Did you know that consuming animal products can actually help reverse climate change ?
That is only if we as humans decide to properly raise livestock. This determines the impact of animals like cows. In other words, it’s not the cow, it’s the how.
Regenerative agriculture refers to a land management practice that focuses on reversing climate change by rebuilding organic matter in soil and restoring degraded pasture and soil biodiversity.
This type of farming creates mini ecosystems since farmers rotate different crops and animal species that work in tandem with another to create a healthy land.
It also prioritizes animal welfare since they are eating their natural diet of forage, bugs, etc which in turn creates healthier animals, which at the end of the day are healthier for us to consume as well (they have the species appropriate fatty acid and protein profiles)!
When ruminants like bison and cattle graze, they help restore the all the important top-soil that we are loosing every year!
In fact, 95% of the top soil we use today to grow crops was created by large bison and Buffalo herds!
Unfortunately, modern farming which includes the heavy use of pesticides and continual plowing/mono culture agriculture has depleted the topsoil and has lead to a diminished mineral and vitamin density which results in inferior crops.
The majority of the damage when it comes to agricultural GHG emissions is due to plowing up fields for crop production, not belching cattle, and most of the opportunity for improvement in this area comes from no-till cropping practices.Journal of Water and Soil Conservation
Right now, the majority of the farmland is being used to grow crops like corn, wheat and soy. Companies use genetically modified crops and pesticides such as Round-Up (actually an antibiotic) to grow sturdy plants with a high yield. These three commodity crops are used to make everything from alcohol, high fructose corn syrup, fake meat, vegetable oils and many processed foods found on supermarket shelves (both for humans and for pets). They are grown through mono cropping which means that the same plant is grown on the same land, which depletes the soil of nutrients and minerals.
Not only is topsoil needed to grow food and sustain our world population, but it is also critical for absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. In other words, we need it to prevent the accumulation of green house gasses in the atmosphere, which is a critical component of global warming!
What about methane producing cow manure?
Concentrated animal feces from factory farms are a much different environmental issue than scattered cattle poop, urine, and hoof across grasslands in a natural system. In well-managed systems without a lot of antibiotics or drugs given to the animals, large dung beetle populations are re-established. These dung beetles help break down manure, and recent studies found they help to mitigate methane emissions from it. (source) How do they do this? Methane thrives in low-oxygen environments. As they tunnel through manure, dung beetles provide ways for oxygen to circulate, preventing methane formation.Book: Sacred Cow
Regenerative farming utilizes multi-paddock grazing to let the ruminants and grasslands work in synergy! The grasslands need the animal droppings as fertilizer and the microbes in the poop give the soil “life”. The animals then trapple the manure into the soil which mixes the bacteria and fungi into it. Certain fungi feed minerals back into the plant, which nourished the plants and allows them to grow longer roots. The longer the roots of the plants, the more carbon can be sequestered from the atmosphere.
As herds graze, dung, urine and old plant matter are trampled into the ground where they can decompose and enrich the soil’s network of microbial life. The cows graze the grass, the sheep and goats prefer the weeds, and the poultry peck at the roots, bugs, and grubs. Through this kind of rotation, the pastures are grazed and fertilized in three ways.Will Harris of White Oak Pastures
The animals are rotated between paddocks, often together with other species, to give the planes a chance to recover and generate new topsoil!
Additionally, crop rotation is important so that the soil that is created by the animals isn’t depleted of its nutrients, and can continue to provide nutritious grass to feed its helpers.
Well-managed rotational grazing accomplishes all four of these concepts. Perennial pastures, once planted, will rarely be disturbed with tillage. Each pasture is planted with a diverse mix of 15 different species, including grasses, forbs (flowers), and legumes. This does not include the additional species of plants that will naturally come into the pasture over time. The pasture has living roots in the soil at all times. These hold the soil, prevent erosion, and allow rain water to filter into the ground. These roots are also constantly pumping carbon into the soil after each grazing event, helping to mitigate global warming, and increasing soil organic matter.– Ryan Heinen from Gwenyn Hill Farm
It’s no doubt that animals in feedlots contribute to global warming, as summarized below by a study in 2013:
A 2013 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that livestock contribute 14.5 percent of human-driven greenhouse gas emissions, of which beef cattle represent 42 percent of the emissions. As the report highlights, the main sources for these emissions come from feed production and processing (mostly driven by fertilizer applications on crops fed to animals), enteric fermentation (how the animal digests the food) and manure management (yes, what comes out the backside). However, the climate impact of each of these drivers fluctuates based on how the animals are raised. An estimated 97 percent of cattle (PDF) in the United States finish their days (the final four to six months of life) in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) where the cows live in close proximity to each other, eating grains and other crops, and producing a lot of waste, which ends up in manure lagoons that release potent greenhouse gasses and pollute local waterways.
However, animal raising can also be a “carbon sink” as demonstrated by White Oak Pastures. A LCA analysis in 2017 shows that:
White Oak Pastures offsets as much as 85 percent of the farm’s total carbon emissions and at least 100 percent of the beef emissions. For every kilogram of beef produced, 3.5kg of carbon are sequestered in the farm’s plants and soil. In other words, the study suggests that — unlike a conventional beef operation — White Oak Pastures’ beef is a carbon sink.
It was also shown that the consumption of a White Oak Pastures beef patty offsets the production of a vegan fake meat patty.
Another study looked at the entire lifecycle of 100% grass-fed beef at a farm in Georgia, showing that the net total emissions were -3.5 Kg Co2-eq per Kg of fresh meat. This is significant because not only is it better than conventional beef, pork and chicken, but it’s better than the claims of Beyond Burgers and soybean production.
Like White Oak Pastures, there are many National and local farms that are practicing regenerative agriculture. Examples include Primal Pastures, Northstar Bison and US Wellness Meats. There are also many other local farmers you can support. The best resource to find regenerative meat in your area is http://www.eatwild.com
One brand also found at the supermarket is called Force of Nature. They sell regeneratively farmed heirloom chicken, bison, beef, pork as well as wild caught venison and boar! I really love their ground blends, which also contain some offal so it’s a Great way to eat nose to tail!
Lastly, cattle aren’t only used to feed us but can also play an important part in other industries. Inedible parts are used to make clothing, rubber and even certain medications. Honoring the whole animal is important!