MN Sr Beef Ambassador
Should I eat beef? Does eating beef hurt the environment? Are cattle sustainable? What a set of loaded questions. In today’s world the media influences how we see almost everything from politics, COVID-19, fashion, nutrition, and even agriculture. When scrolling through social media answers to those three questions can be confusing depending on where you look. Who decides what is true? How are we supposed to make sense of this tangled mess of opposing views? There is no simple solution. Everyone needs to decide for themselves what they believe about beef based on tangible evidence.
You may ask yourself, should I eat beef? If I quit eating beef would it save the environment? What if I told you that may actually make it worse? In the United States, forty-one percent of the land is used as pasture or rangeland (Merrill). If there were no cows, that land, 654 million acres, would be unused. Wouldn’t that land be better used for producing crops to be grown? A majority of the land that is currently used as pasture is unsuitable for any other type of agricultural use because of climate and terrain. Land such as the hills of South Dakota that could be completely unusable because of the terrain are able to produce beef. Cattle make efficient use of the grasses in these rangelands because of their ability to digest cellulose, a main component in plants that is indigestible to humans. If cattle were eliminated from the picture, that land resource would go unused.
Would the environment be better off without cows? A major controversy that has recently come up in our society is cow farts. In actuality, the concern comes from cows burps, not farts. Cattle are ruminants and they ferment their food in order to digest it. As a result of this fermentation, methane is produced leading us to the topic of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions. This methane that is released in the form of burps is different from your typical GHG carbon dioxide because it only has a lifespan of ten years in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide has an indefinite lifespan (“Frank”). After ten years, if the number of cattle in the US remain consistent so does all the methane emissions from cattle. In fact, the amount of cattle has gone down by over two-thirds since the 1970s and in turn reduced the beef industries emissions by 2.3 billion tons (“Frank”). Regardless, cattle still do contribute 3.7 percent of GHG emissions. Without cattle would we eliminate all 3.7 percent? The short answer is no, because while we may eliminate the emissions directly from cows, we would emit just as much if not more while producing the crops needed to mitigate the nutrient deficiency that would result from the loss of beef in diets. Ultimately, from an emissions standpoint, the environment would not be better off without cows.
Lastly, are cows sustainable? That word has many different definitions but personally it means I need to utilize the resources afforded me to the best of my ability in order to benefit the land, the economy, the society, and future generations. Can I achieve this through raising cattle? Yes. Cattle use land that would otherwise go to waste. They produce minimal GHG emissions and the footprint from US cattle has gone down and continues to go down. Additionally, ninety percent of cattles’ diet is made of human inedible plants and byproducts from many industries including ethanol production, cotton, and milling grains, and more importantly, they produce nineteen percent more edible protein than they consume (Place). At the end of the day or when my time on earth is up I will leave a legacy of stewardship. Stewardship of the land, the animals that graze the land, and the future generations of cattle producers behind me. This is sustainability at its finest.
“Frank Mitloehner: Cattle, Climate Change and the Methane Myth.” Alltech, 25 June 2019, https://www.alltech.com/features-podcast-blog/frank-mitloehner-cattleclimatechangeand-methane-myth.
Merrill, Dave and Lauren Leatherby. “Here’s How America Uses Its Land.” Bloomberg, 31 Jul 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-us-land-use/.
Place, Sarah. “Latest Study Confirms an Animal-Free Food System is Not Holistically Sustainable.” Medium, 8 Mar. 2018, https://medium.com/@beefitsfordinner/latest-studyconfirms-an-animal-free-food-system-is-not-holistically-sustainable-69df19dededd.
Haley Mouser - MN State Jr Beef Ambassador
Do the things that make you happy make a cow happy? If you like what you see and it makes you feel good, does that make a cow feel good? We all understand that farm animals live differently than we do. We like the idea of a big red barn. It’s nostalgic and stirs up emotions of times gone by, simpler times. Even the Animal Welfare Institute likes the idea of “straw-bedded barns.” We want our city houses to look like farm houses. We want our dogs to live like people. We want to feel good. We want to believe that if the situation an animal is in would not make us happy, it must not make them happy either. However, cows are different. What makes us happy is not going to make them happy.
Cows eat grass. People don’t. Cows defecate no matter where they are nor do they care about timing. People don’t. Cows have hooves. People don’t. Cows live outside. People live inside. Cows don’t speak. People do. Cows can be content, secure, and satisfied, happy, when all their needs, having food, water, and a dry place to lay down, are met. How do you know a cow is content? It’s simple, when they are chewing their cud or laying down they are typically content. Content cows are happy cows.
How can we ensure content cows when they live outside? Could we ever build enough barns to house every cow during inclement weather? No. My family and I have a small herd of thirty cows, specifically Hereford cows, in northern Minnesota. We face difficult weather on a regular basis and experience temperature extremes of -40 below zero to 90 degrees above zero in just a matter of months. To bed our barn with straw, house all 30 animals, provide water, food, and ventilation would be difficult. What do we do during inclement weather? We provide for their needs. They have access to food, which is hay or pasture. They have plenty of water during the heat and the water stays unthawed in the cold. They have access to shelter or a wind-break. And lastly they have access to a dry place to lay down. I cannot tell you how much I love seeing content cows. When I can walk by my cattle and see them chewing their cud in all types of weather and situations, I know that they are content and fully satisfied.
The same goes for cattle in feedyards. Even though they may not have access to pasture, they have a personal nutritionist who develops their daily rations. They have people who ride pens daily to make sure they are healthy. They have everything they need: food, water, and a dry place to lay down. When driving by a feedyard, instead of seeing sickly, depressed cattle we actually see cattle who are content, chewing their cud and laying down. Even though we might not feel good when looking at cattle in a feedyard or seeing cattle outside in inclement weather, those cattle can still feel good, and as long as they have their needs met and are chewing their cud, they are content, happy cows.
Theresa Gustafson - MN State Jr Beef Ambassador
Hello again! For those of you that are new here my name is Theresa Gustafson, I am a farmer/rancher in northern Minnesota where I am the fourth-generation living on our family farm. We have 230 cow-calf pairs as well as two hundred head of market steers and heifers. We also farm over a thousand acres of crops. My goals for this blog include: informing the public about issues regarding farming and ranching, teaching about everyday experiences on a farm, and debunking myths surrounding agriculture and the cattle industry. Today, I will be talking about factory farms.
I would like to start off with the definition of factory farming: "a large industrialized farm - especially a farm on which large numbers of livestock are raised indoors or in conditions intended to maximize production at a minimal cost". A large misconception is that factory farms are taking over the agricultural market. However, there are more than 570 million farms in the world. Greater than 90% of them are run by a family and rely on family labor. Family farms produce approximately 80% of the world's food. In Minnesota alone there are 74,542 farms on 26 million acres of land, and about one thousand additional agricultural and food companies. In Minnesota alone, agriculture accounts for three hundred and forty thousand jobs.
Another common misconception is that if you use new technology on your farm, it is a factory farm. We are a family farm and we use technology ranging from tile drainage systems to self-driving tractors. We use the best technology so we can get the best outcome. It doesn't matter if you are a farmer, an office worker, etc. you want to use the best technology available. Technology doesn't determine if you are a family farm or not. Size also does not determine if a farm is a factory farm or family farm. Family farms can be very small or very large.
That's all for today, I hope that I have cleared up some of your questions. Remember I post a blog every Wednesday and Friday, so come back and check them out! The fun fact of the week is: Did you know that Minnesota beef contributes $4.9 billion to the economy? Minnesota beef is amazing! That's all for this week and remember, money can't buy happiness but it can buy cows, which is pretty much the same thing!
Mykenzie Kutney - Minnesota State Sr Beef Ambassador
A very controversial topic today is whether or not beef farmers care about those around them. People wonder if they are really worried about the health and welfare of their animals, their customers, and their world. Many people today believe that farmers don't care, and as a result, there has been a decline in the support of the beef industry. This is tragic, because these people are missing out on the many benefits of enjoying beef because of the lies that that they are believing. The truth is, farmers do care about those around them, and they want to use their industry to help the world as a whole be a healthier, better, and safer place.
Farmers care about their animals. The average size of a beef operation in America is only about 40 head of cattle, and most cattle operations in America are family-owned. This means that in many instances the cattle owned by farmers are more like friends, or even family. However, I personally know several farmers from many different kinds and sizes of operations, and all of them deeply care about their animals. Farmers love their animals and want what is best for them. They do everything they can to help their animals enjoy a good, healthy life. It's their job to raise cattle, and in order to be successful, they need to do it right.
Farmers care about their customers. Every good businessman knows that in order to have a good business, you need to have pleased customers. Farmers constantly pay attention to the opinions and desires of their customers and do everything they can to follow them. From the conditioning on the animal to what the animal eats, farmers work hard to meet their customers' expectations. They are also careful to follow the guidelines set in place by the government about antibiotics, vaccinations, and other medications so that the meat is free of any residue. Farmers want to make sure their customers stay healthy and pleased.
Farmers care about the world. Farmers depend on the earth. Without it, there would be no way for any kind of agriculture to continue. Farmers love what they do and are very passionate about it. More than anything, they want to be able to provide for the world until their children and grandchildren are ready to take over. Farmers dream of being able to hand their industry through the generations, and this means taking good care of the earth so that it lasts for years to come. Beef farmers work hard every day to make their animals the most efficient they can be. This means breeding selectively to make the animals the most efficient they can be, and feeding well. Cattle can actually be considered a part of a recycling process! They can eat waste products, such as distiller's grains, and turn it into something of value. This is just one of many ways farmers have found to help improve the world.
Farmers intensely care about those around them and do everything in their power to keep their animals, their customers, and their world healthy, safe, and happy. They love what they do, and they want to share it with those around them.