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Farmer Advantages

January 02, 2008 | 1,010 views

Dairy Production on Grazing Land

During the past twenty or thirty years, the trend in the dairy industry has been to confine cows in areas near where they are milked. Feed is harvested in the field and transported to the animals. Manure is returned to the fields as a valuable fertilizer.

Some dairy farmers -- located in all parts of the country -- have begun to graze their cows on pasture and are reporting many benefits. Probably the most important benefit is that of reducing the cost of feed, the largest operating expense on a dairy farm. Farmers in Vermont, New York, and Arkansas have reported saving as much as $150 per cow per year in the cost of feed by allowing the animals to graze and harvest much of their own feed.

A second important advantage of grazing-based dairy production has been in reducing the cost and labor needed to manage the manure. When animals are well managed, they spread the manure themselves on the pasture. This reduces the cost of production.

Successful grazing-based dairy production requires careful management of the land, forage plants, and livestock. Most dairy farmers trying this approach are dividing their land into small pastures, and animals stay on a unit for only a few days. Following a period of intensive grazing, an area is rested to allow the forage plants to regrow and the soil to recover from compaction.

Because the units are small, animals use the entire area in a uniform fashion. This helps ensure that the manure is spread over the entire area. Keeping the animals in one herd on a few acres of land allows the farmer to observe the animals and provide health and other care as needed.

Proper Grazing Management Protects Water Quality and Sustains Poultry Industries

Production of poultry in confinement has been the common practice in the Southeastern United States. The manure from these production facilities has been used as a fertilizer for pastures and has helped the region improve its beef industry. Combining income from poultry, cattle, and hay has allowed many small farms to remain in business and has helped sustain many rural communities.

When the proper amount of manure is correctly applied on suitable, well-managed grazing lands, economic, environmental, and social goals of landowners and society can be met. When manure is applied on land where the forage crop has been closely grazed or mechanically harvested for hay, nutrients and organic matter can wash off.

This causes serious degradation of water quality. Proper animal waste management is essential for the sustainability of the swine and poultry industries. Attention must be paid, therefore, to the amount of forage that remains on the land to protect the area from runoff as well as to the amount of manure that is applied.

Grazing lands remove carbon dioxide from the air

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are increasing in the Earth's atmosphere, potentially causing changes in global climate. Grazing land plants remove carbon dioxide from the air through the process of photosynthesis and store it in the soil as the below-ground plant parts die and decompose. Grazing land soils in the Great Plains have been found to contain over 40 tons of carbon per acre while cultivated soils contain 26.

Cultivated lands planted to grassland plants as part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) were found to have gained an average of one-half ton of carbon per acre per year during the first 5 years after planting.

This means that 18 million tons of carbon are being removed from the atmosphere each year as a result of farmers putting over 36 million acres of land in the CRP.

Grazing lands are a source of biomass energy and raw materials for industrial products

Other options for using grazing land plants in soil and water conservation plantings are as biomass energy or as feed stocks for industrial chemicals and materials. A growing interest in using plant materials for energy stems from the dependence of the United States on foreign oil, as well as from a concern that the release of fossil carbon into the atmosphere will lead to climate change.

Using "home-grown" plant material for energy would reduce to some extent the amount of oil we import. Although burning plants for energy releases carbon dioxide into the air, this carbon is offset by the carbon captured from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis. Biomass carbon is, therefore, a renewable resource.

The health of grazing lands is important

Inappropriate grazing land management often leads to a less productive mix of plants, to soil that may be compacted and exposed to the erosive forces of wind or water, and to the loss of the land's capacity to self-regenerate. Collectively, this deterioration is called "loss of grazing land health." Loss of health means that some options for current and future uses of the land have been lost.


The non-Federal grazing lands of the United States are important -- not only to landowners, but to all citizens. Proper management of these lands is essential for the sustainable production of food and fiber, in addition to supporting a wide diversity of other uses.

Although most grazing lands are not suited to cultivation because of topographic, climatic, or soil limitations, these lands do produce plants that can be grazed by livestock to produce meat, milk, wool, and numerous other products that benefit humans. Properly managed grazing harvests a renewable resource and is a cost-effective and energy-efficient way to produce food and fiber.

Vast quantities of water fall annually as rain and snow on private grazing lands. When properly managed, these lands provide a dependable, high quality supply of water for domestic, agricultural, environmental, and industrial uses.

Grazing lands provide food, water, and cover for wild animals and birds.

A large variety of wildlife species depend on private grazing lands for some or all of their habitat needs.

Through proper application of animal manure and other nutrient sources on grazing lands, nutrients can be recycled to increase plant production in an environmentally sound and economically beneficial way.

Some of the Nation's most spectacular landscape features are located on private grazing lands. These lands offer many outdoor recreational opportunities, such as hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing.

Healthy grazing lands provide an important economic base for individual landowners and the communities where they live, and they contribute to the sustainability and quality of life of rural and urban residents.

Land resources have benefited as a result of landowners and other interested groups taking a more comprehensive approach to grazing land management. For example:

As a result of improved plant cover and soil condition, more precipitation soaks into the soil and less runs off. Water quality improves as landowners and managers more effectively control soil erosion and other water quality problems.

Physical and economic damage from sediment and other pollutants is reduced. Water quantity and the length of water availability increases in some areas. Agriculture, rural and urban residents, and industry benefit from these improved conditions.

As a result of improved plant cover and watershed conditions, wildlife and fish populations benefit. This increases opportunities for consumptive and nonconsumptive uses of wildlife, thus improving the economic conditions and quality of life of farm and ranch families, rural residents, and others who enjoy interaction with wild animals, birds, and fish.

As a result of improved environmental and economic conditions, increased opportunities will develop for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities to expand their business enterprises to offer outdoor recreational activities.

As a result of proper grazing management and improved environmental conditions, atmospheric carbon is sequestered in the soil, improving soil quality and reducing the likelihood of a greenhouse effect causing global climate change.

Waste Pollution and the Environment

(1) The USDA reports that animals in the US meat industry produce 61 million tons of waste each year, which is 130 times the volume of human waste - or 1/5 a ton for every US citizen.

(2) North Carolina's 7,000,000 factory-raised hogs create four times as much waste - stored in reeking, open cesspools - as the state's 6.5 million people. The Delmarva Peninsula's 600 million chickens produce 400,000 tons of manure a year.

(3) According to the Environmental Protection Agency, hog, chicken and cattle waste has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states.

(4) Pfiesteria, a microscopic organism that feeds off the phosphorus and nitrogen found in manure, is a lethal toxin harmful to both humans and fish. In 1991 alone, 1,000,000,000 (one billion) fish were killed by pfiesteria in the Neuse River in North Carolina.

(5) Since 1995, an additional one billion fish have been killed from manure runoff in estuaries and coastal areas in North Carolina, and the Maryland and Virginia tributaries leading into the Chesapeake Bay. These deaths can be directly related to the 10 million hogs currently being raised in North Carolina and the 620 million chickens on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

(6) The pollution from animal waste causes respiratory problems, skin infections, nausea, depression and even death for people who live near factory farms. Livestock waste has been linked to six miscarriages in women living near a hog factory in Indiana.

(7) In Virginia, state guidelines indicate that a safe level of fecal coliform bacteria is 200 colonies per 100 milliliters of water. In 1997, some streams had levels as high as 424,000 colonies per 100 milliliters.

(1) Horrigan, Leo, Lawrence, Robert S., Walker, Polly, "How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture," Johns Hopkins University's Center for a Livable Future, July 9, 1999
(2) Chris Bedford, "How Our food is Produced Matters!", AWI Quarterly, Summer 1999
(4) Zakin, Susan. "Nonpoint Pollution: The Quiet Killer," Field & Stream, August 1999, p.86
(5) Environmental Protection Agency, 1998
(6) Centers for Disease Control, Mortality Weekly Report, July 5, 1996
(7) Washington Post, June 1, 1997

Sustainability (The Good News!)

(1) Sustainable farming, once dismissed as the pastime of crackpots and idealists, has grown into a business worth some $7.3 billion a year in the European Union and around $15.6 billion worldwide.

(2) Organic farming became one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture during the 1990's. Certified organic cropland more than doubled from 1992 to 1997, and two organic livestock sectors - eggs and dairy - grew even faster.

(3) The number of certified organic milk cows in the U.S. nearly tripled between 1992 and 1994.

(4) The United States had 537,826 certified organic layer hens in 1997, up sharply from 47,700 in 1994.

(5) Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) connects local farmers with consumers; local farms grow food specifically for CSA members. As of January 1999, there were over 1000 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms across the US and Canada.

(6) Responsible management of the natural resources of soil, water, and wildlife on the 60 percent of all U.S. farms less than 180 acres in size, produces significant environmental benefits for society.

(7) The smallest U.S. farms, those of 27 acres or less, have more than ten times greater dollar output per acre than larger farms.

(8) In farming communities dominated by large corporate farms, nearby towns died off. Where family farms predominated, there were more local businesses, paved streets and sidewalks, schools, parks, churches, clubs, and newspapers, better services, higher employment, and more civic participation.

(9) In the United States, small farmers devote 17% of their area to woodlands, compared to only 5% on large farms. Small farms maintain nearly twice as much of their land in "soil improving uses," including cover crops and green manures.

(1) Quote by Dr. Nicolas Lampkin, Agriculture Specialist, University of Wales in Aberystwyth. Paul Ames, Associated Press, December 27, 1999
(2) Economic Research Service, USDA
(3) ibid.
(4) ibid.
(5) University of Massachusetts Extension
(6) A Time To Act report, USDA National Commission on Small Farms, 1998
(7) Dr. Peter Rosset, "The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture", Institute for Food and Development Policy, September 1999
(8) ibid.
(9) ibid.

Economics and Statistics

(1) Almost 30% of agricultural subsidies go to the top two percent of farms and over four-fifths to the top 30%.

(2) There are 1.91 million farms remaining in the United States.

(3) In 1970, there were approximately 900,000 hog farms in the United States; by 1997, there were only 139,000.

(4) Since 1986, the number of hog operations has declined by 72 percent - a loss of over 247,500 operations. Of the remaining hog operations, 2 percent control nearly half of all hog inventory.

(5) Between 1969 and 1992, the number of producers selling 1000 hogs annually or less declined 73%. Producers selling more than 1000 annually increased 320%, according to the US Census of Agriculture.

(6) Between 1993 and 1997, the number of mid-sized farms dropped by 74,440.

(7) Estimated inputs to produce a pound of: Pork: 6.9 pounds of grain, .44 gallons of gasoline, 430 gallons of water Beef: 4.8 pounds of grain, .25 gallons of gasoline, 390 gallons of water

(8) Meat production has grown worldwide from 44 million tons in 1950 to 211 million tons in 1997.

(9) The price of meat would double or triple if full ecological costs - including fossil fuel use, groundwater depletion and agricultural-chemical pollution - were factored in.

(10) 90% of the nation's poultry production is controlled by 10 companies.

(11) In Maryland, chickens outnumber people 59 to 1.

(12) Neary half of all farmers are over age 55, while just 8 percent are under age 35.

(13) In 1920, the United States had over 925,000 African American-operated farms. Today there are less than 18,500. The current rate of agricultural loss by African-American farmers is over two times that of other American farmers.

(14) The farmer's share of each food dollar has dropped steadily over the last 40 years, from 41 cents in 1950 to only 20 cents in 1999.

(15) In 1998, farmers earned an average of only $7,000 per year from their farming operations. 88 percent of the average farm operator's household income comes from off-the-farm sources.

(16) Large farms receive nearly twice as much in government payments as do small farms.

(17) Four meat packing companies control an estimated 79 percent of cattle slaughter.

(1) Horrigan, Leo, Lawrence, Robert S., Walker, Polly, "How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture," Johns Hopkins University's Center for a Livable Future, July 9, 1999
(2) 1997 Census of Agriculture, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service*
(3) Drabenscott, Mark. "This Little Piggy Went to Market ... ", Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Vol. 83, No. 3, Third Quarter, 1998, pp. 79-97
(4) December 1998 Hogs and Pigs Report, 1986 Hogs and Pigs Report, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service*
(5)Swine Strategies, State of Utah Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, Summer 1995
(6) Farm and Land in Farms, Final Estimates 1993-1997, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service*
(7) Alan Durning, "Fat of the Land", World Watch Institute, 1991
(8) Earth Times, July 1, 1998
(9) EarthSave, November 1997
(10) Zakin, Susan. "Nonpoint Pollution: The Quiet Killer," Field and Stream, August 1999, pp. 84-88.
(11) Ibid.
(12) Quick Facts, 1997 Census of Agriculture, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, February 1999*
(13) 1997 Census of Agriculture, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service*
(14) USDA Economic Research*
(15) Agricultural Outlook, Table 31, USDA Economic Research*
(16) 1997 Census of Agriculture, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service*
(17) Beef Today (Nov-Dec 1998) cited in "Concentration of Agricultural Markets," William Heffernan et al, January 1999*

Antibiotics and Public Health

(1) Overuse of antibiotics in animals is causing more strains of drug-resistant bacteria, which is affecting the treatment of various life-threatening diseases in humans. The Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences has estimated the annual cost of treating antibiotic-resistant infections in the U.S. at $30 billion.

(2) Fifty million pounds of antibiotics are produced in the U.S. each year. Twenty million pounds are given to animals, of which 80% (16 million pounds) is used on livestock merely to promote more rapid growth. The remaining 20% is used to help control the multitude of diseases that occur under such tightly confined conditions, including anemia, influenza, intestinal diseases, mastitis, metritis, orthostasis, and pneumonia.

(3) Chickens are reservoirs for many food borne pathogens including Campylobacter and Salmonella. 20% of broiler chickens in the US are contaminated with Salmonella and 80% are contaminated with Campylobacter in the processing plant. Campylobacter is the most common known cause of bacterial food borne illness in the US.

(4) 5000 deaths and 76 million cases of food-borne illness occur annually.

(5) Antibiotics in farm animals leave behind drug-resistant microbes in meat and milk. With every burger and shake consumed, super-microbes settle in the stomach where they transfer drug resistance to bacteria in the body, making an individual more vulnerable to previously-treatable conditions.

(1) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, "Antimicrobial Fact Sheet", May 4, 1999
(2) American Medical News, "FDA Pledges to Fight Overuse of Antibiotics in Animals", February 15, 1999
(3) Risk Assessment of Fluoroquinolone Use in Poultry, Food & Drug Administration, February 2000
(4) ibid.
(5) Newsweek, March 7, 1994

Animal Welfare

(1) Each full-grown chicken in a factory farm has as little as six-tenths of a square foot of space. Because of the crowding, they often become aggressive and sometimes eat each other. This has lead to the painful practice of debeaking the birds.

(2) Hogs become aggressive in tight spaces and often bite each other's tails, which has caused many farmers to cut the tails off.

(3) Concrete or slatted floors allow for easy removal of manure, but because they are unnatural surfaces for pigs, the animals often suffer skeletal deformities.

(4) Ammonia and other gases from manure irritate animals' lungs, to the point where over 80% of US pigs have pneumonia upon slaughter.

(5) Due to genetic manipulation, 90% of broiler chickens have trouble walking.

(1) Horrigan, Leo, Lawrence, Robert S., Walker, Polly, "How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture," Johns Hopkins University's Center for a Livable Future, July 9, 1999
(2) ibid.
(3) ibid.
(4) ibid.
(5) Erik Marcus, Vegan, Mcbooks, 1998


(1) The average American consumes nearly twice his or her weight in meat annually.

(2) Poultry processing has almost double the injury and illness rate than trades like coal mining and construction.

(3) The United Nations reports that all 17 of the world's major fishing areas are at or beyond their natural limits. One third of all the world's fish catch is fed directly to livestock.

(4) "Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." -- Albert Einstein

(5) "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man." -- Mohandas Ghandi

(1) Earth Times, July 1, 1998
(2) EarthSave, March 1998
(3) EarthSave, November 1997

Do the Math on Grass

But what about the economics? Should cattlemen even consider raising beef on grass? Here's how we view the numbers.

It takes 12,500 pounds of grass to support a cow for one year and raise a 450-pound calf. It takes another 4,000 pounds of grass to raise the calf to 850 pounds. If the calf is retained another 10 months, it will take another 9,450 pounds of grass to get it to weigh 1,250 pounds. The total for grass is 25,950 pounds. At one cent per pound that's a feed cost of $259.50, plus it covered the cow.

Compare this to a $290 feed bill at a feedlot to raise a 500-pound calf to 1,250 pounds. And that's just for the calf post weaning.

On the revenue side, the packers are paying around $68 per hundred for grain-fed cattle. That's $816 for a 1,200-pound steer. TGFBC's current pricing structure is $1.35 per pound hanging on the rail. Depending on dressing percentage, a 14-month old, 1,000-pound calf could be worth $790.

If all this is true, then what are cattlemen doing?

From what I see, it looks like they're doing their best to raise fat beef and sell their calves at weaning to folks who will eventually place the cattle in a feedlot and turn them into grain-fed beef.

I don't understand it? Do you?

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