A can of worms
Something has been bothering me for quite some time and usually I just let these types of things roll off, and consider the source. But, lately I hear more and more about how bad cattle are for the earth, red meat causes cancer, cattle eat food meant for humans… and so on and so forth. But this past weekend the Sunday paper had a huge article about water, and water pollution. So of course, I bit, even though lately the only paper in town that I can get my hands on has mainly been high on my list for fire starting. What caught my eye was the figure that it takes 1800 + gallons of water to produce a pound a beef! I hear this argument all the time, and sometimes the figures are even larger up to 2500 – 3000 gallon range.
So I sat down and figured out how much water it takes to produce a pound of our beef. Because you know, I conserve water all the time – even going so far as to support garden writers who advocate low or no irrigation for vegetable gardens! That pretty much puts me on the unpopular side of gardening pundits. Easy they say for me, I live in the wet Pacific Northwest, but they forget (or don’t know) in their pundificating, that it doesn’t rain here during the summer :)
But, I digress. I was curious to see how much water we used to get a pound of grassfed beef to someone’s table or freezer.
I cannot speak about feedlot beef, since that is not what we do. But it is too much of a generalization to say ALL beef is ruining the planet. We practice Holistic Planned Grazing, our cattle do not eat grain. (Confession – my milk cow does eat 2.5 pounds of grain per day) We do not irrigate, but manage our pastures for growth, by moving the cows daily during the grazing season. We do feed hay during the winter, that is made from our pastures and a neighbors hay-field. We do not buy fertilizers, except straw (carbon) for our manure composting. We do buy minerals though. But, all in all, I believe our cattle raising is pretty earth and farmer friendly.
Most of the year the cows place the fertilizer for us, right where it is needed – on the pastures where they graze.
The earthworms are also plugging away, from the bottom up. By using no synthetic fertilizers or chemicals they have a safe place to do their important work.
I may be all wet on this, but I don’t see too many hidden costs in raising cattle this way. So I resent having to defend my cattle raising and beef eating ways. I am not trying to convert anyone from being a vegetarian, I am just asking that when you hear these wild figures bandied about (concerning any topic) do some analytical thinking. And question the numbers. I did, and here is what I came up with for our farm and our beef.
Now you know I won’t be able to resist being a smartarse about this, so you will see no calculations on how much water is took to build our pickup, stock trailer, tractor, baler etc., or how much water the steer’s mom or dad drank before he was conceived. Or how much my parents drank ( I was a surprise) either, before I was conceived so I could walk this land and graze said steer.
If you buy beef from me this is how much water is actually takes: 17.5 gallons of water per pound of beef. I arrived at this figure based on what I know about cows, and how I raise our cows. We butcher our beef at 2 years of age. Because we graze our cattle they drink less water than cattle that are on dry feed all the time, be it beef or dairy. Most estimates say a cow needs 30 gallons of water a day to do her job. Her job is to make milk, for humans or her calf, and be pregnant at the same time. Big job we ask of them. But here is where it gets sticky – a calf is not a cow, and a yearling steer is not a cow. Our calves are drinking milk from their mothers for 8 – 10 months before they are weaned. They drink a little water at this time but not 30 gallons a day like a full grown cow might need to. I used a 10 gallon a day figure as an average for the 2 year life (730 days) of the beef steer. Double it if you want, but it is still much, much lower than figures I see tossed around.
I think one of my sticking points in the whole food and actually the way everyone lives conundrum, boils down to one point. We all need to quit living like each other – and really allow ourselves to be different. My unfair advantage is that grass grows well here, and cows are the easiest to manage. I should be eating beef and occasionally wild salmon. People in Maine should be eating lobster, and making Balsam fir wreaths. It’s like we are stuck in our teen years, yearning to be different but doing everything in our power to be exactly the same. Green bean casserole at Thanksgiving, strawberries at every Christmas party, tomatoes in January, every grocery store in America looks exactly the same. I don’t know about you, but I am sick of broccoli this time of year, but there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of broccoli in the grocery store or peoples shopping carts this time of year. My broccoli is toast, destined to be chicken food, not to be eaten every week of the year.
Just because I sell beef doesn’t mean I think everyone should eat beef, or that there should be a steak on every plate. For heaven’s sake, we eat steak on special occasions because there are only so many steaks in one steer. And we eat the whole steer before we go out and kill another one. So those are my thoughts on the matter – shoot holes in my theories, but don’t compare my farm and my cattle to feedlot cattle. All is not the same in this world.
This post is my submission for Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday series for December 18th. Always amazing viewpoints and recipes there – truly food for thought!