the reports that grass fed beef has higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions but these reports fail to take into account the full impact these cows have on the environment.  Farmers usually rotate their cattle on to different pastures.  This reduces the production of greenhouse gasses.  How?  By reducing soil carbon sequestration.  Carbon sequestration captures and stores carbon dioxide.  It is one method of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A study from Arizona University states that well-managed grazing aids in soil carbon breakdown.  

When cattle are given room to roam, you lower the overall carbon footprint. 

According to environmental economist Judith D. Schwartz and her book, Cows Save the Planet:  “We’re talking about CO2 levels going up in the atmosphere, but actually there is more carbon in soil than there is in the atmosphere and all plant life combined. Carbon wants to be in soil. Carbon is the main ingredient in soil organic matter which is the good stuff. For anyone who gardens, that’s like the nice soil, the dark stuff that you know is going to allow you to grow flowers, crops, whatever it is that you’re growing. The other thing about carbon in the soil is that it allows for the land to hold water. Grass-fed cattle keep soil healthy because microbes are hitching a ride in the ruminant’s gut and through the animal then returning the nutrients to the soil through waste it keeps moisture,” Schwartz says.

Percentage of Grass-Fed Beef in USA

Less than 1% of the US supply is grass fed beef.  Grass fed beef imported from Australia outweighs the amount the US supplies.  The demand and growth of the grass fed market has suppliers considering a shift.  In my experience, my homestead can earn more income from our grass fed beef than the farms around me selling grain fed.  

So why wouldn’t we all just switch to grass fed beef?  The answer is physical limits.  The current pastures can only support 27% of the United States beef supply.  More work is required to obtain enough land to supply the growing demand for beef.  This may only be obtained if the demand on larger operations is reduced and more families grow their own food.  

Livestock Solutions for Climate Change

Yes, the feedlots and industrial meat is unhealthy for our bodies and the environment.  People are projected to eat more of it in the coming decades.  It has been shown these cows can contribute to climate change.  

So what is the solution to help our environment?  It’s not to abandon meat entirely!  Nor is it to keep eating factory-farmed beef.  Instead, eat grass fed, organic meat from local farmers.  Or better yet, if you have a few acres, raise your own grass-fed beef.  Improve your soil and contribute to the environment. 

Final Thoughts:  Keeping a Family Cow

A family cow will help you clean up your land, improve the soil quality, provide food for your family and help the environment.  

Grass-fed cows are a wonderful addition to the homestead.  Most of the work comes from installing a fence but once installed it’s not a lot of work to maintain. If you live in a four seasons climate, like I do, there is some work putting up enough hay for the winter.  Using round bales and a tractor takes care of most of the load.  We’ve raised a small herd of cattle since 2010.