Shining Horizons logo (header)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Low-Input Grassfed Livestock Production for Ecological, Economic, and Social Resilience

Society for Range Management

“When you’re taking a product from the land… all of the energy that we make use of comes from the sun,” rancher Dennis Moroney reminded the audience at the Sustainable Rangelands Through Low-Input Grassfed Production symposium during the 2010 annual meeting of the Society for Range Management (SRM).

The ecological resilience, economic viability, and social sustainability of grazing lands and the livestock industry may be maximized through grassfed livestock production, which relies on biological diversity and ecological complexity with minimal external inputs.  Grassfed livestock production keeps land in permanent vegetation, rather than annual crops harvested, trucked, and fed to animals in confinement. Potential benefits of shifting land use from cropland and feedlots to perennial pasture include reductions in soil erosion, pesticide and fertilizer use; and increases in biological diversity, soil fertility and soil carbon sequestration[1].

Relative to grain-fed beef, in terms of meat and protein production, grassfed beef is more energy-efficient, and was previously shown (1981) to be more cost-efficient[2]. The fossil fuel consumption of grassfed meat production may be only half that of grain-finished meat production [3], and Americans could still exceed their recommended daily allowance of animal protein without grain-finished meats [4]. And, demand for alternative livestock products, such as grassfed, local, organic, and humanely raised, has risen in recent years; for instance, organic meat sales increased from negligible in 1997 to over $600 million in 2008 [5]; and according to a recent national survey of chefs, locally sourced meats and sustainability are the first and third ranked top food trends in 2011 [6].

The Society for Range Management and the American Grassfed Association (AGA) held the symposium on low-input grassfed livestock production at Working Landscapes: Providing for the Future, the 63rd SRM annual meeting, on 11 February 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The producer-oriented session involved five presentations by ranchers producing grassfed meat or genetics primarily on native rangelands of the western U.S., and one presentation by dairy-farming veterinarians, all of which can be considered case studies of the experiences and observations of the authors; as well as one scientific study, an overview of grazing management, and presentations by the American Grassfed Association and the Southwest Grassfed Livestock AllianceVideos of the presentations are available on the SRM website.