A world without cattle?

By Sherry Bunting, published April 22 Register-Star (Greene Media)

A world without cattle would be no world at all.

GL45-Earth Day(Bunting).jpgThe health of the dairy and livestock economies are harbingers of the economic health of rural America … and of the planet itself. Here’s some food for thought as we recently celebrated Earth Day and as climate change talks are in the news and as researchers increasingly uncover proof that dietary animal protein and fat is healthy for the planet and its people.

How many of us still believe the long refuted 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, which stated that 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, worldwide, come from livestock, and mostly from cattle?

This number continues to show up in climate-change policy discussion even though it has been thoroughly refuted and dismissed by climate-change experts and biologists, worldwide.

A more complete 2006 study, by the top global-warming evaluators, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stated that the greenhouse gas emissions from all of agriculture, worldwide, is just 10 to 12 percent. This includes not only livestock emissions, but also those from tractors, tillage, and production of petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

Hence, the UN Environmental Program disputed the UN FAO assertion to state the percentage of emissions from total agriculture, worldwide, is 11 percent, and that cattle — as a portion of that total — are responsible for a tiny percentage. While cattle contribute a little over two percent of the methane gas via their digestive system as ruminants (like deer, elk, bison, antelope, sheep and goats), they also groom grasslands that cover over one-quarter of the Earth’s total land base, and in so doing, they facilitate removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to be tied up in renewable grazing plant material above and below the ground — just like forests do!

Think about this for a moment. The UN Environmental Program and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are in agreement that cattle and other livestock are not the problem the anti-meat and anti-animal-ag folks would have us believe. In fact, they are in many ways a major solution.

Think about the fact that man’s most necessary endeavor on planet Earth — the ongoing production of food — comes from the agriculture sector that in total accounts for just 11 percent of emissions!

Why, then, are major environmental groups and anti-animal groups so fixated on agriculture, particularly animal agriculture, when it comes to telling consumers to eat less meat and dairy as a beneficial way to help the planet? Why, then, has the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Council pushed that agenda in its preliminary report to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, that somehow the Earth will be better sustained if we eat less meat?

They ignore the sound science of the benefits livestock provide to the Earth. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say what Nicolette Niman has written in her widely acclaimed book “Defending Beef” that, “Cattle are necessary to the restoration and future health of the planet and its people.”

Niman is a trained biologist and former environmental attorney as well as the wife of rancher Bill Niman. She is a vegetarian as a personal choice, but she has gathered the data to overturn the myths that continue to persist falsely in the climate-change debate, and her book is loaded with indisputable facts and figures that debunk the “sacred cows” of the anti-animal agenda:

  • Eating meat causes world hunger. Not true. In fact, livestock are not only a nutrient dense food source replacing much more acreage of vegetation for the same nutritive value, livestock are deemed a “critical food” that provides “critical cash” for one billion of the planet’s poorest people — many of whom live where plant crops cannot be grown.
  • Eating meat causes deforestation. Not true. Forests, especially in Brazil, are cleared primarily for soybean production. Approximately 85 percent of the global soybean supply is crushed resulting in soybean oil used to make soy products for human consumption and soybean meal for animal consumption. A two-fer.
  • Eating meat, eggs and full-fat dairy products are the cause of cardiovascular disease. Greatly in question. Researchers are re-looking at this failed advice that has shaped 40-years of American dietary policy. Its source was the 1953 Keys study, which actually showed no causative link! Meanwhile, excessive dietary carbohydrates have replaced fats in the diet, which turn to more dangerous forms of fat as we metabolize them than if we had consumed the natural saturated fats themselves.
  • Cattle overgrazing has ruined the western prairies. Not so. While improper grazing can have a localized detrimental effect, the larger issue is the pervasive negative effect that is largely coming from not grazing enough cattle. Higher stocking densities that are rotated actually improve the health of grasslands. Large herds provide the activity that loosens, aerates and disperses moisture along with the nutrients the cattle return to the soil — for more vigorous grass growth and soil retention — much as 30 million buffalo and antelope groomed the prairies two centuries ago. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management has favored controlled burns over grazing and is taking away land rights our federal government once shared with ranchers. BLM reductions in allowable stocking densities have initiated a land-grabbing cycle of ranchers losing their land and livelihoods while the land is robbed of its benefits.

The anti-animal agenda continues — groundless, yet powerful. Rural economies, farm families, consumers and the Earth pay the price.

The majority of the lifecycle of supermarket beef and dairy products is rooted in grooming the grasslands and forage croplands that are vital to the Earth and its atmosphere. In addition, farmers and ranchers reduce tillage by planting winter cattle forage to hold soil in place, improve its organic matter and moisture-holding capacity, provide habitat for wildlife while providing temporary weed canopy between major crop plantings. Not only do cattle eat these harvested winter forages, they dine on crop residues and a host of other food byproducts that would otherwise go to waste.

Whether organic, or conventional, our planet needs livestock and the farmers and ranchers who care for them. They not only feed us — with more high quality dietary protein, calcium, zinc, and iron per serving than plant-based sources — they also feed the planet.

Enjoy your meat and dairy products without fear — certainly without guilt — and with gratefulness for the men and women who work daily caring for the land and its animals and for the animals, themselves, which in the cycle of life sustain our existence, our economies, and our environment.

A former newspaper editor, Sherry Bunting has been writing about dairy, livestock and crop production for over 30 years. Before that, she milked cows. She can be reached at agrite@ptd.net.

Learn more about the latest research to measure emissions due to the dairy and livestock industries.

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Images by Sherry Bunting

 

 

 

 

Buffalo Roundup x 2!

By Sherry Bunting (@agmoos)

Imagine millions of buffalo thundering across grasslands extending into what seems infinity….

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There are a few billion more humans on the planet today than when settlers first homesteaded the Great Plains. Buffalo numbers dwindled, but over the past 100 years, herds like the one at Custer State Park, South Dakota, have bolstered the North American population to half a million. On September 25, a record 21,000 people watched 15 park staff and 30 volunteer cowboys and girls gather-in around 1200 head of buffalo during the park’s 50th annual Buffalo Roundup — a far cry from the 200 people attending the first roundup in 1965. While the roundup has a purpose for vaccinating, sorting sale stock and branding, it is an event shared with the public to appreciate.

A month-long process, actually, the work begins with locating the mythical beasts throughout the park so that on Roundup Day the groups can be easily brought together and pushed past droves of spectators to the corrals for the variety of annual management tasks. The event is both practical and “spiritual” notes Craig Pugsley with the park service.xxCusterRoundup3808

He has been here for 38 of the 50 annual roundups and notes that the attendance really ramped up after the movie “Dances with Wolves” recaptured America’s appreciation of the West and its buffalo.The event also spawns a weekend of art festivals and activities that bring end-of-season tourism dollars to the local economy.

So, ‘saddle up’ and ‘ride’ along !

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The morning is crystal clear and cold. At 31 degrees, I need my ice scraper to lift the buff-blog-11frozen film of overnight dew clinging to the windshield!

By 6 a.m. as the line of cars snake into the park, the temp reaches 45. By noon, the temp tops 80!

Crowds assemble and enjoy a pancake breakfast. The media area includes journalists from around the world and two documentary film crews, including Smithsonian.

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buff-blog-100In the media area, we are each given a number designating a truck to hop on when the herd passes by… to follow along. 8 trucks. Lots of cameras.

custer-7A delayed start safely clears the park of vehicles and ridersCusterRoundup-3866 not working the roundup.

I fiddle with photographing grasslands onto which the thundering herd will appear. Rainbow ribbons of color evidence of the yCusterRoundup-3885ear’s moisture.
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We wait… Then special guests arrive from down off Mount Rushmore. An entertaining foursome!buff-blog-12

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Harbingers of the roundup to come, prairie dogs perch and listen while the ‘begging burros’ of the park high-tail it out ahead of the horsemen and a first set of buffalo on the ridge.  buff-blog-16 buff-blog-18 buff-blog-19


buff-blog-21That first glimpse of the accumulating herd… and then the flag bearers… light gleaming through proud fabric in the late morning sun.

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Things go smoothly until they reach the merging point when the run for the corrals gets intense. 40 odd head successfully double back a few times over the hill. This makes for some crowd-pleasing wrangling by core leaders of the cowboy brigade.

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There’s buffalo herd manager Chad Kremer on the dark horse.

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Again the rebels break loose and double back. Bison run fast. Good horses and smart riders run faster and manage to head them off.

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buff-blog-29The crowd goes wild when deer and antelope mix into the fray. Guess the park animals soon realize it’s not a normal day at the park!

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Safety is critical… Riders learn behaviors to watch for as the buffalo mill about between two hillsides full of spectators.

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A line of riders forms to protect the media after we have jumped off the trucks.

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Once the Bison are well collected and moving together in the right direction, it’s time to squeeze them closer together and speed up the push to the corrals. Run the gauntlet, if you will. Don’t be fooled by the whips. They are used simply to make noise to get the bison moving in the desired direction for the desired goal.

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buff-blog-3Buffalo — like other species living in finite resource areas — are as much mythical creatures as they are animals whose survival requires some practical management from humans. The Custer Buffalo roam 71,000 acres, but herd manager Chad Kremer and resource manager Gary Brundige evaluate the grasslands to decide how many buffalo to overwinter.

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Using a random selection process, they pull for sale a portion of the calves of a certain weight as well as some of the non-pregnant females. They also pull a portion of the bulls to leave the herd with a 1 to 5 ratio of bulls to cows. The goal is to get the winter herd to a number that matches what the grasslands can support. For 2014 and 2015, the winter herd targets were 950. For the previous two years, the winter herd targets were 800 due to drought.

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, Custer State Park was established in the early 1900s after the 1874 Goldrush left in its wake a depression and decimation of resources, Pugsley explains. The Park was established by Governor Peter Norbech. 2014 was the Centenial Year for the buffalo herd’s reintroduction at Custer State Park. The bloodlines go back to 5 calves rescued by Fred Dupree from an 1881 buffalo hunt. Dakota territory rancher Scotty Philip eventually bought that herd (about 70 head). Then, in 1914, Custer State Park purchased from that herd as the root of the 1200 to 1400 head herd at the park today.

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Pugsley gives both men a lot of credit for having the foresight to save the buffalo. Today, “the buffalo play a pivotal role at the park in managing the grasslands,” he says, adding that they are vaccinated to maintain a Brucellosis-free herd.

An auction in November of the animals selected for sale will yield funds going right back into managing the herd at Custer State Park. Buyers come from all over the world. The animals bring good prices as breeding stock and for harvest because of their management and the pure bloodlines back to original herds.

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“There is a science to this,” says Pugsley. “Buffalo are nomadic. They move and graze. When managed properly, bison keep the grasslands healthy and the grasslands sustain the buffalo.

Perhaps most important, in the absence of predators “culling” the herd, or hunters as in the case of elk and deer; cowboys take care of managing the buffalo similar to the way they manage their cattle — so the herd can not only survive, but thrive.

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