The environmental impact of corn-fed vs. grass-fed beef finishing systems

  • Livestock Sustainability Consultancy
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... The beef industry in North America may have to increase the grazing period of animals or feed more than the current 10% of forage (Vasconcelos and Galyean, 2007) in the feedyards to keep up with "organically produced" beef. This activity, however, would increase methane (CH 4 ) emission and the land required to produce the same amount of beef (Capper and Cady, 2010). Nonetheless, the notion that the beef industry in this region of the world is based on grain-based diets is not entirely correct; about 81% of the total feed needed to finish one U.S. steer comes from forage when considering the complete production cycle (cow and calf) (NASEM, 2016). ...
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Despite tremendous advancements in the livestock sector, additional opportunities exist to improve even further livestock production around the globe. Forecasting is not an exact science and it relies heavily on past and current knowledge. Improvements in the nutritional sciences (both human and animal) include a better understanding of agents that cause deterioration of human health, improving the quality of animal products, applying effective fetal programming, developing new feeds and feeding strategies, and revisiting longstanding technologies. Improvements in the understanding of the rumen microbiome will enable scientists to increase the fermentation efficiency and, hopefully, select microbial species of greater interest. Improvements in remote sensing and ground-based instrumentation, telecommunications, and weather forecasting technologies will aid in the continued improvements of early warning systems to assist livestock producers in reducing risk and adapting to the changing environment. Broad utilization of sensor technologies will allow scientists to collect real-time data and, when combined with mathematical modeling, decision support systems will become an indispensable managerial tool for livestock production with the possibility to automate low-level decisions on the farm, such as supplementation schedules, sorting of animals, and early detection of disease and outbreaks. The identification of feed efficient animals may be the single most impactful advancement towards long-term livestock sustainability and the promise of feeding the world animal products. We contend that education across societal levels is the first step to solve current and future challenges of the livestock industry. The dilemma has been who will take the first step forward.
... The number of cattle required each year to meet beef demand determines the number of cow-calf pairs required. General calf weaning age is assumed to be 205 days 36 with average daily dry matter requirements per cow-calf pair of 36 lbs 37 . The daily dry matter requirement per dry cow of 23 lbs 36 was used for the remaining 160 days of the year. ...
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Current agricultural and food systems literature suggests multiple opportunities for improving systemic sustainability. Especially in the popular press, many authors have conceptualized a return to smaller scale diversified production as a strategy to feed America sustainably. This study explores this notion for components of our meat supply using approaches reported in one of the most popular of these books, Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, as a touchstone. We examine the land footprint and number of farms required to produce beef, chicken and eggs for the state of Michigan (a population just under 10,000,000) using similar production strategies to those outlined in Pollan's book. To feed Michigan's population at a scale of production demonstrated on the highlighted farm in Pollan's book, and an average level of Midwest intake for beef, chicken and eggs would require approximately 3600 farms and 6.5 million acres of farmland to produce 100% of the beef, 100% of the eggs and about 50% of the broiler chickens for this population. The strategy is discussed in reference to existing farms and acreage in Michigan and put in the context of sustainability within our food supply.
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