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Animal Health Notebook

Why we need cattle on the land

Alan Newport Cattle grazing at high density
When cattle are managed for high-density grazing and full recovery, nothing else can build the land like that.
The learned know how cattle can improve the environment, and how to explain that to the ignorant.

I have a soon-to-be-old friend who is an animal science professor at a local university. He has worked around in multiple places in the Midwest and West. He has worked around dairy cattle, hogs, sheep, purebred and commercial beef cattle. At any rate he has asked me for some new discussion questions for his junior- and senior-level animal science students.

We thought Beef Producer readers might be interested. I personally think that most of you all who study the information Walt Davis, Alan Newport and myself report over a period of several years could have the equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. You also will be required to get out in the pasture daily and probably attend several pasture-walk events if you are to receive that diploma.

When it comes to real learning there are at least six essentials:

  1. Study and learning the natural model principles.
  2. Learn to think independently.
  3. Experience and execute. Get dung on your boots.
  4. Goal setting and an open attitude.
  5. Pay close attention.
  6. Learn and understand several realities about our business.

There are many good questions young people need to explore, but possibly the No. 1 question that all agricultural producers need to be able to address is, “Why have cattle on the land?”

Here’s where it begins: The planet’s life is dependent on plants to convert carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy and oxygen so we can breathe, grow, work and reproduce. Those plants, many which are grassland plants, work in conjunction with grazing animals, especially ruminants such as cattle. Ruminants harvest and process the plants and return near 90% of the nutrients back to the pasture with enough bacteria and preparation to improve the soil and create more plant development and furtherance of life and health. This also effectively freshens the foliage and increases that conversion of sunlight and carbon dioxide.

Without ruminants and severe grazing and complete plant recovery there is loss of life at the ground level. Plants become stale and die, as does the soil. The whole place moves toward becoming a desert. Remember the first sign of desertification is the loss of plant diversity.

Properly managed and grazed cattle build the land resource and health. Take them away or simplify the system and it moves toward failure. Remove cattle and you limit life. Quality health is one of the first things to leave.

Further, large ruminants in dense herds are a major part of all viable ecosystems. When ecosystems fail history tells us that man’s health is close behind. Large ruminants in dense herds are closely tied to health and system function.

Ruminants, especially forage-produced cattle, are likely the major key healing food source for humans.

The truth is we’ve made a bunch of mistakes and messed up a bunch of good rangeland. But the system is or has the ability to be robust and rejuvenate. There are a lot of wonderful examples. Our job is to spread the word as we move forward.

Recently there have been several political candidates making negative noise about cattle. They need to do lots more studying. The same can be said for the rest of us.

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