Written By, Ron Metz, President, PDCA
A recent TV and radio ad for Capitol One credit card asked the question “what’s in your wallet?” Today, I want to ask the question “what’s in your beef?” You may be surprised to find out what isn’t in commodity beef produced today. By commodity beef, I’m referring to beef found in grocery stores produced under the current industrial model. In my part of the country (Texas panhandle) that entails the following: Calves are weaned at 205 days and backgrounded. They are then sold at auction as stockers to graze on pre-planted winter pasture, usually supplemented with grain. At a certain age/weight, they are sold again at auction to feed yards where they are finished on a high energy, high starch diet (more grain) for maximum gain in the shortest time possible. After a sufficient amount of weight gain and finish (fat) is achieved, the final destination is the packing house and your local grocery store.
I recently watched a seminar presented by Gabe Brown from Bismark, North Dakota. Gabe is an expert on the subject of regenerative agriculture which he has practiced on his 5,000 acre ranch for 25 years. He has traveled around the world teaching and promoting its benefits. During the presentation, Gabe spoke about the effects of industrial farming practices on soil and crops. Practices mentioned included heavy tillage, pesticide use, herbicide use and lack of keeping ground cover. These have combined to turn once rich soils into “dirt” by destroying soil biology.
Today’s farming practices have also decreased soil water absorption rates which in turn cause rain water to runoff rather than soak in. This runoff carries with it valuable top soil and applied chemicals leading to erosion and pollution. Gabe pointed out the worst impact of current crop farming practices is the effect it has on healthy soils. Heavy tillage leads to death of soil microbes, loss of stored soil carbon, moisture and nitrogen. Herbicides used to control or kill weeds has a secondary effect. They kill mycorrhizal fungi and bind trace elements in soil through chelation making trace elements unavailable for growing weeds. Unfortunately, those bound trace elements also become unavailable for growing crops. Pesticides used to control insects also kill beneficial soil microbes which are the basic building blocks of plant health and soil fertility. What is left is “dirt” that requires commercial fertilizer, soil amendments, herbicide and pesticide applications all on an annual basis to get maximum crop production. Heavy pesticide and herbicide use also shows up residually in the forage and grains used in finishing feed yard beef.
You may be asking “what does this have to do with beef production?” There is an old German saying that roughly translates to “a man is what he eats.” I believe this bit of wisdom applies to all classes of livestock grown for food. Think about the steps involved in producing commodity beef from calving to processing. From weaning to feed yard finishing, a commodity beef animal is eating a forage and grain diet produced on soils treated with all the chemical and commercial fertilizer amendments mentioned above. The resulting cause is depleted soil nutrition the forages and grains are grown on. Therefore, the effect is beef from these animals will be deficient in nutrition as well.
Gabe presented some sobering facts to prove that point. In a recent study of average mineral depletion in 10 kinds of meat, it was found Copper declined by 24%, Calcium declined by 41%, Iron declined by 54%, Magnesium declined by 10% and Potassium declined by 16%. What does this mean? An individual today would have to consume twice as much meat to get the same amount of minerals and trace elements as compared to meat produced in 1940! It doesn’t stop there. Individuals today would also have to consume three times as many fruits and four times as many vegetables to get the same nutrition as those foods produced in 1940! The loss of nutrition in the foods we eat today may be a reason why the USA now ranks at or near the top in incidences of ADD, ADHD, Cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, auto-immune diseases, osteoporosis and the list goes on.
How can we as Dexter breeders put this information to use? I recommend all of us educate ourselves on regenerative agriculture practices and incorporate them in our operations. There is an abundance of information on the internet. Numerous seminar presentations are available on YouTube. After some investigating, you will soon realize the traits of our dual purpose breed fit perfectly into the regenerative model. Healthier soils lead to more nutritious forages. More nutritious forages produce healthier beef and milk. It is proven that grass finished beef and milk contains healthier fat, more flavor and better nutrition. Dexter cattle can do it more efficiently on pasture than any commodity beef or dairy breed. Our focus should be on soil and grass
management, then let our breed do what it does best. We can bypass the industrial commodity model. There is a wide open market for beef, milk and milk products produced through grazing superior pasture. It is up to us to capitalize on this opportunity. Combining Dexter cattle with regenerative agriculture practices is a win-win situation from producer to consumer.