©2020 C. Henry Martens
It is a common claim made by those concerned about the environment that cattle are a problem. They fart, they belch, it takes X number of gallons of water to grow an animal, cattle eat plants that are grown on land that could be better used for growing human foods…
So let’s think about this. Let’s investigate the missing context.
It is true that animals eat grain…
It is also true that it takes six pounds of feed to create a pound of gain in cattle… and less feed per pound of gain in other livestock.
But… context is important.
First off… the six pounds of feed is NOT all grain.
Second… most of the weight in cattle that is gained is exclusively forage type feeds, grass and hay. An animal is generally between eight hundred to a thousand pounds before it goes into a feedlot where it gains from two to four hundred pounds on supplemental grain… still not as much grain as forage. Before going to the feedlot, it is eating grass when there is grass to eat, which is most of the time, and hay when the ground is covered with snow. So most of the growth in an animal happens when the cattle are on grass.
A pertinent aside: Hay is either grass, alfalfa, or a combination of both. Most grass is natural or planted as a pasture improvement to grow within native grasses. Alfalfa is a perennial crop that is often only planted every twenty to thirty years, so extremely low till. A lot of alfalfa is never irrigated, or is irrigated lightly, unlike most crops grown for human uses.
Third… most crops are grown for human uses to begin with, and IF it is fed to cattle at all, the only thing fed to animals is waste… after the human use money crop has been harvested. Over seventy-five percent of corn is grown for human uses like ethanol for fuels and corn syrup to be used as an unnecessary and unhealthy additive to human foods. The stalks after the corn is harvested are fed to animals. Humans don’t eat corn stalks. In farming this is known as ECONOMY.
We also don’t eat straw, or pulp, or vines, or leaves… which are all byproducts of plant agriculture where the money crop is intended for human use.
But, what about whether we could feed more of the world with plants if we got rid of all the animals?
You think those acres of forage that animals eat would be something that would appear on your plate?
One final thought…
If the context is missing in the claims that cattle eat too much grown in plant agriculture… what else has missing context?