Last week, in our Wednesday “Let’s Visit” series, we talked about what kind of beef options are available for you to eat, based upon certain criteria you may have. This week we’re going to visit about what cows eat.
I mean, cows eat grass, right? Totally. But cows also eat lots of other things. Pastures are not like your lawn (unless your lawn is like my lawn, which is literally just a fenced-off, irrigated chunk of pasture). They are filled with grass, yes, but also with other plants like legumes, weeds, flowers, and brush. On pasture, cows will eat seemingly strange things, like beans from mesquite trees, willow bushes, flowers, and even thistle. Bert claims he saw a cow eat a rock once, so there’s that. Cattle can also graze on corn and wheat pastures after the crops have been harvested, too. Cattle really are talented upcyclers–they take things that we consider “junk” or that we can’t eat, and convert it to things that we can. This is handy since 85% of the land that cattle graze in the United States is not suitable for human food production.
But, a cow’s affinity for upcycling doesn’t stop in the pasture. We talk a lot about “grain-finished” beef, which can paint the picture that cattle in feedlots are fed grain of the “amber waves” variety that you’d imagine could be used to make bread and cereal and such for human consumption. In reality, 86% (over 90% in the United States) of the total food that cows eat is not edible by humans. Some of this is the “1.9 billion metric tons of leftovers from human food, fiber, and biofuel production” like wheat stalks, cottonseed, and distillers grains that would otherwise potentially become an environmental burden. They can also eat cast-offs and extras of human foods that might be thrown away and wasted like dropped pickles and rejected skittles.
And, beef is an important part of the global diet. I’m not just saying that because I’m a rancher, the FAO is saying that, too. Livestock in general and cows specifically have an integral place in the global food system, and it’s not as a “stealer” of human food.
The very best part is that we’re getting better. We’re learning how to do more with less, how to use genetics and science to help us make our herds and feed more efficient, and how to lessen our impact on the environment every step of the way. I really recommend checking out the articles I’ve linked to here (FAO, Upcyclers) because they both talk about brand-new research about beef and its impact on global food security.
Basically, we need to give cows more credit, because if they were on Iron Chef and you were like “Uhhhhhhhh that’s not food,” they’d be like “Au contraire, mon frère,” even if y’all aren’t brothers, or French, and then they’d proceed to make a masterpiece out of skittles and wheat midds and you’d be sunk.
Until Friday, kids, unless of course my computer actually kicks it. I thought it was dead, but turns out the old dinosaur just needed an extended break, which is happy mistake on my part. 2018 will likely be the Year of the New Laptop, however, because this old girl is on her last legs.
(Open to recommendations! I need something not too expensive that will do Word, Excel, and photo editing that isn’t a beast to carry around.)
We’ll get down on Friday.