Thursday, May 13, 2010

Converting Grass into Meat

I frequently hear the "fact" that livestock production is an inefficient use of land, so I thought I’d have a little fun and dust off some of my old pasture management information. We can debate the numbers, but I don’t think I’m too far off ...

Let's assume the following:

- Dry matter yield from perennial ryegrass & white clover pasture of 10,000 lb per acre
- 75% of the pasture dry matter produced is consumed by the grazing animal
- A conversion rate of 14 lb of pasture dry matter per lb of hanging weight
- An edible yield of 65% of the hanging weight
- A cooked yield of 56% of the raw weight
- A per meal protein requirement of 4 ounces of cooked meat
- 3 meals per day

Under these conditions, a piece of pasture less than 209 x 209 feet could produce enough meat to supply a person's daily protein needs for 260 days (not to mention the lovely fat!). Remember that this land can be completely unsuited to the production of grains, fruits, or vegetables.

If we could bump the pasture yield to 15,000 lbs of DM per acre, we could produce sufficient meat to supply a person's daily protein needs for 390 days!!

Oh, and by the way, perennial pasture produces about as much root dry matter as it does above-ground dry matter, thus fixing more carbon. Even poorly-managed pasture is equal to woodland in terms of "fixing" carbon, while well-managed pasture is many times better.

This from a perennial "crop" that requires minimal fertilizer, pesticides, equipment, or petroleum to produce. But it isn’t “green” ‘cause it’s not vegetarian!


Friday, May 7, 2010

I'm finding it difficult to establish a regular posting routine. Hopefully a consistent effort will produce results, even if I’m not currently meeting my target.

There are certain “givens” in this concept I call Grass Based Health. Here’s a few that I put down as a response to the “Diet-For-a Small-Planet” folks. You know them, right? They’re the ones that say that animal agriculture is an inefficient use of land and that grain-based diets are healthier for us. There are many points that could be made, but let’s start with these:

1. The vast majority of the earth’s land surface isn’t suited to the production of fruits, grain, & vegetables. But a significant portion of it is well suited to the production of high quality protein and fat via ruminant animals and managed grasslands. (That US-type agriculture feeds grain to cattle and sheep doesn’t refute this fact.)

2. Well-managed grass-based agriculture (the production of milk, meat, and fiber from perennial grasslands) is sustainable, and beneficial to the environment (again, the fact that the majority of agricultural practices in the US don’t model this reality doesn’t refute these facts).

3. Unlike fruits, grain, & vegetables, the high-quality protein and fat from animals provides all of the essential amino acids, and fatty acids humans require.

4. Eating the “Diet-For-a Small-Planet” diet is, therefore, the unsustainable, environmentally irresponsible, unhealthful choice that has lead/is leading the world into an epidemic of chronic disease that is awe-inspiring to contemplate – tooth & gum disease, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, Alzheimers, etc. What is/will be the impact of the resource demand for the treatment of these (and other) diseases that are now known (or strongly suspected) of being the result of high-carbohydrate diets?

One last point: It is possible that there would not have been a slave trade from Africa into the new world if the English and Europeans hadn’t been addicted to sugar …

Dietary choices and agricultural policies have far-reaching implications.