Cows Save the Planet (Part 2)

In part 1 of Cows Save the Planet, we talked about how cattle are producing no more methane than the bison and elk did before we domesticated livestock across the United States. We also talked about how a pasture-based operation uses significantly less fossil fuels, because we are not dependent on machinery for the majority of our feed systems. Click here to read part 1! However, this doesn't address how we can actually improve our environment and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Today we will talk about how pasture can actually suck CO2 and methane from the air and pump it into our soils. 

While you may understand photosynthesis, here’s a brief overview before we dive in! Photosynthesis is when a plant uses water, sunlight, and CO2 to grow! What is even cooler is that as it does this it pumps root exudates into the soil. Root exudates are filled with a number of natural chemicals that can attract beneficial microorganisms and encourage symbiotic relationships between the plant and many of these organisms. Root exudates also contain CARBON! As a plant photosynthesizes, it is essentially acting as a pump that is constantly pumping carbon from the air back into the soil. In addition to this role as a carbon pump, the plant also stores carbon in its stems, leaves and flowers. When the plant is trampled by hooves or consumed by livestock and returned as feces, that carbon in the plant is also returned the soil. 

What does this mean and why is it important? This means that in order to maximize the sequestration of CO2 from our atmosphere and return it to our soils where it will be used to improve our soils and grow more nutritious food we need to maximize the amount of photosynthesis taking place on our lands. Personally, I believe pasture is the best way to increase photosynthesis. 

In Minnesota, corn and soybeans often aren’t planted until May. This year, many farmers didn’t get their crops planted until June! Those plants didn’t start growing significantly for a few weeks and  only cover a small portion of the surface of the field, leaving a large amount of potential photosynthesis unrealized with so much bare soil. This year, our cool season pastures were growing as soon the ground thawed out, often times in early April. These plants will continue to grow and photosynthesize well into October whereas most corn and soybeans stop photosynthesizing in September. Pasture utilizes photosynthesis for as long as we have a growing season which greatly increases the amount of carbon we can take from our atmosphere and pump into our soils. 

Think photosynthesis + pasture is pretty awesome? Just wait. Properly managed rotationally grazed livestock can actually further improve this system! A plant left alone to grow will reach maturity early in the summer and stop photosynthesis because it reaches a point where it no longer needs to grow. This is where livestock comes in! On our farm, we split up the pasture into small sections and rotate the cattle between each area. The cattle intensely graze each section as migratory herds of bison once did on the land. Rotating cattle through the pasture allows them to graze the grass down, which forces the plant to continue photosynthesis in order to regrow. By properly managing livestock throughout the growing season and allowing adequate rest time between grazings we further maximize the amount of photosynthesis that happens on the land.

Lastly, one of the other arguments made against cattle is the methane they produce. The following is a paragraph taken from An Exploration of Properly Managed Livestock through Holistic Management  by the Savory Institute in 2015. “Healthy, well-aerated soils, a characteristic quality of grasslands under Holistic Planned Grazing harbor bacteria called methanotrophs, which break down methane. Soil based decomposition of methane may be equal to or greater than ruminant methane production, depending on animal density, soil type and soil health.” 

I am so very proud of what I do on my farm. My wife, Valerie, along with my dad, Jon and I are doing work that we love, providing a quality healthy food product for you and your family, and are doing our part to improve our environment and this planet! I understand that it could be simpler and less expensive for you to buy just any old beef off a grocery store shelf, but by choosing to buy your beef, pork and chicken directly from us you are supporting our family and allowing us to all work and farm together. You are supporting a farm that is improving the land on which we operate and helping our environment as a whole. Lastly, you are also purchasing, in my “humble” opinion, some pretty amazing, high quality meat to feed your family! So I want to say - thank you! Please contact Valerie or myself at any time if you have any questions or thoughts as to how we can better serve you!