Erika Murphy: Beef industry positives
October 9, 2017
I am a rancher who raises Angus cattle for breeding purposes southwest of Steamboat Springs. The beef industry receives lots of negative press at times, so I wanted to focus on some of the positives and offer other perspectives. This only covers a few of the topics, and all figures are from credible sources that I am happy to provide.
Cattle are raised in many areas where it is difficult to grow crops. Growing crops is not feasible when the land is too cold, steep, or high as in Routt County. Cattle turn grass that humans cannot eat into meat and milk that we can. Livestock can also eat stocks left after harvest of corn or grain.
Cows help utilize land that we enjoy for its beauty, such as national forest. Grazing permits help to pay for this resource, and grazing has the added benefit of keeping fire dangers down. If we turned pasture land that was capable of farming over to the cultivation of vegetables instead, we still have impacts such as altering the habitat with ripple effects on the soil and creatures.
Properly managed grazing animals and taking advantage of non-arable land is an important part of the solution to feeding our increasing population.
The carbon footprint of cattle often comes into question. Many things produce carbon naturally. One cow produces as much greenhouse gas emissions as driving a car for 31,000 miles, but when a grown tree dies and decomposes, it will produce CO2 emissions equivalent to driving a car 124,000 miles.
The total number of cattle in the U.S. today is roughly 90 million, which is fewer than the number of ruminants — elk, caribou, and bison — that existed during the time of Lewis and Clark. We have always had animals producing carbon; it is our modern fossil fuel consumption that is the primary contributor to CO2 emissions. Cattle also help with carbon sequestration by putting organic matter back into the soil by their stomping of grass seeds and manure.
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Another argument put forth is the amount of water used by cattle. Because of the number of variables and interpretations involved in the calculation, a wide and sometimes extreme range of results can be derived.
Many studies provide numbers based on worst-case situations. University of California–Davis conducted a detailed study on typical water usage to raise beef. Many inputs were considered including geography, the number of days on feed, how many acres of grass needed irrigated, etc. The research concluded that 441 gallons of water were needed per pound of beef, about the same volume needed for a kilogram of rice.
Beef provides good-quality protein and is rich in nutrients like zinc, vitamin B12, selenium, and iron. (For those of you who like almond milk, investigate the amount of water needed for almonds. It is substantial.)
Cows also contribute through by-products, with 99 percent of the animal being utilized. Gelatins produced from bones are found in ice cream and marshmallows. Natural sausage casings come from intestines. The hide is used to make leather but also provides a base for binders for asphalt, plaster and insulations. Inedible fats are used in lubricants, lipstick, creams and soaps.
Over 100 pharmaceuticals leverage beef by-products to prevent blood clots, help babies digest milk and relieve symptoms of asthma and hay fever. Insulin is one of the most notable drugs derived from the pancreas and is critical for the five million diabetics in the U.S.
All food production requires resources, so I would just ask that you do your own homework and draw your conclusions from many and varied sources.
Coyote Creek Angus