By Dr. Mercola
Even though grass fed and grain-finished beef sales have grown by 1,500 percent since 2012, according to ABC News, they are still overshadowed by conventional beef sales in the U.S., which topped $105 billion in 2015.1 While there is a long way to go before grass fed beef will become as popular as its conventional counterpart, the tides are changing as more consumers are demanding higher quality, safer meat products.
Once again, the health benefits of grass fed beef — to both the consumer and the soil — are making news. An ABC News feature highlights the success Texas farmers had in surviving a multiyear drought using regenerative agriculture practices and rotational grazing. The solution to their success was so simple and it can be applied anywhere: healthy soil + healthy grass = healthy grass fed beef.
Grass to the Rescue: Grass Fed Cows Save Drought-Stricken Texas Farms
As featured on ABC News’ “Food Forecast” program,2 the native grasses used to pasture grass fed beef is more than just animal feed — it’s vital to the survival of both the soil and ranching way of life. Among those interviewed by program host Ginger Zee, chief meteorologist for ABC News, was cattle rancher Jon Taggart of Grandview, Texas, who has been raising grass fed and grass-finished cows for slaughter since 1999. To bring his meat to market, Taggart owns and operates three stores in Texas that sell pastured beef.
In 2011, as other ranchers watched feed grasses dry up and die when oppressive heat and drought gripped Texas, Taggart continued operating his business as usual. “I'm proud to say we harvested cattle every week of the year through that entire drought,” he told ABC News. The drought, by the way, lasted into 2015.
While millions of cattle were moved out of Texas to survive the heat and shortage of edible forage, Taggart did not destock a single animal, or turn to supplemental feeding. He attributes his success to the fact his farm was replete with what he calls “those deep-rooted native grasses that were designed [to survive those droughts] by somebody a lot bigger than us.”
After initially raising grain-finished cows — meaning the animals, after starting a grass diet, were fed corn and other grains at the end of their lives as a means of increasing their size and weight just before slaughter — Taggart and others began feeding their cows exclusively on grass. As you may imagine, feeding large herds of farm animals grass on a continuous basis requires an abundant and diverse crop of seasonal grasses.
Said Taggart, “We want an extremely diversified plant population: warm season grasses, cool season grasses, grasses that germinate early and grasses that germinate later.” Cultivating a variety of grasses enables Taggart’s soil to remain fortified and healthy despite challenging weather conditions, including drought. His farmland retains water and other essential nutrients so the soil remains healthy year-round.
Focusing on Soil Health Breathes Life Back Into Farmland
When the 2011 drought hit, Jonathan and Kaylyn Cobb, one of the owner/operator families of Green Fields Farm in Rogers, Texas, were ready to sell their family ranch due to the poor condition of its soil.3 “We didn’t have any life in our soil and … we weren’t aware of it at all,” says Jonathan Cobb. “We killed everything that wasn’t what we were trying to grow because that is all we knew.”
After putting their home up for sale, the couple met with sixth-generation cattle farmer and regenerative agriculture consultant Allen Williams, Ph.D., who called out their dry powdery soil as the root problem. To save their soil and their farm, Williams suggested they begin raising entirely grass fed cows using a system of rotational grazing. His advice transformed their perspective on farming and gave them a vision for the value and importance of regenerative land management.
The foundation of rotational grazing is the development of paddocks — large plots of grass — and the systematic movement of herds from one paddock to another for forage. This cycle of rotation allows the grass to recover and regrow naturally in each paddock as the cows move on to a new one. Not only do the cows get plenty of exercise, but they also gain weight at a healthy pace. After taking Williams’ advice, the Cobbs changed their entire approach to farming, which returned health, vitality and structure to their soil.
Now, with rotational grazing solidly in place, Jonathan Cobb said his cows gain, on average, 3.5 pounds a day on a totally grass fed diet consisting of about 40 pounds of daily grass intake per animal. “It sounds funny to say, but we bought cattle for the soil,” states Kaylyn Cobb. “The reason we brought cattle back onto the land was because we knew it was a fundamental element needed to restore life to the soil.”
Why Is Soil Quality so Important?
According to Taggart, the Cobbs and Williams, soil is a key factor in not only farming but livestock operations, too.4 In particular, the Cobbs have learned good soil aggregation and structure are paramount to success. “It used to be thought you had to use a plow and till up the soil to get oxygen in there,” stated Jonathan Cobb. “We know now every time you’re doing that you lose aggregation and just have powdery soil. Worms are the only tillage we need — they aerate the soil for us.”
About the value of worms, Kaylyn Cobb asserts, “Now that the soil health has improved, we have soil aggregates and earthworms that make channels so the water can go into soil. All of this life [in the ground] is like a sponge, and we can take more water in and store it in our soil.” Williams comes alongside ranchers with the goal of regenerating soil which, in turn, enables them to raise healthy livestock in a manner that is both efficient and profitable.
Based on consulting with more than 6,000 farmers and ranchers, he asserts soil health is a vital consideration for any successful farm. The motivation should be the same, he says, regardless of whether the cows are grain- or grass fed. Said Williams:
“I want every farmer and rancher who is growing livestock to adopt these adaptive-grazing practices, and to build their soil organic matter and soil health. … [T]his is going to make a whole sea change in the way our soil functions, the way our ecosystem works, and our water quality and our climate.”
Cows and Grass: They Naturally Go Together
Taggart suggests pairing cows with farmland represents a “return to nature.” Cows, he notes, are ruminant animals. “They have four parts to their stomachs for a reason, and that’s so they can digest grass, which we don’t do very well,” he says. “They can convert [grass] into a protein that we are able to consume.” Because cows were designed to eat grass and they’ve been doing it for millennia, Taggart believes the system “works very well if you kind of get out of the way and let it happen.”
That is the approach he took on his ranch, which amounts to about 1,400 acres. When he first took over, about 900 acres of it was farmland. Right way, Taggart began converting the farmed land back to native grasses. Those grasses and a system of rotational grazing have fueled Taggart’s success and allowed his operation to remain productive throughout periods of challenging weather. Not only do cows eat grass, but as they are rotated across pastures full of it, they bring many benefits to the life cycle, including:5
- Grazing cuts grass blades and releases seeds, spurring new and continuous growth
- Cow manure is a natural fertilizer and helps the grass grow
- Trampling assists in working animal manure and other decaying organic matter into the soil, resulting in a rich humus
- Soil erosion is reduced because grass, unlike grains, regrows naturally and does not disturb the soil
- Healthy soil keeps carbon dioxide underground and out of the atmosphere
The Roots of Regenerative Farming
Among the most influential voices for the development of regenerative farming is rangeland consultant Allan Savory, president and founder of the Savory Institute, a Boulder, Colorado, nonprofit with a vision to restore grasslands around the world. Savory estimates he’s trained upward of 10,000 ranchers, representing a collective 40 million acres of global pasture, on "holistic management and planned grazing," which is his trademark method of regenerative agriculture.
To advance his practices, Savory has launched a global network of farmers who desire to move beyond sustainability to regeneration, and they are committed to employing his techniques. About Savory and his network, EatingWell states:6
“They believe … farmers have a duty to go further, by steadily improving their land with the goal of bringing it closer to what was here before the advent of modern agriculture, a time when lush prairies covered much of the central United States.
The grasses provided food for vast herds of bison and other herbivores that, in turn, fertilized the soil — a symbiotic relationship that promoted a hearty regrowth of vegetation, improved nutrient content and allowed the ground to hold more moisture. Regenerative agriculture attempts to mimic these conditions with livestock, such as cattle, sheep and goats.”
Experts like Savory believe grazing livestock could reverse desertification and also help reduce greenhouse gases. In fact, the Savory Institute suggests if degraded grasslands were turned around on a large scale, “enough carbon could be sunk into the soil to lower greenhouse gas concentrations to preindustrial levels in a matter of decades.”7
Soil managed regeneratively, including the addition of grazing livestock, has the ability to trap and store large amounts of carbon that otherwise would remain in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated U.S. farm and grazing land collectively stores about 20 million metric tons of carbon a year. The results suggested U.S. farm soils keep out more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they put in.
The USDA stated, “With improved management, farms and rangelands have the potential to store an additional 180 million metric tons annually, for a total of 200 million metric tons a year. This would be 12 to 14 percent of total U.S. emissions of carbon.”8 If advocates of regenerative farming are correct about the impact of their practices on the environment, then eating grass fed meat might be the best thing you can do for the environment.
Why Conventional Meat Is Bad for You
Many so-called experts continue to suggest meat production — especially beef — contributes to environmental destruction. Therefore, the logic follows, if you give up eating meat from farm animals, you will help reduce your carbon footprint.
As Williams, Savory and others attest, the reality is not all meat production is the same, especially when it comes to beef. While all cows begin their lives foraging for grass on open pasture, about 97 percent of U.S. cattle spend their last days in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where they are fattened with grain prior to slaughter.9
This system of using CAFOs, which are hotbeds for disease and antibiotic misuse, is energy-intensive and responsible for the high carbon emissions normally associated with livestock operations. If you need more convincing about the dangers of CAFOS, also known as factory farms, check out my “The Truth About Factory Farms” infographic.
Of particular cause for alarm is the long-standing practice CAFOs have of feeding low doses of antibiotics to farm animals, which enables pathogens to survive, adapt and eventually thrive. The reality that nearly 80 percent of antibiotics administered in the U.S. go into farm animals should give you a sense of why CAFOs are becoming increasingly more well-known for their role in spreading deadly antibiotic-resistant disease.
Antibiotic Use in CAFO Animals Is Out of Control
Instances of antibiotic resistance continue to rise, with about 2 million drug-resistant infections occurring annually in the U.S., resulting in the deaths of an estimated 23,000 people.10 Similarly, about 25,000 Europeans annually succumb to drug-resistant infections.11
According to The Guardian,12 livestock raised for food in the U.S. are given, on average, five times the amount of antibiotics as compared to farm animals in the U.K. Presently, the free use of growth hormones in the U.S. has resulted in a ban on imports of American beef throughout Europe. Research by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, a U.K. lobby group, asserts antibiotic use in conventionally raised farm animals in the U.S. as compared to the U.K. is:13,14
- Nine times as much in the case of cattle raised for beef
- 5.5 times higher for turkeys
- Three times higher in chickens
- Twice as high for pigs
About the disparity in antibiotic use between the U.S. and U.K., Suzi Shingler, campaign manager for Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, said:
“U.S. cattle farmers are massively overusing antibiotics. These findings show the huge advantages of British beef, which is often from grass-reared animals, whereas U.S. cattle are usually finished in intensive feedlots. Trade negotiators who may be tempted to lift the ban on U.S. beef should not only be considering the impact of growth hormones, but also, antibiotic resistance due to rampant antibiotic use.”
While livestock may occasionally require antibiotics to cure an infection, CAFOs routinely misuse antibiotics in an attempt to speed up animal growth or to offset overcrowding and poor hygiene. According to the CDC, 12 antibiotic-resistant pathogens pose a "serious threat” to public health, and one-third of them are food-related infections, including Campylobacter, E. coli, Salmonella and Shigella.
Given the high risk of contamination associated with conventional meat, grass fed meat — as Taggart, Williams and others have asserted — is the healthiest and safest meat for you to eat. Stay away from all meat that is grain-fed or grain-finished. Get to know your local farmers and seek out local sources for high-quality grass fed meat.
Soil-Based Agriculture Is Vital to Our Future on Planet Earth
Soil-based agriculture, especially organic and regenerative agriculture, is essential to human survival because these types of farming center around holistic land-management practices designed to improve biodiversity, soil health and water scarcity. As mentioned, these approaches also build healthy soils capable of drawing down excess carbon in the atmosphere.15 Healthy soil connects to everything up the food chain, from plant and insect health all the way up to animal and human health.
As such, health truly begins in the soil in which your food is grown. Moving toward a system where 100 percent of your food is produced using organic and regenerative practices is imperative not only for renewing the Earth’s precious resources but also for sustaining human life. If you are interested in learning more about how you can help bring about positive change, check out my article “How to Use Regenerative Farming Principles to Grow Healthier Food in Your Own Garden.”
Source: mercola rss