By Jayce Winters
It’s simple. It’s clear. It’s black and white (just like our cattle). Environmental stewardship is crucial to the sustainability of the U.S. beef industry.
On this Earth Day, we want to recognize the critical impact that cultivating a culture of environmental stewardship will have (and quite frankly is having) in determining what sustainability means to the U.S. beef industry. To the beef community, sustainability means balancing environmental responsibility, social diligence, and economic opportunity while meeting the global demand for beef. Improving the sustainability of beef is of the utmost importance to the cattlemen and women who are working to ensure the longevity of the industry and are committed to continually improve how beef is responsibly raised.
The U.S. beef system is incredibly diverse and extremely innovative by necessity. Producers must consider things like their geography, climate, natural resource availability, particular breed of cattle, and stage of the beef life cycle in order to customize their practices to responsibly grow the best beef possible. This means that cattle are raised differently whether you’re in Florida, North Dakota, Nevada, or Missouri, but it also means that the cattle in each area are being raised in the most responsible way that meets their individual needs and circumstances.
You may have heard claims such as, “the amount of land used to raise cattle would be much better used growing food crops for humans.” In reality, approximately 85 percent of the land currently being used to raise cattle would be unfit for growing crops for human consumption, because it is primarily harsh ranges or grasslands or areas where the climate would not support most food crops. Because cattle are ruminant animals, they can process cellulosic carbohydrates (such as grass) into a usable energy source for their bodies. Humans and other monogastric animals do not have this digestive capability. This means that if we didn’t have ruminant animals making use of these grasslands, they would mostly go to waste and bring no value to the U.S. food supply.
Efficient land use isn’t the only form of sustainability beef producers aspire to practice and improve upon. According to an industry-wide Life Cycle Assessment of the entire beef supply chain, U.S. beef production improved by 7 percent across environmental and sustainability factors between 2005 and 2011, and another Life Cycle Assessment is currently underway to see what changes have occurred since 2011.
A strong part of the sustainability story for the beef industry is a result of the practices that take place at feedyards. At Cattle Empire, we take the responsibility of practicing sustainability very seriously and have done so ever since Paul Brown began this business in 1978. Animal welfare and environmental responsibility are pillars of the work we do here, and we are extremely proud of that.
Below are some specific ways that Cattle Empire is taking action to improve sustainability and environmental responsibility.
Cattle Empire employs four full-time staff scientists who are experts in the areas of animal health and nutrition, environmental science, and veterinary medicine.
Cattle Empire uses an advanced water reclamation system that captures overflow from the cattle water tanks, filters the water and returns it back to the tanks for drinking. This water never touches the pen floor before it is recycled.
For the water that does touch the pen floor, that must all be captured in Cattle Empire’s waste water retention ponds, or “lagoons.” This water, which is generally rich in nutrients from the organic matter which surrounds it, is recycled in a different way; it is pumped out of the lagoons to irrigate farm ground that is being used to grow crops to be harvested and fed back to cattle at Cattle Empire.
Pen floors are scraped to collect manure in between different sets of cattle living in each pen. This high-quality organic fertilizer is then distributed to area farmers for use on their crops.
Cattle Empire is a founding member of the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, where we collaborate with other members of the beef supply chain a well as NGOs and environmental groups to work towards the continued sustainability of U.S. beef.
Cattle Empire utilizes distiller’s grains as a feedstuff in our ration. This is a protein-rich nutrient source that is produced as a by-product of ethanol production, which if not used by cattle, would otherwise go to waste. Cattle producers in other parts of the country will use by-products of different industries that are more readily available to them such as citrus pulp, cotton seed hulls, brewer’s grains, potato waste, etc. These are all things from which cattle can derive great nutritional value yet would otherwise be wasted, because people have no use for them.
These are just some of the practices at Cattle Empire that impact environmental sustainability that we wished to share in recognition of Earth Day. However, Cattle Empire has many other sustainability practices related to employee safety, animal welfare, community partnership and other areas that we will share at a later time.
Sustainability is not an achievement to unlock nor a specific level to attain. It’s ongoing. It’s evolving. It is something we will always strive for, but none of us in any field will ever reach, because it is not meant to be reached. It is meant to be reached for. We improve, we implement new practices, we move the sustainability needle, and then we work harder. Because our work is never done, and your work is never done.
Environmental responsibility has always been a cornerstone of the work here at Cattle Empire, as it is a key factor to sustainability. This business would not be entering its third generation of family ownership if it were not sustainable, and environmental prioritization has obviously been a key factor to that success.
Here at Cattle Empire, we are always looking for ways that we can improve, because environmental stewardship and sustainability matters. It matters to our business, it matters to our community, and it matters to our world.