Cows make a lot of mess, and eat a lot of food.
Researches estimate that it takes 2,400 gallons of water to get a pound of beef, and there’s no denying that with all the belching, flatulence, and droppings, they leave a lot of waste. But we’re not ready to give up beef, even if some claim that would be better for the planet.
Which leaves us with the dilemma of how to raise cattle. Is it better to let them graze on grass in open fields, or should they be raised at feedlots?
In fields, the cows are free to roam a bit, so they leave their cow patties in the grass, rejuvenating the soil and helping grass and plants grow. The carbon capture of the plants, combined with the life cycle of the nutrients in the soil, make this an attractive option. But grass-fed cows are about 150 pounds leaner than feedlot cows, so it takes more of them to produce the same amount of beef, and they take longer to put on the pounds.
Feedlot cows fatten up quickly, but they eat corn that must be grown, which uses farming equipment, water, fertilizer, etc., and the cow waste ends up in large pools, not spread over open fields. And cows don’t start life in feedlots, they begin in pastures with their mothers, then are separated eight or 10 months later for “finishing” in the feedlot.
The answer to the question isn’t easy, but there’s one thing that’s certain. Americans, as well as others around the world, want their steaks and burgers, so where this debate finally ends doesn’t really matter as long as the cows are raised somewhere.