Saving the Soil—and Their Livelihoods—by Raising 100% Grass-Fed Beef
February 21, 2018
In 1999, Jon Taggart converted the 900 acres of crops on his recently purchased 1,400-acre ranch in Grandview, Texas, into 900 acres of native grasses. Then he launched his 100% grass-fed beef business.
Everyone, including the “people in the cow business and people in the meat business” said he was crazy.
But in 2011, when Texas was hit with a drought that dragged on for nearly 18 months, Taggart was one of the few ranchers who was able to keep on doing business as usual, while other ranchers had to move their cattle out to more fertile ground.
While acres of GMO corn and soy on many of the state’s ranches shriveled up and died, the deep-rooted, “warm season grasses, cool-season grasses, grasses that germinate early and grasses that germinate later” on Taggart’s ranch survived.
Taggart, recently featured in an ABC News "Food Forecast" segment, calls himself a pioneer in the grass-fed, grass-finished—also known as 100% grass-fed —meat industry. But he’s the first to admit he isn’t doing anything new.
“Cows are ruminant animals. They have four parts to their stomach for a reason, and that’s so they can digest grass, which we don’t very well, and convert it to a protein that we can consume. They were designed to eat grass. This system worked for a few million years before we got here. It’s designed to work that way and it works very well if you just get out of the way and let it happen.”
And happening it is.
According to Nielsen data, retail sales of grass-fed beef grew from $17 million in 2012 to $272 million in 2016.
Health-conscious, environmentally concerned consumers are driving the demand. Grass-fed beef is better for your health than beef finished on grain in today’s factory farms.
Cattle raised on grass are also better for the environment, better for animals and better for the climate.
That’s a lesson Texas ranchers Jonathan and Kaylyn Cobb, who didn’t fare well during the epic 2011 – 2013 drought, are learning. The Cobbs told ABC News how they almost lost their family farm because there wasn’t enough life left in their soil to sustain the crops to feed their cattle.
Fortunately, the Cobbs met ranger and regenerative agriculture consultant Dr. Allen Williams who’s known for his “soil sermons.” Williams told ABC News:
“I want every farmer and rancher that is growing livestock to adopt these adaptive grazing practices and to build their soil organic matter and soil health, because this is going to make a whole sea change in the way our soil functions, in the way our ecosystem works and our water quality, and in our climate.”
A sixth-generation cattle farmer who has consulted with more than 4,000 farmers and ranchers, Williams says raising and finishing cattle on grass isn’t just good for the earth—it’s also profitable.
Profitability is what saved the Cobbs.
“It sounds funny to say that we bought cattle for the soil,” Kaylyn Cobb said. “The reason we brought animals back to the land is because we knew it was a fundamental element needed to restore the life of the soil.”
How can that be? When we’re so often told that raising cattle destroys the land?
The key to healthy soil and grass-fed beef is rotational grazing, a system where farmers set up plots of land and move livestock from paddock to paddock allowing the grasses time to recover and regrow. Since the Cobbs moved to this new system they’ve seen huge changes in the health of their soil. The Cobbs have also stopped plowing the soil on their ranch, relying instead on nature’s system for aerating the soil—worms.
Can we reverse the industrial beef paradigm, and get back to raising beef the way nature intended? Taggart believes it will be the younger generation of consumers “who are really concerned about where their food comes from” who will lead the way. One thing is for certain—if consumers want more 100% grass-fed beef, we need to demand it. After all, even McDonald's is considering switching over to regeneratively raised beef.
Want to learn more? Read about Regeneration International’s plan to promote France's 4 per 1,000 global plan and agreement to reverse global warming, soil degradation, deteriorating public health and rural poverty by scaling up regenerative food, farming and land use practices.