Updated: Mar 31, 2020
There has been a lot of hype in the media lately related to reducing meat in diets, or creating new alternatives to meat. For some reason, the media outlets tend to think that livestock are ruining the World, and that beef, especially, is going to cause an Armageddon.
Let's break it down with some facts...
I think starting with some basic biological understanding will help create the building blocks for this post. Humans, and the majority of entities that exist within the Animal Kingdom, undergo the process of respiration. Respiration is the process of us converting oxygen, that we breathe in, and sugars, or food in which we eat, into byproducts like water, energy, and carbon dioxide, the stuff we breathe out.
On the other hand, we have a symbiotic relationship with plants, as they undergo the process of photosynthesis, which is essentially the inverse to our respiration equation. Photosynthesis is the process of taking in carbon dioxide, water, and energy (sunlight), and creating a byproduct of oxygen and sugars. This is also why we eat plants, because they provide the sugars we need for metabolic processes in our body and allow us to undergo respiration! Everything in life is cyclic in nature, and pretty impressive the way everything was intended to work together to make the World spin around :)
So, if we apply this process to a cow, we now understand that the soil grows the plant that the cow needs in order to perform respiration, and after respiration, the byproducts from the cow are used to make new plant growth, and the cycle continues.
So...what exactly is carbon sequestration? This is the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing in it a different form long-term. The process of carbon sequestration takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere which ultimately reduces green-house gases and helps to mitigate the idea of global warming.
I am not speaking in defense of conventional farming operations and feedlots, because as much as I support ALL agriculture, we can work to do better as a whole when it comes to being regenerative. Groups like the Savory Institute (check them out in the Regenerate and Educate section of our website) are headed in the right direction with this idea of regenerative agriculture. This idea is based around the process of carbon sequestration. When cattle are managed properly in a grazing setting, they promote carbon sequestration and actually regenerate the land.
Roam Ranch in Texas is the PERFECT example of this. Over 400-acres of undesirable and nearly desolate range land in Texas became the grazing land for a herd of buffalo. With rotational grazing practices and good land management practices, this land became regenerated into natural prairie lands after only one year with the bison herd roaming it. Animals, insects, and native plants that had not been seen on these lands in decades started emerging once again and the land became full of life.
So how exactly is carbon sequestered by adding grazers to barren range lands? There are about 800 million-acres of land in the United States that contain vegetation that is inedible to humans, that's 35% of the land mass in the USA! (https://www.beefmagazine.com/sustainability/meet-beef-cow-aka-great-upcycler?NL=BEEF-01&Issue=BEEF-01_20190222_BEEF-01_370&sfvc4enews=42&cl=article_2_b&utm_rid=CPG02000002449980&utm_campaign=36190&utm_medium=email&elq2=6946056ba1f74a9692972f04d36d15a4)
Most of this land is left to waste and not utilized. When land is left with no management, or symbiotic partners, like grazers, it can become overgrown, the soil gets leached of its nutrients, and the plants usually meet their demise because the soil is no longer capable of providing for the plants. After the plants die, and there is no longer any ground cover, the soil becomes dense and compacted down from rainfall, and then loses the ability to harbor life.
Cattle play a vital role in soil health and carbon sequestration because they continuously eat the vegetation...not to the point of damaging it, but usually down to what we call stubble height. Stubble height is the height a plant gets after cattle graze on it and it no longer provides good quality nutrients to the animal. This is when it's time to rotate the cattle to a new pasture. When the cattle move to a new pasture, the stubble-height plants now have the chance to sequester more carbon and grow back the shoots the cattle ate. Once the plants are fully grown and ready for grazing, the cattle are moved back into that pasture. This is the concept of rotational grazing. This management approach allows regeneration of the soil, plants, and the ecosystem that thrives all around that tiny blade of grass that seems like a needle in the haystack of life.
It's called microscopic life. Both microscopic and macroscopic life need to work together in a natural cycle in order to venture down the road to regeneration.
P.S. Shout out to my girl, Erica, for her incredible photography skills. She took this picture while on a photo shoot in the Northwest, and she deserves all the credit for it!
You can check out more of her work here ---> https://unsplash.com/@erica_tessmann