Why the environment is better off with beef cattle

Beef producers also want to care for their land, because we only have a limited amount and it keeps shrinking every day, month, and year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 85 percent of the land is not suitable for agricultural crops. Grazing animals help ranchers double the land area that can be used to produce goods.

Miranda Skubal

Fort Hays State University

Is Beef Cattle Production Good for the Environment?

Have you ever been near a cow when she burps? And yes, it is possible for a cow to burp, and it’s quite smelly. When a cow burps she is releasing methane gas from her digestive system, but it’s not as much methane released as environmentalists would have you believe. It is very common for the media to portray reduced beef consumption and production as, in the long run, better for the carbon footprint in the world. I am here to try and shed light on the other side of the story, the rancher’s side.

First, let’s talk about the cow and how its bodily functions. Cattle are sometimes thought of as nature’s recyclers, because of their unique, four-chambered digestive system, known as the rumen, which can utilize products that are undesirable or indigestible for people. The microorganisms in the rumen helps digest nutrients needed from fruits, vegetables, grasses and other feedstuffs that humans don’t consume or can’t digest, says the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. What we think of as leftovers, such as carrot tops or almond hulls, can be mixed into their feed with grasses and grains, like alfalfa, corn, and native grass to be converted to high-quality beef.

In the past, cattle producers were not as efficient in how they raised cattle. “But today, the farmers and cattle ranchers are much more efficient in how cattle are raised,” says the California Cattlemen’s Association.

“In the past 30 years,” the California Association continues, “ranchers are able to raise 31 percent more beef with 30 percent less cattle in production. Also, when compared with production in 1977, each pound of beef produced today produces 16 percent less carbon emissions, uses 33 percent less land, and requires 12 percent less water.”

Cattle production does not have a big impact on air quality. Information from the California Cattlemen’s Association further says “beef production accounts for only 2.8 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 26 percent for transportation.”

Beef producers also want to care for their land, because we only have a limited amount and it keeps shrinking every day, month, and year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 85 percent of the land is not suitable for agricultural crops. Grazing animals help ranchers double the land area that can be used to produce goods. Environmental awards given by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recognizes farmers and ranchers for their stewardship practices and natural resource conservation efforts for the range and wildlife. Range management professionals can help ranchers improve their environmental footprint through such tools ar grazing management plans.



Water conservation has been a hot topic for many environmentalists for the past several years due to drought in most Midwest states. Cattle drink a lot of water, but they are actually just a part of the water cycle. On average it takes 617 gallons of water to produce one pound of boneless beef, according to a recent beef industry sustainability lifecycle assessment funded by the Beef Checkoff. This study also found the beef producer community achieved a 3-percent reduction in water usage and a 10-percent improvement in the water quality. However, keep in mind that water for raising beef is not “used up.” The water cycle we all studied in grade school is still working. Water flows into aquifers, runs down streams then into lakes and oceans and then evaporates and returns as rain and other forms of precipitation. Cattle pastures provide land to filter the water to return it to the ecosystem.

Although many people want you to believe that cattle production will kill the environment, it really won’t. Producers work hard every day, month, year and decade to improve facilities and practices. While environmentalists want to portray cattle producers as uncaring about the environment, they do not realize that taking care of the environment is a major player in our profitability and our passion. We care about the world around us.

Miranda Skubal, a 2015 home school graduate, is a senior majoring in animal science at Fort Hays State University. She is the daughter of Ed and Terri Hayes, Geneseo.



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  1. Good article, I think that cattle actually improve the range land and the environment, plus they give us some of the best food we can consume. I think the environmentalist unintentionally are actually attempting to cause great harm to our environment, our Country and our economy. Some of the environmentalist have been put up to what they are doing by persons with ulterior motives and evil intent. An example is taking the uranium and selling to foreign countries. I feel if done right they could utilize the grazing and still extract uranium, but i am not sure that we need the uranium.

      1. This article is so full of lies (BS) that it is not worthy of any intelligent persons time to read. These so called environmentalist are a real problem, they use lies to propagate more lies and many of them have no real common sense and have never actually lived in the range land and actually taken care it. This article is talking more about feed lots than cattle out on the range. Feeds lot are an abomination and there is not much natural about the way the cattle are fed. Cattle are not designed to consume grain. Cattle will convert other wise wasted forage into some of the best food on the earth, i know of no other animal that can eat corn stalks and convert that to food, they do the same out on the range land and make the range land a far better place and safer for people. Wolfs are a problem, if they were extinct, that would not be a big loss, but they probably will never be extinct even if we tried to extinguish them.

        The difference between cattle raised on the range land and feed lots is huge in the quality of the beef. I do not purchase beef from feed lots, it is not a great food.

  2. Wow! I can’t believe this propaganda.

    I emplore anyone reading this to find out the truth. Of course those in the business are gonna’ paint a pretty picture for you. And those opposed will do the opposite. If you actually want unbiased information then check-in with environmentalists and even government are now admitting the devistating impact of animal agriculture.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this comment is deleted and those thinking of money and convenience continue to oppress this matter. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of the following:

    *Species extinction
    *Habitat destruction
    *Climate change
    *Ocean dead zones
    *water pollution


    1. I am not in the business of raising cattle but it is very easy to see the improvements that free range cattle make to the environment unless of course you believe the lies of the people that put out many articles, many of these people with no experience two of which Joe has posted. Cattle make the range land a much safer place and recycle every thing they consume and keep the danger of fires down.

  3. Joe You are the one putting out the propaganda, Beef actually improve the land and the environment, sorry that there are so many lies put out by those that are interested in stealing this land that provides the some of the best food on the planet, that other wise just is recycled back to the earth with no food for humans. There is not many better environmentalist than good caring ranchers, that improve the range land, recycle the grass and water into beef, that helps America be a much better place.

  4. Nobody has an issue with cattle being raised on private lands. The problem begins when we are down to one percent of our wild horses left out on the range, where they belong. These horses are our war heroes. Countless numbers where shipped overseas for World War One.

    We already know our public lands can support 2 million wild horses and burros, because that’s how many we had on our public lands at the beginning of the 1900s, prior to WW1 http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/344464-florida-republican-woman-cites-trump-arguments-as-reason-for

  5. Illogical.

    You claim “water for raising beef is not ‘used up'” because the “water cycle” restores it. That’s true in the VERY long term, but it takes millennia. Have you heard of the Ogallala Aquifer, the giant underground water reserve which feeds the whole Great Plains? According to the U.S. Geological Survey (https://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2013/5079/SIR2013-5079.pdf), It’s been drained away a lot over the past century because of agricultural water use, over 150 feet in some places, and it only gets refilled at a rate of a few inches a year. Sure, if we stopped using any water, the “water cycle” would refill it over the next 8,000 years or so. But that’s not very helpful if you’re a Nebraska farmer, is it? So it looks like turning good freshwater into cow pee isn’t so good after all.

    You point out that cow burps (enteric fermentation) account for 3% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. But the U.S. EPA points out that U.S. cattle burp out 161.5 *million* metric tons of CO2 equivalent (data in https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-02/documents/2017_complete_report.pdf); that’s the equivalent of 35 million passenger cars driving for one year. What’s more, that’s a huge underestimate of the true impact, because it doesn’t factor in the impact of growing all the grain those cattle eat, and then wasting over 80% of it by feeding it to beef cattle (remember your feed conversion ratios).

    Talking about small reductions in how bad beef is per unit doesn’t help, especially since we’re producing more beef than ever. It’s still terrible for the environment.

    Sure, beef isn’t the biggest problem out there—coal power plants and airplane flights are worse. But cutting out beef is one of the easiest things for us to change if we care about climate change. And it’s completely illogical for you to say that “the environment is better off with beef cattle” when your evidence actually shows, at best, that some other things are even worse for the environment than beef cattle.

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