We’re all familiar with the health benefits of grass-fed beef. Lower in overall fat and calories, higher in Omega-3 fatty acids. But what about the health benefits shared between grazing animals and their ecosystems? How do cattle improve the health of the land, and how does the land reciprocate?
Imagine a lush prairie speckled with wild grazers like bison and deer. The symbiotic relationship between flora and fauna allowed these ecosystems to prosper in their natural state for thousands of years. Animals grazed on native forages for short periods and moved (or were chased by predators) on to greener pastures. The brief time spent grazing each area stimulated root growth and increased species diversity necessary for protecting against elements like drought and flooding.
Grass-fed cattle producers understand that delicate balance and do their best to recreate a similar environment with livestock. This sustainable practice is referred to as rotational grazing and promotes both plant and animal health. Farmers set up small paddocks of pasture and move cattle often, allowing grasses to recover and grow. Moving herds frequently mimics the natural movement of animals on prairie. Let’s take a more detailed look at the benefits of managing pastures using rotational grazing.
Soil Quality and Plant Diversity
In 2011, a devastating drought swept the southwest United States. Conventional cattle producers struggled to keep animals healthy amidst fluctuating grain prices. But one Texas grass-fed producer, Joh Taggart, managed to keep cattle on pasture, even improving soil quality in the process.
“I’m proud to say that we harvested cattle every week of the year through that entire drought,” Taggart told ABC News in a recent interview.
Taggart attributes his success to a diversified plant population. An increase in the number of species can reduce weed invasion and create strong root systems for plants. These root systems are important for surviving drought conditions. Cattle act as catalysts for increasing plant diversity by digesting and depositing seed in different paddocks. They further increase the health of forages in rotational grazing systems by leaving more plant stubble and forage residue that can be beneficial for insect and soil microbe populations.
Grass-fed systems are also better for the environment. Studies have shown that well managed systems can increase soil carbon sequestration. The grazing process, which causes plant roots to continually die back and deposit their carbon in the soil, allows for plants to draw significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. The CO2 is then deposited in the soil as organic carbon, reducing the levels in the atmosphere.
Bringing It All to the Table
As a Kettle Range customer, we know you want the best and most responsibly raised meats for you and your family. That’s why we partner with producers who champion the highest standards of environmental stewardship and animal well-being. Thanks to your support, our producers can raise healthy protein in a sustainable manner that promotes our shared values. Thank you, Kettle Club!