Cows can be good for the land

by | Jun 24, 2022 | Blog | 0 comments

“Cows can be good for the land”

That could be one of the most controversial statements about the environment today. However, by allowing cattle to roam and graze, we can rejuvenate soil and actually begin to lower greenhouse gasses.

This is one of the topics that I researched for my upcoming book, Solve the Real Problem, scheduled to be released later this year. Unfortunately, as we designed the book, this was one of the stories that we had to leave behind. That happens wherever you write a book, produce a movie or write a piece of music. The content is good, but it doesn’t quite fit right now.

However, I believe that this is a story worth telling. I think you will find it enlightening.

I grew up on a farm northwest of Greeley, Colorado in the 1960’s and 70’s. Directly east of our farm was Monfort of Colorado. It was the largest commercial cattle feedlot in the United States at that time.

In 1971, Monfort’s capacity grew to over one-million head of cattle.

It’s a lovely town, but it smells like cow poop!

Greeley, Colorado was located directly south of the Monfort Feedlots and when the wind blew from the north, the odor of cow manure would waft across the city. The smell eventually became so bad, that under pressure from the good citizens of Greeley, in 1970, Monfort built a feedlot downwind of Greeley and abandoned the original facility.

The feedlot is the image that most of us have about where we get beef. We picture cattle in huge pens smelling of manure while also producing contaminated run-off water. But that has changed since the 1970’s

Monfort feedlots north of Greeley, 1974
Photo Credit:
2006.64.0006, City of Greeley Museums, Permanent Collection

hereford cow

It is not the cows that are the problem.

Beef cattle do not have to be raised in big feedlots and they do not have to be bad for the environment. But because of the way we have traditionally viewed beef production, we make the assumption that cattle are destroying the environment.

A feedlot emits greenhouse gasses. When cattle are grazed however, the data reveals that greenhouse gasses are actually sequestered or returned to the soil to nurture plant life.

The problem is not the cows. The problem is where the cows are at.

Animals grazing living plants are a part of the carbon cycle.

In the Northern Plains of the United States, the soils were formed by large herds of bison and elk being moved by predators, grazing a landscape, and trampling carbon, and plants, onto the soil surface. Then they would not return for about a year. This would allow for a full recovery of the land.

Today this recovery cycle is known as rotational grazing. Rotational grazing is the practice of allowing land to rest for most of the year.

Grazing cattle with long soil rest periods creates healthy soil.

Healthy soil is able to better recycle nutrients and retain more moisture while preventing runoffs during big rainstorms. Healthy soil sequesters carbon, pulling carbon dioxide out of the air and into the ground where plants use it to grow. The combination of cow dung and cow hooves helps cycle nutrients into the soil.

Cows have been referred to as mobile microbe tanks, because cows employ microbes in their rumen to break down the fibers in food. When cows poop, a steaming mound of microbes is dumped onto the land. Microbes are good for the land – very good. Manure from cows can help return barren land to fertility.

Cows are not the environmental bad actors they have been made out to be. Well managed grazing, not overgrazing, used in conjunction with responsible farming practices like no-till farming can actually help preserve land and sequester carbon.

And we could all use less Carbon Dioxide in our air.

Roger's Cowboy Boot

Challenge Your Assumptions!

This and other stories that challenge your assumptions about what the real problem is, will be in my upcoming book, Solve the Real Problem, scheduled for release later this year.

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