Why Grass-Fed Beef Is Better for the Environment…and Us!Posted: September 6, 2009
Rancher Dave Evans of Marin Sun Farms raises 500 head of cattle on nothing but grass in Nicasio, California. Here he explains how his farm works.
By: Dave Evans, as told to Joel Weber; Illustrations: Heather Jones
Published: March 2008 [ Updated: Nov 7, 2008 – 3:44:18 PM ]
The grass that fills my pastures is a diverse array of mostly native perennials and legumes, such as rye grass and clover. The grass stores the sun’s energy and converts it into carbon, which my cows will eventually convert into protein. Grassland can sequester as much carbon as a forest, which is a claim no factory farm can make. Grass and soil need a break from grazing to recover and regenerate, and I use electric fences to divide the land into paddocks as large as 100 acres and as small as two acres to restrict animals’ access. I change my pasture-management strategy almost daily, but typically the grass will measure about six inches tall when the cattle enter a paddock. I’ll lead them into a new paddock once the grass is half that length.
When cows eat grass, an organ called the rumen—something we humans don’t have, which is why we don’t eat grass (notice what he says here, we DON”T eat grass- ie. GRAINS!!) —converts the sun’s energy into high-quality protein. As the cattle move throughout the pasture, their hooves help spread and plant grass seed while their feces acts as fertilizer. And because they don’t stand in the same place all day, covered in their own dung, I don’t need to pump them full of antibiotics, the way factory farmers do.
After I move cattle off a paddock, I bring in laying hens to eat the parasites and fly larva that thrive in cow pies. The chickens eat the bad stuff most farmers eliminate with pesticides, and those bugs give the hens’ eggs more flavor. Chicken excrement also contains a lot of nitrogen, which functions as a fertilizer. Most commercial farms increase yields with synthetic nitrogen, and the farms excrete so much fertilizer that it ends up in the ocean where it kills sea life. Keeping free-range chickens prevents that sort of pollution. I simply move the hens so that excess nitrogen never builds up and the soil stays healthy.