At first it was ” global warming ” now it more common to be discussed as ” climate change.”
I have been watching people’s reaction to this for quite sometime. I am seeing less resistance to acknowledging that something is up with the climate, but not much change in the opinion on either side of the argument.
I will tell you right now I have no idea what is happening. This same thing may have happened 1000 years ago, or may have never before. I do believe Mother Nature has a way of taking care of herself. When man gets in the way of her job she always seems to take care of it in another way, and if we would have listened to her and learned from the past cycles we would have benefited.
In the Western forests we have a huge die off of timber because of the pine beetle. With forests the cycling of nutrients is what makes it work. Fire, blow downs, insects and animals all help with the balance in nature. Man can help to maintain the balance or hinder it.
When we took control of the management of the forest, mostly with the suppression of fire or the wrong kind of logging, Mother Nature took over and said I need more nutrients to put back in the soil and her solution, the pine beetle. We have learned so much in the way we manage our forests. The managers of the past were trying to do wrong, it was just that they could not know the damage they may have been causing until the mistake was made to learn from.
Most of the time when humans are dealing with natural resources we have a two sided split of take more or take less. At first both sides are to the extreme and time creates the balance that is needed. The big challenge is to not making mistakes so big that Mother Nature must go to extremes or it takes so long to repair the damage that the whole ecosystem is thrown out of wack causing changes in plant and animal population.
From what I have seen from the past and the power of Mother Nature, I am not worried about the environment as much as the ones that are messing with the balance of it.
The United Nations predict we will have billions more people on the world in the next 40-50 years. The people that know about forests predicted we would have a bunch more trees in our Western ecosystem as well.
I always try to look at what I call the big picture such as what is happening with the human race that is positive and what can we do to improve our quality of life while not creating poor quality of life for our future generations.
When I look at the over consumption and waste of us “civilized folks” I get a little embarrassed. In times past, the royalty and the very rich were the only ones that lived life of excess and waste. Now a great percentage of our population live the life of royalty, and a small percentage live a life non-abundance. The big question should be, “How much does it take to have a good quality of life and while we are having this good life, how can we improve it for the future?” It looks to me as if we should try to manage consumption and life like we manage our pastures.
So this brings me to the critics of beef, and how they say the beef industry is adding to the problem of global warming, which is causing climate change.
Before the Industrial Revolution, or even before man, the ecosystem worked in a wonderful balance of growing things out of the earth, then sunshine and all the other energy from the sky was captured by these plants. These plants had to break down to feed the things that had no way to get the energy from the sun and sky. The purpose of lightning is to break up the nitrogen in the atmosphere and it is taken up by plants to get it back to where it is needed. In forests, fires and other predators break down the fiber to go back into the earth. With grass, fire and grazing animals have been the harvesters of nutrients to break down the fiber. This is why cows are not better converters. The manure has great nutrient density to go back into the soil. Before the west was settled it had millions of bison, as well as elk, deer and other grazing animals.
To me it seems this is what made the environment work. Just because we have messed up the balance since the invention of the internal combustion engine, should we get rid of a valuable piece of the environmental balance?
I read a book called Freakonomics several years ago. They looked at things in a simple numbers type of analysis. It taught me to look at things how they really are, not just how they appear.
They looked at the gun issue. One of the big arguments of hand guns is the accidental death of children. The image of a child dying from a gunshot wound is almost unbearable. If you look at it from a statistical point of view way more infants per thousand die from drowning in man-made swimming pools than by gunshot. I don’t hear much talk about swimming pool control or banning them.
Let’s look at professional sports. How much energy does it take to run a season of football?What does that do to the environment? The horse industry uses huge amounts of our natural resources and puts lots of diesel smoke in the air. I am not saying we should not do these things, just that we have many more critics of the beef industry than most anything. Yet, at least it is providing balance in the environment and providing nutrition for a good bit of our population.
I was at a large feedlot recently and we were loading finished cattle to go to harvest. The cattle were of excellent quality and they walked on the semi very nicely. As they went on the truck I got to thinking that all the feed, petroleum, time, and infrastructure that is the beef industry was loading in front of me. This was the end product that all the production has lead up to.
Several years ago I read in Allan Savory’s book on holistic management that if the amount of energy to produce a kernel of wheat is more than the energy that comes out of it, then world is out of balance. It hit me that our finished beef is the same scenario. To me this must be the question we ask for any natural resource we are harvesting for consumption.
From what I have been told feedlots as a whole are very efficient. They have gotten very good at feeding and caring for animals in the maximum use of resources to convert this to protein. They can do this in large numbers that fit with the huge demand for high quality beef. From what I have seen, beef cattle in the feedlot are well cared for, and if the weather conditions are not extreme, they are content to eat, sleep and be happy. If you don’t see things for what they really are, either because you can’t see the whole picture or don’t want to, you won’t believe me.
For someone driving by a feedlot at 75 miles an hour, that can see the dust and smell the smell, and see all the pens full of animals, you probably won’t be able to see this. I don’t blame you, but all I am saying is that the cattle are living an easy life that everything they need is provided for them, and that is what a beef animal needs. I don’t have the resources or knowledge to speculate on the energy in, energy out scenario I spoke of earlier, but I sure hope someone does and is honest about it.
Here is what I think is the perfect production model for the beef industry. We need to manage the cow-calf and the stocker portions in a way that keeps the natural balance with nature’s ecosystem. We should always remember this is the first priority of grazing animals. We must harvest animals or the balance will be off because of too many animals. This is also the problem with the wild horse population in the west. It is out of balance, and people driving by at 75 miles per hour can’t see it.
We produce an abundance of grains in the US, Canada, and Mexico. If we don’t feed it to animals, what will we do with it? At this point in time we need to feed this to animals to convert it to human food in the form of protein. We need to do this in a way that is environmentally stable, and we must be producing a product that the consumer can benefit from on the health side and want to consume to help keep the numbers in balance to make it all work. The thing that scares me is that with climate change causing commodities to become more expensive, and fossil fuels becoming more expensive, the current system may not be profitable. If we don’t have profit in the feeding sector it could force us to discover a new business model for beef cattle.
We may have less cattle that stay on grass longer, or different genetics that finish easier. The main thing we must protect in my opinion is the need for grazing animals to keep the balance.
My grandfather was a butcher and I grew up on grass fed beef. My wife and I enjoy the challenge of finishing beef on forage to get a great eating experience. In my opinion it is a real skill to get a quality product on grass alone. Many say this is the best way to raise beef for environmental stability, many say it is not. At this time in the world there is a place for both.
Some folks don’t like the flavor of grass fed. I feel we are finding the balance. When I am home I enjoy beef raised on grass. When I am on the road I love a good grain-fed steak. The reason I like them both is because I feel they are actually good for the environment. My mission in life is to make sure all animals have a good quality of life while they serve their purpose on this earth. We in the industry should be very careful of criticizing the other product just for marketing purposes.
I feel the real problem in the affluent societies is that we are living way to high on the hog. There is so much that we have but don’t really need. We go to much, eat to much, drink to much, borrow to much, and the things we eat, drink and borrow for don’t make us happy or content so we eat, drink and spend some more.
Just look around you. How much stuff do you have that you don’t need or how much do you do that really makes you happy. We all need to slow down and smell the roses and figure out what really adds to our quality of life. I feel credit cards and borrowing money have created more to climate change than all the cows in the world.
I am not saying we should live like we are in the poor house. Have the very best that you can afford for a high quality life. Waste is a terrible thing, and is really a lack of discipline. It looks to me like the past 50 years or so has been about getting as much material things as possible. I think the younger generations have watched this and see it is not the best and are not as material hungry as the my generation. This will truly add to the quality of life and reduce the human impact on the worlds natural resources.
Ranching is a interesting life. The thing is you may have a million dollars in assets, but you can’t afford to buy groceries because all your money is tied up in the assets. This creates a very frugal lifestyle that teaches you to enjoy the important things in life while conserving resources that you can’t spend money on. When you do get some money you have learned the habit of conservation and not spending money on things you don’t need.
We all need to do our part to make this environment work. All sides need to quit trying to get our own needs or desires filled and do what is right long term. This is not something to take lightly. Never underestimate Mother Nature’s ability to protect herself.
Are you a positive to the balance, or a negative?
I am going to eat a steak tonight to help the balance.
~ Curt Pate