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Grass fed beef in relation to deforestation.

Jesus Martinez


Joined: Mar 07, 2011
Posts: 143
For lands that are natural grasslands, I totally agree that raising beef for example can be done in a sustainable manner, however, in areas that are or were forest, I don't think raising beef/cattle is wise. I hear all the time about how animals and grass fed beef is part of the solution to global warming but I have to disagree as huge swaths of the amazon rainforest are being deforested specifically for grass fed beef.

What are peoples opinions on this?
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Deforestation probably isn't a good idea. Virtually all beef is grassfed for most of its life and only finished on grain. The issue probably isn't whether or not the beef is "grassfed" but rather trying to raise beef on land which would more appropriately be forested.


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Jesus Martinez


Joined: Mar 07, 2011
Posts: 143
Tyler Ludens wrote: The issue probably isn't whether or not the beef is "grassfed" but rather trying to raise beef on land which would more appropriately be forested.


Correct. The great plains once housed millions of bison, but much of the east and west that was once forested is no longer that way but is used for grain or grass production. I read recently that 70% of the grain in the US is used for animal feed. Given around a 10:1 ratio for calories in/calories out for livestock, it never makes sense to divert human edible food to animals. The goal of sustainable animal husbandry IMO is to turn what is unusable or inedible to humans into a useful resource either through fertilization, pollination or if one so chooses, another food source.
kent smith


Joined: Sep 05, 2010
Posts: 211
Location: Pennsylvania
I think a distinction should be made regarding "grass fed beef". I have a real hard time calling a steer raise on dirt or mud in a small holding pen grass feed even if it was fed grass hay most of the time. With this warmer weather I have started to put the steers out on pasture and to get them away from the small paddock in front of their stall. I hate the damage that they do to this small paddock by the barn in the winter and they are so ready to graze the new growth.
kent


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Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
Jesus Martinez wrote:Correct. The great plains once housed millions of bison, but much of the east and west that was once forested is no longer that way but is used for grain or grass production.

A lot of North America used to be forested, and gradually, was changed to grasslands through fire and the bison. In fact, the expansion of the great plains was cause by humans increasing the range of their prey species. We've since increased it even more. We don't know how much those plains were in balance with the hundreds of millions of bison. By the time those counts were taken, the native human population had been reduced significantly (humans were a keystone species) and the bison, elk, deer, etc populations exploded. So, we don't really know where the balance level was.

Jesus Martinez wrote:I read recently that 70% of the grain in the US is used for animal feed. Given around a 10:1 ratio for calories in/calories out for livestock, it never makes sense to divert human edible food to animals. The goal of sustainable animal husbandry IMO is to turn what is unusable or inedible to humans into a useful resource either through fertilization, pollination or if one so chooses, another food source.


Not all livestock are 10:1 ratios. Pigs are closer to 3.5:1, so are chickens and rabbits. Fish on grain can be 1.2:1. Even cows on grain are less than 10:1.

It makes sense to divert human edible food to animals if the meat gained is higher nutrition content than the animal's food. For example, some people classify alfalfa as human food (I do not). Feeding fresh alfalfa to rabbits gives you a FCR of about 4:1. Rabbit meat is far more valuable and nutritious than the 4 units of alfalfa that went towards making it. It's not just calories in vs calories out, because there is more to food than calories. In the fish example, 1.2:1 for tilapia on grain, the fish gained is far more nutritious than the 1.2 units of grain it ate.

Having said that, 40% of the human food in the USA is thrown in the trash. That took a lot of energy, fuel, transportation, etc to create and process. If that food was used to feed animals we could cut their grain intake significantly.

Grasslands can sequester huge amounts of CO2, even more than forests in some cases. In brittle environments (the majority of the planet), it makes more sense to use animals for grasslands, as these climates rarely support dense forest, though they support savanna quite well. In these environments, it is either pastoralism or bare earth from the plow.

From what I've read, it's soybeans, not cattle, that is the main reason for cutting down the Amazon. And before you claim that is for animal feed, the high value product is soybean oil. The soy meal (byproduct of oil production) is used to feed animals, but the oil is what they're after.

Traditionally speaking, the biggest cause for deforestation has been agriculture, not pastoralism. Agriculture is also blamed as the single largest cause for desertification. That plow is a truly destructive tool.


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Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Jesus Martinez wrote:
In areas that are/were grasslands or prairie or savanna, I fully support grazing animals.


This leads to the question of what is the "natural" ecosystem of any given piece of land. As Abe pointed out, much of the grassland of North America was created by the action of fire set by native peoples, and by grazing bison, working together to suppress what would otherwise be forest. This is what happened in my region, which used to be prairie savannah, now is regrowing as oak-juniper forest because there aren't any more bison, Apache or Comanche here. People who don't know this used to be prairie think the forest is "natural." If people want to raise more animals here, they might have to cut down a lot of forest (which my neighbors did up the road, they basically clearcut their entire place so they can have more cows and goats). What is "natural" might be less useful to think about than "what is beneficial." It probably isn't beneficial to clearcut vast areas of forest to graze animals, just as it would not be beneficial to clearcut vast areas of forest to plant grains or any other monoculture. I don't think anyone here would argue clearcutting forest is a good idea whether for beef or for soybeans, etc.

Bill Sullivan


Joined: Mar 05, 2012
Posts: 18
Location: New York State about 25 miles south of Syracuse.
I guess it boils down to how you are looking at it....as a capitalist or an environmentalist. I think many people would make the right choices if they could do so without suffering the consequences of not considering financial impacts. If you own large amounts of property there are certain things you must do in order to retain it and sometimes profit must come first. I think if you can, diversity is always the safest choice, it keeps things in balance and requires small changes if things go wrong.
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2981
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  51
Jesus Martinez wrote:...in areas that are or were forest, I don't think raising beef/cattle is wise. I hear all the time about how animals and grass fed beef is part of the solution to global warming but I have to disagree as huge swaths of the amazon rainforest are being deforested specifically for grass fed beef.


There's a big difference between cutting down the rainforests to raise cattle and intentional, managed grazing in forested areas (aka silvopasture). Silvopasture is just like other permaculture techniques in that you get more than 100% yield from a given parcel of land.


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Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
Tyler Ludens wrote:
This leads to the question of what is the "natural" ecosystem of any given piece of land. As Abe pointed out, much of the grassland of North America was created by the action of fire set by native peoples, and by grazing bison, working together to suppress what would otherwise be forest. This is what happened in my region, which used to be prairie savannah, now is regrowing as oak-juniper forest because there aren't any more bison, Apache or Comanche here. People who don't know this used to be prairie think the forest is "natural."


Yes, humans have have an impact on their environment for a very long time. The Amazon forest, itself, can be considered a human invention. The composition of species, their distribution, etc are a direct results of human interference for 10's of thousands of years.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
Jesus Martinez wrote:
Brazil current has 170 million hectares of pasture land vs 77 million hectares for crops. More than 2x the land is devoted to raising animals than for raising crops. Now, whether or not that the pasture land was all native pasture or rainforest is still up for debate.

yeah, that's the problem. what is native rainforest in the Amazon supposed to look like? Because before the pasturlists/agriculturalists, there were tree farmers, and before them, forest gardens, and before them, less formal plantings and management... so where does the "native" or "natural" point start? 100 years ago? 1,000 years? 10,000? 20,000? You are talking very different forests/ecosystems at each of those points of time.

There is not a lot of CO2 being stored in the soils of the Amazon, it's all in the biomass. Something interesting about prairies - they tend to store carbon in the form of roots and soil, and and they tend to increase the depth of fertility over time. We think of trees having huge roots structures, but things are different in the amazon, soil fertility is concentrated on the surface of the soil, and it doesn't go very deep. There could definitely be a case where a prairie is able to sequester and store more carbon than a rainforest, especially at the soil level.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
That's why I think the concept of "natural" or what the land would be without humans, is not useful. As you point out humans have changed various ecosystems for tens of thousands of years. I think a more useful contemplation might be "is the change beneficial?" The same activity in a different environment might be more or less beneficial. For instance burning forest edge might have created desert in Australia over the course of 40,000 years, compared to the desertification of the American Southwest over about 400 years caused by overgrazing and agriculture. Clearly some activities are more or less damaging, depending on how extensively they are implemented. We now have knowledge to choose the less damaging or more beneficial activity, which people in the past did not necessarily have the knowledge to do.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
the knew-jerk reaction is that cutting down forest for cows is a bad thing. The problem is context. Will that forest be cut down anyway? If you're talking about the Amazon, then yes, most definitely. So, what will the land use look like, pastures, croplands, or suburbia? Of those options, pasture is by far the most beneficial in terms of potential biodiversity, sustainability, and carbon storage. In terms of profitability, suburbia is probably the best. In terms of biofuels and energy production, cropland would be best.

It would be nice if an option was a food forest, but in reality, that's not an option that's being chosen for the majority of the land.

The point is, they're not cutting down the forest to graze cattle. They are cutting down the forest to use the land. The forest will be cut down, regardless.
greg patrick


Joined: Mar 17, 2012
Posts: 168
Location: SoCal, USDA Zone 10b
    
    3
Jesus Martinez wrote:For lands that are natural grasslands, I totally agree that raising beef for example can be done in a sustainable manner, however, in areas that are or were forest, I don't think raising beef/cattle is wise. I hear all the time about how animals and grass fed beef is part of the solution to global warming but I have to disagree as huge swaths of the amazon rainforest are being deforested specifically for grass fed beef.


So many points. First off, global warming doesn't need a solution. It's a political problem, not an environmental one. As the earth goes around the sun, over tens of thousands of years, it's orientation to the sun changes. Sometimes the northern hemisphere is closer to the sun when it's tilted toward it so the ice caps melt in the north. A few thousand years later, the opposite happens and the ice returns. This is why we have cyclical ice ages. It has nothing to do with whether you drive a Hummer or a Prius or how many cows are pooping.

Next, eating grass fed beef has almost nothing to do with the Amazon since almost all of those animals will be grain finished. McDonald's is the largest buyer of Amazon beef and none of it is 'grass-fed'.

The plains, however they were created, once supported 70-100 million bison. Today we have a little less than that number of beef on much less acreage. If corn and soy fields were planted with grass and cattle run on it, it would be MUCH more efficient. Converting the monoculture croplands back to grass and riparian woodlands would mean the return of millions of displaced natural animals, which has to be a good thing. And by converting to a grass-fed model we could probably triple the domestic beef herd, become healthier in the process, and become completely food independent.

So my take is we need to stop cutting down the Amazon and start replacing some cornfields with grasslands to run our beef, but we can't do that until folks are willing to give up their soda and cheap meat, which ain't EVER gonna happen. So think globally, act locally, and take care of your own. Find a local source of grass-fed meat, which to me means they'll ship to me UPS. Others will either change or they won't.

Just my 2ยข.
-greg


'Science is the father of knowledge, but opinion breeds ignorance.' - Hippocrates
Fred Morgan
steward

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 972
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
    
  12
Cattle tear up the soils and compact them. Forest increase fertility of the land and production. Now, I love a good steak, so don't think I am a vegetarian, but the reason cattle are raised by most people (and I have some too) is they are incredibly easy. In fact, I am hard put to think of any mammal you can raise that is easier than cattle. If you have the land, you just put them out there and just about forget them, until it is time to take them to market (not exactly that simple, but close). If they break through a fence, they usually won't wander into the next county either.

In Costa Rica, if you have say 150 acres, you can make a decent living, for here, by just running cattle. No work to speak of is necessary. In fact, you can make enough for you, and for a caretaker so that you don't have to do anything more than hang out in a hammock - and take them to auction about once a year.

You make a lot more on forested land or plantations of fruit trees, etc. But then again, that requires skill, knowledge, etc. You can do just fine with cattle with NO education at all. Lots of people do down here. (granted, they learned from their dad, etc.)

But, without a doubt, cattle led to deforestation in the tropics. In Costa Rica, the law was (thankfully, no more) that if you chopped down a forest, put a fence around it and grazed cattle, you owned the land because you "improved it". This lead to Costa Rica being 73% deforested in just a few generations.

Dairy farms, by the way, are the absolute worst when it comes to land damage. I have been in dairy farms where the trail to the corral for milking was deeper than my knees in mud - and that stretched through the whole farm. Any time there was a rain (which is daily for eight months), the mud would just run into the streams...


Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
Fred Morgan wrote:Cattle tear up the soils and compact them. Forest increase fertility of the land and production.

That depends on the management of both systems. Go check out Allan Savory or Joe Salatin and see what their cattle do for the environment.
Forests do not necessarily increase fertility. In fact, in tropical areas, they have the opposite effect, and concentrate the fertility on the surface. The Amazon has some of the poorest soils around, yet it is a very active forest.

Fred Morgan wrote:
Dairy farms, by the way, are the absolute worst when it comes to land damage. I have been in dairy farms where the trail to the corral for milking was deeper than my knees in mud - and that stretched through the whole farm. Any time there was a rain (which is daily for eight months), the mud would just run into the streams...

I've been in dairy farms that are filled with a pasture as green as any lawn. Again, it depends on management methods.

What is Costa Rica doing to improve the management of her cattle operations? It's easy to blame it on uneducated cattle ranchers, but where are the educated people to inspire change?
Fred Morgan
steward

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 972
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
    
  12
Abe Connally wrote:
Fred Morgan wrote:Cattle tear up the soils and compact them. Forest increase fertility of the land and production.

That depends on the management of both systems. Go check out Allan Savory or Joe Salatin and see what their cattle do for the environment.
Forests do not necessarily increase fertility. In fact, in tropical areas, they have the opposite effect, and concentrate the fertility on the surface. The Amazon has some of the poorest soils around, yet it is a very active forest.

Fred Morgan wrote:
Dairy farms, by the way, are the absolute worst when it comes to land damage. I have been in dairy farms where the trail to the corral for milking was deeper than my knees in mud - and that stretched through the whole farm. Any time there was a rain (which is daily for eight months), the mud would just run into the streams...

I've been in dairy farms that are filled with a pasture as green as any lawn. Again, it depends on management methods.

What is Costa Rica doing to improve the management of her cattle operations? It's easy to blame it on uneducated cattle ranchers, but where are the educated people to inspire change?


Forest do increase fertility, even in the tropics. Check out where I live, and I run nearly 900 acres of plantations in the tropics. Yeah, I know what everyone says, but it isn't true from what I know of forestry, and I know a lot on the subject - and from a point of view of running a business.

Rainforests are incredibly fertile, they are just very fragile, due to the rain. Cut them down and you see the soil gone in very little time.

Regarding erosion, much of the erosion due to dairy farms depends on the land. Our lands in our areas tend to have no stone to speak of, so you can churn the dirt to mud, unless you put down concrete paths - which is out of reach of most poor subsistence farmers.

Lots being done, land use is much more restricted here than in the north, but money is lacking, so all changes are slow.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
Fred Morgan wrote:Rainforests are incredibly fertile, they are just very fragile, due to the rain. Cut them down and you see the soil gone in very little time.

They can be fertile, but that fertility is usually very limited in terms of soil depth.

Fred Morgan wrote:Lots being done, land use is much more restricted here than in the north, but money is lacking, so all changes are slow.

Restriction was not what I was thinking when I asked about what is being done to improve matters. Are there education/outreach programs for holistic management, rotational grazing, etc? Are the restrictions how many cows per acre, and no cows in this area sort of thing?

I hope they are providing opportunities, not just restrictions...
Terri Matthews


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 409
Location: Eastern Kansas
    
    3
The TRICKY part is, much of America's grassland, which has been grasslands for centuries beyond count, were kept that way by the Indians. The plains provided good grazing for game, and so the Indians maintained it by burning every now and then. This killed the small trees but the grass endured.

The white man had not yet arrived and the Indians had an oral history, so, when they began burning is possibly lost in the sands of time and in legends.

I CAN tell you that Eastern Kansas grows grass like nothing that I have ever seen. Left to itself the land will become forest, but the grass grows faster, stronger, and with deeper roots than in any other state that I have been in. Forests might be what the land wants to grow, but grass (and I include grain, which is also a grass) is a very close second.

Terri Matthews


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 409
Location: Eastern Kansas
    
    3
]Young farmers usually learn rotation and stocking from the old farmers, and it is also taught in the agriculture colleges.
Cj Verde


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 2981
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
    
  51
Abe Connally wrote:
Fred Morgan wrote:Cattle tear up the soils and compact them. Forest increase fertility of the land and production.

That depends on the management of both systems. Go check out Allan Savory or Joe Salatin and see what their cattle do for the environment.


Intentional, managed grazing in forested areas (aka silvopasture) does not tear up the soil and compact them. It improves them and contributes to the health of the forest if implemented properly.
Abe Connally


Joined: Feb 20, 2010
Posts: 1404
Location: Chihuahua Desert
Mature forests don't tend to be the most diverse ecosystems. Young, growing woodlands have far more biological activity and diversity. If that's your goal, it helps to disturb the forest every now and again, and yeah, that includes cutting some things down. It might even involve running a herd of elephants through there to really disturb things.

The issue, again, is land use. People want to use the land. So, to me, the best way forward is to encourage and train on the most sustainable options for using the land, instead of applying restrictions to use.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
As permaculturists, we might also consider the needs of critters other than humans or rather, in addition to humans (I'm not anti-human). Some critters seem to like open grasslands, others seem to do better in mostly undisturbed forest. Those of us modeling appropriate land use should also perhaps consider modeling appropriate habitat preservation and restoration (1st ethic of permaculture). Most of my land I intend to restore for critter habitat - we have Wildlife Management tax status on our land for songbirds and amphibians. Both these kinds of critters like a diverse habitat with lots of different levels, some open and some dense. Fortunately for us most of these guys also do ok near humans under the right circumstances. Folks who have land in areas inhabited by critters who do less well near humans might want to consider how they can include areas for these critters while not compromising their ability to earn income and retain the property. In our case having Wildlife Management tax status helps us retain the land by having low property taxes. Other locales might have similar incentives or such incentives could be encouraged, rather than expecting people to preserve habitat strictly through a sense of altruism, which may not be realistic.....
Fred Morgan
steward

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 972
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
    
  12
Abe Connally wrote:Mature forests don't tend to be the most diverse ecosystems. Young, growing woodlands have far more biological activity and diversity. If that's your goal, it helps to disturb the forest every now and again, and yeah, that includes cutting some things down. It might even involve running a herd of elephants through there to really disturb things.

The issue, again, is land use. People want to use the land. So, to me, the best way forward is to encourage and train on the most sustainable options for using the land, instead of applying restrictions to use.


For northern forest, yes, not tropical forest. Tropical forest tend to have roughly 200 species per hectare. Tropical forest disturb themselves, a large tree falls, usually pulled down by its weight (plus other grows like vines, epiphytes, etc.) . As it comes down, it takes down a "corridor of light" that allows new growth.

We in our managed forests do this, but with a plan, usually.

Fred Morgan
steward

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 972
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
    
  12
Cj Verde wrote:
Abe Connally wrote:
Fred Morgan wrote:Cattle tear up the soils and compact them. Forest increase fertility of the land and production.

That depends on the management of both systems. Go check out Allan Savory or Joe Salatin and see what their cattle do for the environment.


Intentional, managed grazing in forested areas (aka silvopasture) does not tear up the soil and compact them. It improves them and contributes to the health of the forest if implemented properly.


Nothing will destroy a tropical plantation faster than attempting to graze large cattle (anything about 300 kilos). The roots of trees that feed are on the first few inches. I would like to know your source for this information. I run 900 acres of tropical plantations - I won't ever have anything except sheep, calves and a few, very few, small horses.

I can show you plenty of destroyed plantations down here due to people trying to have cattle with their trees.
greg patrick


Joined: Mar 17, 2012
Posts: 168
Location: SoCal, USDA Zone 10b
    
    3
Our family solves the problem by buying from people we know are raising local, sustainable grass-fed beef in places that beef makes sense. We buy from Texas and California; places that don't have rain forests. If enough people bought from these guys, they'd expand their operations and buy adjacent grain properties. Vote with your dollars. If you buy Brazilian or Uruguan meat, you contribute to the problem. If you buy US grass-fed meat, you help move toward a sustainable solution by economically supporting the guys doing the right thing.

-greg
Jesus Martinez


Joined: Mar 07, 2011
Posts: 143
Cj Verde wrote:
Abe Connally wrote:
Fred Morgan wrote:Cattle tear up the soils and compact them. Forest increase fertility of the land and production.

That depends on the management of both systems. Go check out Allan Savory or Joe Salatin and see what their cattle do for the environment.


Intentional, managed grazing in forested areas (aka silvopasture) does not tear up the soil and compact them. It improves them and contributes to the health of the forest if implemented properly.


Absolutely. Selecting the proper species is key as someone else has mentioned, but there is no doubt that animals will utilize what humans are either unable or unwilling to consume thus their presence provides a net gain on the system, even without utilizing them as a food source.
 
 
subject: Grass fed beef in relation to deforestation.
 
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