Silent But Deadly: Cow Farts and Climate Change

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Say What-Black Angus Beef with Grass in mouth
Cattle are causing global warming? Say what?

We know that methane gas is considered one of many gases linked to global warming. In case you didn’t know, cow flatulence and manure contains methane. If you live in California you may have seen this in the headlines lately, and if you have been following the cattle industry and climate change topics for any length of time, you have undoubtedly read about the correlations made between the two. But is this issue as clear cut as people want us to believe?

Nicolette Hahn Niman, in her book Defending Beef, argues that cattle are neither bad for our health nor bad for the environment…and that when using practices that are environmentally conservative and sustainable, beef is actually good for the environment and good for our bodies!

Check out this article she wrote for the Wall Street Journal and read about it for yourself:

Actually, Raising Beef Is Good for the Planet

Despite environmentalists’ worries, cattle don’t guzzle water or cause hunger—and can help fight climate change


 As a longtime vegetarian and environmental lawyer, I once bought into these claims. But now, after more than a decade of living and working in the business—my husband, Bill, founded Niman Ranch but left the company in 2007, and we now have a grass-fed beef company—I’ve come to the opposite view. It isn’t just that the alarm over the environmental effects of beef are overstated. It’s that raising beef cattle, especially on grass, is an environmental gain for the planet.

Let’s start with climate change. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, all of U.S. agriculture accounts for just 8% of our greenhouse emissions, with by far the largest share owing to soil management—that is, crop farming. A Union of Concerned Scientists report concluded that about 2% of U.S. greenhouse gases can be linked to cattle and that good management would diminish it further. The primary concern is methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

But methane from cattle, now under vigorous study by agricultural colleges around the world, can be mitigated in several ways. Australian research shows that certain nutritional supplements can cut methane from cattle by half. Things as intuitive as good pasture management and as obscure as robust dung beetle populations have all been shown to reduce methane.

At the same time, cattle are key to the world’s most promising strategy to counter global warming: restoring carbon to the soil. One-tenth of all human-caused carbon emissions since 1850 have come from soil, according to ecologist Richard Houghton of the Woods Hole Research Center. This is due to tillage, which releases carbon and strips the earth of protective vegetation, and to farming practices that fail to return nutrients and organic matter to the earth. Plant-covered land that is never plowed is ideal for recapturing carbon through photosynthesis and for holding it in stable forms.

Most of the world’s beef cattle are raised on grass. Their pruning mouths stimulate vegetative growth as their trampling hoofs and digestive tracts foster seed germination and nutrient recycling. These beneficial disturbances, like those once caused by wild grazing herds, prevent the encroachment of woody shrubs and are necessary for the functioning of grassland ecosystems.

Research by the Soil Association in the U.K. shows that if cattle are raised primarily on grass and if good farming practices are followed, enough carbon could be sequestered to offset the methane emissions of all U.K. beef cattle and half its dairy herd. Similarly, in the U.S., the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that as much as 2% of all greenhouse gases (slightly less than what’s attributed to cattle) could be eliminated by sequestering carbon in the soils of grazing operations.

To read more of Hahn Niman’s article click here.

At Western Grassfed Beef, we are committed to the environment, conservation, and stewardship.

We can’t argue that careless cattle operations can have negative effects on the environment, however research shows that when cattle are raised responsibly, in their natural forage rich environment, eating their natural diet of grass, have a positive impact on their surroundings. In the end it comes back to the ranchers. Ranchers that raise their cattle entirely on grass while implementing proper rotational and regenerative grazing methods produce beef that is not only healthier for consumers but also better for the environment.

Here at Western Grassfed Beef, we understand the importance of stewarding our land and are committed to the very highest standards of 100% grass fed beef production. Working with family ranchers who commit themselves to sustainable range and ecosystem management is the foundation of what we do. Raising beef cattle responsibly requires a commitment to sustainable farming practices, including careful management of delicate ecosystems and natural resources. It would be foolish for us to mismanage the very ground and ecosystems that we rely upon to nurture our cattle. Our cattle traverse pastures and graze, reseeding native plant species, sequestering carbon and providing fertilizer for future growth.  It truly is a sustainable ranching system and our primary method of conservation.

Western Grassfed Beef, the Natural Beef label from Panorama Meats, works directly with U.S. family ranchers throughout the West and Midwest. All cattle are born and raised on open pasture and are fed a diet of grasses and range forage. Our natural 100% grass fed and grass finished beef is humanely raised with no antibiotics or added hormones, and always raised on pastures. We believe in supporting our rancher's way of life and in raising cattle the right way.

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