Cattle are key to a healthy ecosystem, that is if we manage cattle in natures image.  Nature provides examples of how herds such as the bison of North America or the buffalo and wildebeest of Africa work as keystone species.  An important feature of these large animals is their ability to eat grass.  Much of the grass they eat, comes right back out the back end (POOP) as high quality nutrients that feed soil life and creates new grass.  The process is very simple and efficient.  The hard thing for us humans is to keep it simple.

In elementary school I remember when any type of nutrient cycle (carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus) was shown as a graphic, the COW was the central or a key part of the process.

nitrogen cycle

The nitrogen cycle, note the cow! As an aside, legumes in our pasture “fix” atmospheric N for free. Industrial fixation of N requires 300 atmospheres of pressure and 1000 degrees F of heat!

Maybe you have heard the bad rap cows have received in the global warming/climate change discussions.  Basically that cows are adding to much methane (green house gas) to our atmosphere.  Here are a few things to think about:

  • Our current cow herd size in the U.S. is about 10 million fewer animals than historic bison herd estimates.  Not even counting the elk, deer and antelope that use to roam our lands.
    • How can fewer animals cause problems today when larger herds of the past built deep rich soils and abundance?
  • Methane from cattle on healthy pastures are quickly mitigated by soil microbes.

I think we can agree that cattle confined to dirt lots eating non-natural diets such as corn will produce more methane than grass based cattle.  So it is not the cattle causing the problem, if anything it is how humans manage the cattle.

Our nutrient cycles are now broken as pointed out in this article from Nature World News “Loss Of Animals’ Poop Disrupts Nutrient Cycles…”.  We need to get animals out of confined feeding areas and back out on the land.  Our lands are starved for the biological active nutrients that could be naturally cycling through large herbivores such as cattle.

Prior to brining cattle to our pastures in 2011, this farm had not had a cow on it for over 30 years.  We have re-established nutrient cycling in our pastures by using cattle in natures image and are starting to see excellent results in the grass we are able to grow!

Want to stay up on the most recent science of how beef can heal our environment?  Check out the Defending Beef FaceBook page.

Image source: UN-L Extension Circular 155.

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