it is often an untold story, but farm families have led conservation efforts across the United State for generations. Today's farmers are strong examples of true environmentalists. They have a deep love and appreciation for the land because it in turn supports their families. These hardworking people are dedicated to caring for the resources entrusted to them, and they also know first-hand that caring for the environment protects their way of life for future generations.
Conservation principles are used at every point in the beef lifecycle, starting with pasture-based cow-calf farms and ranches, to the cattlemen and women who feed cattle at feedyards. The practices look diﬀerent based on geography, but collectively, these eﬀorts help maintain and improve the environment
Cattle have a unique four-chambered stomach, the largest chamber being the rumen, which helps them get the nutrients they need from parts of fruit and vegetable plants that humans don’t consume or can’t digest—like carrot tops, almond hulls or grasses. These leftovers are often mixed into their feed, along with other grasses or hay like alfalfa and grains like corn. Cattle are acting as “upcyclers” in our food system by upgrading human inedible material or food waste into high-quality protein and essential micronutrients.
Taking into account all water from farm to fork, it takes 614 gallons of water for every pound of edible, consumed beef produced in the U.S. Approximately 95 percent of this water is for irrigation of crops used for feeding cattle. The water cattle use for drinking represents around 1 percent of the total water used in beef production. Irrigation practices used by farmers continues to improve, which means each drop of water is used more efficiently to sustain plants, and less is lost to evaporation or to run off.
Keep in mind that water used for raising beef is not “used up.” The water cycle we all studied in elementary school still works. Water percolates into aquifers, it runs down streams into lakes and oceans, it evaporates and returns as precipitation, and cattle pastures provide land to filter this water and return it to the ecosystem.
Many cattle ranches implement water conservation and environmental eﬀorts including conducting water quality tests, fencing oﬀ streams to protect ﬁsh and waterways, reclaiming, ﬁltering and reusing water whenever possible, creating man-made irrigation ponds and increasing aeration in manure-holding lagoons. An increasing number of ranches collect rainfall or use underground wells to save water and make sure the environment is sustainable for future generations
Learn more about beef sustainability and water use by viewing the animated infographic Does Beef Really Use That Much Water?
Farmers are dependent on the land and fully appreciate the importance of conserving the resources and benefits these areas offer all of us!
Often, the land cattle graze on is not suitable for growing other food products. Livestock grazing can be used as a tool to lower wildfire risk by controlling the amount, height and distribution of grasses and forage that fuels wildfire.
Everything on Earth requires the use of natural resources like land, energy and water—it’s what we do with those resources that is most important. Today, beef is produced using fewer resources than ever before.
But conservation is never complete; farmers and ranchers will continue to work hard to feed a growing population, while, at the same time, working to reduce water use, care for the land, and protect the environment.