Livestock serves as an excellent protein and mineral source for humans, but those nutrients come with a price paid in water. One pound (0.45 kg) of meat protein requires 8,124 gallons (30,744 l) of water to produce. By comparison, the same amount plant protein of equivalent quality requires 3.1 gallons (11.6 l) to produce. Put in another perspective, a pound of sugarcane needs 21 gallons (80 l) of water, but a pound of leather requires 2,000 gallons (7,571 l) of water to produce.
Of all livestock industries, beef production requires the most water and the most rangeland. Feedlots account for almost half of all beef and pork production and three-quarters of poultry production. In terms of efficiency, feedlots that concentrate all animals in pens provide an advantage over free-range production, wherein animals roam outside cages to graze on the land. The United States depends to a large extent on feedlots, using energy dense grains to feed the animals rather than natural grasses, but many people object to this style of factory farming on ethical grounds. The Humane
Society of the United States has explained, “The vast majority of our meat, dairy and eggs comes not from animals on small farms but from factory farms—massive operations that treat animals like profit-making machines, routinely subjecting them to terrible abuses. . . .” Feedlots furthermore produce large amounts of manure, which has the potential to pollute waterways, yet these operations do not spoil the land as grazing often does.
Whether free-range or feedlot-raised, meat production is an inefficient way to produce energy. Meat-producing animals convert grain to animal body weight on a pound-to-pound (kg-to-kg) basis as follows: fish, 2.0; chicken, 2.2; pigs, 4.0, and beef, 7.0. Cattle and sheep present another problem in the environment because they belch large amounts of gas that forms in their normal digestion of fibrous plants. This gas contains about 60 percent methane and 40 percent carbon dioxide, both greenhouse gases. The agriculture and energy industries have studied ways to capture ruminant gasses as an energy source and also so they do not add to global warming. The dairy farmer Richard Huelskamp described the plan clearly in a 2006 interview with the University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Daily: “I believe that agriculture has got to be supplying 25 to 50 percent of our domestic energy. We need to maintain sustainability.” Can meat production be transformed from one of the most inefficient types of production to a sustainable activity?
Dairyman Huelskamp developed a sustainable use for the so-called biomethane his cows produce. A month’s worth of manure from Huelskamp’s farm travels on conveyers into digester tanks where the solids partially decompose and the gases form. The farm recovers the majority of the gas by funneling it to a generator to produce energy. Part of the decomposed manure serves as fertilizer to reduce the farm’s total waste output.
Sustainable meat production incorporates other devices to reduce its ecological footprint. People can contribute by changing their diet to more seafood and poultry and less beef and pork. In the meantime, livestock operations can adopt as many water and soil conservation techniques as possible. Cattle and sheep, though inefficient, offer the following advantages: Freerange animals eat grasses that humans cannot eat; rangeland that supports grazing is usually poor in supporting crops, so does not cause a conflict with plant agriculture; and many of the world’s poorest regions have access only to cattle as a reliable protein source.
The Worldwatch Institute predicts meat consumption will increase 2 percent per year until at least the year 2015. For this reason, sustainable livestock farming seems a necessity. The future of sustainable livestock raising will likely consist of the following
methods: raising livestock with free-range methods rather than with feedlots to decrease waste loads; incorporating goats with cattle to more efficiently use all rangeland for meat production; raising grains on the farm using water and soil conservation and to reduce fuel use; selling only to local meat producers to reduce transport fuel consumption and emissions; and designing operations to produce less beef and pork and substitute with other products to maintain the farm’s income.
Source of Information : Green Technology Conservation Protecting Our Plant Resources