Pictured: Cattle on VG Farm
There’s a longstanding public belief that livestock has a negative impact on the environment. Cows fall particularly victim to this sentiment, which actually holds very little weight. There is, however, truth that poorly managed agriculture can damage the environment. Overgrazing can have a serious effect on climate, and is difficult to undo. This is very different than cattle themselves being damaging, as the onus is truly on farmers to make good choices for their animals and our environment.
Cattle doesn’t cause global warming – poor management of cattle does.
You may have heard about this 2013 TED Talk by Allan Savory. It’s worth watching, but as a quick summary: Savory believes that cattle actually help reverse climate change when farmers use holistic agricultural management to naturally sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide within grasslands. This is a very intentional, sustainable approach to farming that involves planned grazing and developing farm micro-ecosystems that mimic nature. Key points involve rotational grazing and the careful control of cattle access to waterways in order to avoid erosion and contamination. Instead of taking cows completely away from overgrazed land to let it recover, Savory called for a flexible management system that better mimicked natural herding behaviour. While his theories have their critics, Savory is revered by many in the scientific community.
So it’s understood that poorly managed agriculture is bad for the environment. Again, it’s not the cows that cause problems – it’s about the parameters placed on cattle by farmers. For example, if cows are placed in an area where their natural behaviour will result in the erosion of riverbanks, they can ruin the topsoil and pull soil into the waterways. This can lead to water contamination and environmental issues. It’s human error, and it’s avoidable.
The flipside is that well-managed agriculture is actually good for the environment. In addition to the holistic management methods that Savory introduced, there are ways to farm in an eco-friendly, sustainable way that benefits the land, the cattle and the farmer. This is incredibly important to our team, and always has been. We’ve always strived for the best possible farming practices, and over time, have developed a system that we’re proud of.
At VG Meats, we use management plans that consider the soil and its health as much as any financial. This involves having buffering zones to waterways, ensuring the surface water moves slowly over the land without erosion. Regular rotations on the pasture prevent overgrazing, and compost added to the land helps build its ability to retain moisture.
After years of research and practice, we know that a paradigm switch needs to happen. Animals that eat grass aren’t the cause of global warming – they may actually be a solution to it. Grass needs to be in the optimal growth phase to thrive. When conditions are right, grass is naturally sequestering carbon and feeding cattle, giving us a nutrient dense food. Put another way, carbon is better off in a root system than in our atmosphere. This cycle depends on both cattle and proper management. Livestock isn’t the problem. Poorly managed livestock is, and that’s a solvable matter.
When we see problems in the industry, we challenge ourselves to be a part of the solution. By dedicating our time, energy and resources to sustainability, we end up with happy cows and a healthy environment. We have a farm that contributes positively to the environment. We have good product and we’re able to hold ourselves to a high ethical standard – something that matters to us, and to our community. As the years go on, we’ll continue to evolve our practices and improve our systems while encouraging our peers in the farming industry to do the same. It’s something that benefits us all, and we’re passionate about doing it right.