December 31, 2017

Veganuary: It's A Poor Time of Year

While I normally don't get much into the whole veganism thing, I thought I'd say a short little piece on this whole Veganuary thing that came to my attention recently.

Veganuary has the facade of a "global campaign that encourages people to 'try vegan for January,'" and is a push for making veganism as a "lifestyle choice and an established social norm" (which is paradoxical, to say the least), and is veiled behind the innocent setting of a charity event, the true purpose behind this "campaign" is to satisfy corporate interests that control the entire aspect and beast that is industrial agriculture.

As a matter of fact, it's one of those little proofs that veganism is well and truly corporate-sponsored. It does not have the best interest of any farmer (or even rancher) in mind, particularly those who purposely produce food for locals within the municipality or even province or state, and particularly those who strive to be regenerative, sustainable, truly ethical for the environment and for animals in their care.

"Control the food, and you control the people." That's what the corporations have in mind, to have everyone dependent on them as the sole providers for sustenance, not local farmers, not individual gardeners or horticulturalists that do not grow food to satisfy the corporate engine. And the vegan bandwagon hysteria fits in well with this narrative, because it drives a wedge into the ever-deeper crevice that already exists between the people and the true source of our existence: Nature, and the Earth.

It's easy to go vegan because of these corporate bodies being so easily able to offer dairy-free, egg-free, meat-free, factory-made, well-travelled crap at the supermarket. It's easy to go vegan because of the globalization of agriculture, and because much of the food that supplies many supermarkets and grocery stores are monoculture mass-produced food heavily reliant on fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and in particular, there exists this incredibly huge disconnect between people and where their food actually came from and how it got from the industrialized farm to the supermarket.  Labels never tell the whole story!

But, January is the worst time of month to promote veganism. For one, for all countries in the Northern Hemisphere that have what is called "winter" that severely hampers any vegetative growth for several months of the year, plant foods of anything from carrots to bananas need to be shipped thousands of miles to supermarkets within these climates, using a lot of fossil fuel energy to do so. Only those few that are fortunate enough to have a good greenhouse or solarium on the sunniest side of their house could make a go at growing some or most of their produce as locally as local can get. The sad reality is that there are very few of those around. 

So, as a second point, the "fresh" fruits and vegetables that are made available via the supermarket aren't even in season. Not even the organic produce. The stuff that comes in the grocery stores at this time of year is just not the same good quality, good tasting food like what comes around come May all the way to October. Why would anyone want to try veganism during a time when vegetables and fruits are at their poorest quality is beyond me. 

I could tell a lot of why you should never try veganism out this January, despite the false sense of security and fallacious, guilt-inducing messaging they try to lure you in with. I've made several posts on here on some of the reasons why veganism is not what it appears to be, from animal ethics to the environment. I certainly could repeat myself again, but I would encourage you to take a bit of time to read some of my thoughts in previous posts to help guide you in the right direction.

But, I will say that you will not save the environment, save animals, protect nature, or any other humorous propaganda that Veganuary uses to "encourage" people to "try" veganism. The only way you're going to help the environment and help animals is to choose local. 

Have a Regenuary Instead! Here's What You can Do: 

Support your local farmers by buying locally from them. Learn how to start growing your own food, even if you have a few pots of plants in your apartment near the sunniest of windows or with a grow light. Invest in a vermiculture unit for taking care of your food waste. Lobby your local municipal government and gather support for more people to be able to have some chickens and rabbits and a garden plot in their yards. Learn about the soil health and its biology, about Regenerative Agriculture, Holistic Management, sustainable farming methods, etc. There are plenty of good books out there I recommend you read, from Salad Bar Beef and Folks, This Ain't Normal by Joel Salatin, to those by David R. Montgomery (such as the Hidden Half of Nature and Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations), Judith D. Schwartz, Nicolette Hahn Niman, and Simon Fairlie's Meat: A Benign Extravagance. I also highly recommend to watch some videos on regenerative farming/ranching methods and principles as explained by folks like Gabe Brown, David Brandt, Allen Williams, Ray Archuleta, Elaine Ingham, Dr. Christine Jones, and others Find some local farms in your area who are practicing sustainable/regenerative, non-industrialized practices and visit them during the summer. I could go on!

There are many things you can do this January, as a better choice this January. Make your New Years resolution a means to learn more about this lesser-known third option of Regenerative Agriculture, of Ethical Omnivorism. PLEASE understand that veganism is NOT your only alternative option you have if you're sick and tired of having to continue to support the massive pro-GMO, soil-destroying, anti-animal, and environmentally-disastrous industrialized agri"culture".

Again, educate yourself about all aspects of agriculture, because you eat too, and like all humans on this planet, food is a very, very important thing, and should never be treated as some sort of inconvenience to "more important" things in your life. Being a more ethical omnivore is a difficult path to take, but it's one that you will be more grateful for as you learn, unlearn, and relearn the various things you never thought possible or even existed before. Please, for your sake, both for your body, your soul, your mind, and your health, don't get sucked into the veganism hysteria. But don't give up either on the path to finding better food for yourself and your family.

I wish you a happy and healthy New Year of 2018 as we are launched into the final hours of 2017. I will leave you with this TED talk of Gabe Brown for you to watch.

Happy New Years everyone!

December 18, 2017

Misinformation and Misunderstanding II: An Activist Cannot Understand the Roots of the Problem... Literally

I had to jump in to give this ARA (animal rights activist) I mentioned from the last blog post Misinformation and Misunderstanding: An Activist Confuses Grass for Grain for Cattle a bit of a lesson on what regenerative grazing meant as far as soil health and the environment is concerned. All in an attempt to help Rich the farmer/producer out.

His response I received definitely left a lot to be desired, but was nothing short of amusing, to say the least!

So here's what my short-version rebuttal was to him (as a kind of summary to what I wrote about last time [see link above]):
"Cows don't need grain to survive let alone thrive. And cattle grazing, when done right (via the human aspect), is not damaging to the landscape. Management-intensive cattle grazing is a way to help heal the land, not hurt it. Converting grassland to crops, though, definitely is [harmful to the landscape]."
Now, brace yourself for the ARA's "rebuttal" because it may make you fall out of your chair:
"Cattle eat over 20 pounds of grass each every day. This tears out the soil roots and causes erosion and runoff. Growing crops, on the other hand actually adds roots and binders to the soil, keeping it in place."
If you're the first thought that flew through your head upon reading that was how in the hell can anyone be that f***ing stupid to think that, you and I would be in the same boat. Needless to say, I had a great laugh at that.

But now, it's time I use the space here to shoot that argument down to the point that only pieces of it are left scattered about.

Again, for those of you who aren't as agriculturally-inclined as I am, never fear, I'll do my best to explain the concepts and context as to why this ARA (or even 99% of all ARAs, for starters) is not one you want to rely on for any agriculture-related piece of information.

Cows Eat Lots of Grass

I can understand that for the average Joe/Jane that 20 pounds of grass seems to be a lot, but I guarantee you that it's actually not, particularly for a cow.

The only animal that comes close to eating that much per day is a sheep. A 160 pound sheep (most likely an ewe, or a female sheep), to be exact, if I do the calculations backward, and assume the moisture content (amount of water) in grass is particularly high...

But for an average-sized cow, which in North America is around 1400 pounds, assuming the moisture content for grass is about 80 percent (or 20 percent dry matter [upon feed analysis, a feed sample is dried until all the moisture is removed, then weighed to determine "dry matter content"]), the amount of grass consumed is a lot closer to 175 lb of grass consumed per day, on an "as-fed" basis.

Hehehe, and the ARA thought he'd try to scare me with the 20 pound-of-grass-consumed tactic! Yeah, again, if you're raising sheep or even goats, buddy!

Thing is, though, don't let those numbers scare you. They're just numbers, and are meaningless when you understand that grass does grow back after being grazed. Unfortunately for this ARA, he's got himself convinced that that isn't the case at all.

Cattle Grazing Rips Up Plants Out of the Ground... Or Does It?

According to our little "knowledgable" ARA on cattle grazing, it "...tears out the soil roots and causes erosion and runoff."

And I say, bullshit.

You see, the only time that cattle may tear plants out of the ground, or as he puts it, "tears out the soil roots," is if cattle are put out to graze a freshly seeded pasture where plants are just a few weeks post-germinating and haven't yet established much of a root system. Their root systems are much like annual weeds, which are fairly easy to pull out of the ground when young.

When a cow grazes, she wraps her tongue around a grass-plant or "sward," if you will, and bites down and pulls at the same time. That pulling action may rip out that newly germinated plant, or annual weed.

But when we're talking about established pastures with tame forages that have had much time to develop an extensively deep root system over just a couple generations, the chance that those plants will be torn out completely by a grazing cow is extremely slim to impossible.

To the ARA that says this, he needs to realize that cows are mowers, not rototillers.

If you want to tear up a pasture, get a few pigs. That'll solve your problem; they'll tear up a pasture in no time.

But cows? Come on, give me a break.

I can easily demonstrate this to you; actually, you can do the demonstration yourself, because it's very easy: One of those Do This At Home exercises!

If you ever get a chance in the spring or summer time, if you happen to go walking and see some grass growing nice and tall somewhere on a nature hike or in a ditch or wherever, here's what you do:

Take your dominant hand (if you're a lefty or righty), and grasp a handful of grass lengthwise, just like you'd grasp a handful of spaghetti, but make sure where you're grasping is not at the base, but at the top four to six inches of grass height. Next, with a half-twisting action, tear out the grass.

What you get, obviously, is a handful of grass. But that's not all, and not even the most important part!

Do you know what else you get?

For one, you get the same amount of grass that a cow would grasp and pull into her mouth. Second, the amount of force you exert to pull that handful of grass is the same amount of force that cow uses to get that same mouthful of grass.

Are you with me?

Now look at the base of the very parts of the grass plants that you pulled up. How much root and soil of those grass plants did you happen to pull up?

If your answer was none to only one or two, with barely any root showing, and no soil whatsoever, then you have just proved that the ARA's claim above is dead-wrong.

Pretty amazing, eh?

But now I wonder... I wonder if this young ARA was confusing what happens when horses graze versus how cattle graze?

See, horses graze have top incisors, something which all cattle lack (sheep, bison, deer, goats, elk also lack upper incisors), so they can select with their lips, then bite and pull up grass right at the base--particularly when it's quite short--to the point where grass plants certainly can be pulled out.

And I can't trust an ARA to know the difference between a horse and a cow...

How Cows Graze... MiG Style!

You see, when a cow grazes, she's not interested in pulling up grass plants by the roots--and this is the exact same for all classes of bovines, including bulls, heifers, and steers--she's only interested in the top few inches of the best part of the plant, which is primarily the leaves or the inflorescence (flowering part of a grass plant). A cow will never ever reach down to the very base of a sward of tall grass plants to pull up the entire plant like a human often will do, no matter the height of those plants. A cow only has a vested interest in the most tasty and palatable part of any plant, and stems are not included in this interest whatsoever.

What she and her herd do not graze, they will push down with their bodies and trample the grasses with their hooves, and poop and pee on it as well. A herd of cows will take one bite and move on to the next plant; the only time they take a second bite is if they've taken that one bite out of every plant they could before being forced to go back for more.

The beauty of mob-grazing, or MiG that I mention in the quote above, is that cows get into this awesome competitive, yet surprisingly orderly mentality of eating as much grass--getting that first bite of good, high-quality forage--as each cow can before one of their neighbours steals a bite before they do. Occasionally there may be a little bit of pushing around, mainly by the more dominant cows, but otherwise the grazing that happens when a herd of cows are moved and confined to a small piece of pasture to eat grass every day is such that each animal ensures each plant gets a bite taken from it, gets trampled and pooped on, before being moved to the next fresh patch of ground.

Cows that are mobbed up are not likely to be so picky about what they eat. They get into this mentality of competitiveness such that they will eat just about anything in front of them; what they don't eat will get trampled down and pooped on. Again, I stress the importance of moving those animals soon before they take more forage than they should.

This is biomimicry: Moving cows often in a dense herd on a regular basis mimics the mobbing behaviour of large wild ruminant herds (elk, bison, antelope...) across the grassland landscape in response to the ever threat of predators.

How do Cows Really Turn Grass into Dirt? 

This doesn't indicate that cows will tear up grass plants and turn the pasture into a dirt lot. Not especially when they're moved in time before they get that second bite, or third bite, or move around so much that their hooves tear up the earth.

This is where I can legitimately say that the only time cows will literally tear up a piece of ground is if it's a very high-traffic area where an excessive amount of "hoof traffic" or trampling impacts the plants to the point that it kills them and turns the area into dirt. Do you see that part about hoof traffic? Yes, you read that right, HOOVES. Not mouths, not grazing, no: The Feet of Cows.

Why do you think feedlots remain as dirt lots with regular groups of cattle remaining in those lots for weeks at a time, and can never grow a blade of grass? It's not because cows have soft feet of kitty cats; nor is it entirely because grass is dead and gone and will never grow back (yes, it's dead and gone from those lots, but it certainly can come back in if given sufficient time). No, the hooves of a cow, coupled with more of her herd mates, are sharp and hard enough to damage grass plants if continuous, heavy physical stress applied by those hooves are then applied to those plants. Horses, sheep, goats, pigs, llamas, bison, elk, deer, any cloven-hoofed animal are just as capable of tearing up a piece of ground in the same manner as one or more bovines can.

Speaking of horses... here's a great way to ruin a good pasture, if you don't have pigs. Put horses on it. Or even sheep.

But wait! Hooves actually aren't all bad. The hooves of grazing animals are actually very beneficial--again, under the right kind of management that utilizes MiG and moving animals often in a dense mob--because they push seeds into the ground, break and crush stems, and opens up the canopy to allow some sunlight to penetrate into the soil surface for more seeds and tillers to germinate and grow.

So, where does the erosion and runoff take into account into all this? I think from this point it's fairly easily to see how, but I like to take the time to explain more.

How Erosion and Runoff Occurs on Pastures

When excessive hoof traffic turns grass into dirt, there's no plant material to stop rain drops from hitting the soil surface. Just like with tilled fields, when that rain drop impacts that soil, it has no place to go other than downhill. Some water soaks in, but not a lot. What doesn't get soaked in rolls off the surface, bringing nutrients with it down into the lowest parts of the land, which continues to flow beyond the corral, beyond the fields, and into water ways and wetlands.

I don't think I've taken much time to explain about erosion on conventional cropping fields as I may have elsewhere, but now's not the time. Basically, bare soil in corrals acts the same way as bare soil on cropland as far as erosion and runoff is concerned.

Erosion and runoff from pasture, though, is another problem. The ARA still doesn't know Jack from Adam when it comes to that and the difference management practices have on how water "behaves" when rain hits a continuously-grazed (CG) pasture versus an adapted multi-paddocked (AMP) pasture, the latter based on holistic management practices that are regenerative in nature.

What I found out is that runoff (moreso than erosion, but I'll get to that soon) definitely occurs on a CG pasture. This photo of a rain simulator test to compare a CG pasture versus two relatively similar AMP pasture pans tells a whole lot:

If you have never seen the rain simulator test, I highly recommend you check it out.

Anyway, each pan of soil + plant matter in the rain simulator test has two jars each for collecting water that has either run off (front row) or infiltrated (back row). Notice how the CG pan has contributed far more runoff than the long-recovery period or rotationally grazed pans, and the reverse is true for infiltration.

Why is this?

There's obviously some erosion that occurred with the amount of water that ran off the CG sample, however the amount of water that has run off from the CG pan above hasn't taken nearly as much soil with it as what would happen if that ground was bare, with no cover, like that from tillage. Like in this photo:

The reason for such a remarkable difference is because of overgrazing.

Now, I already explained in this post that overgrazing is not about too many animals, as most dictionaries and range science has lead far too many to believe, but rather about plants receiving an inadequate (too short) rest period between the first and second bite to be able to re-establish energy reserves, making it a function of TIME, again, not about too many animals.

Overgrazing does a few degradational things to plants and the soil.

For one, the roots are shortened. Remember this phrase: "What is above, so below." In other words, a short grass plant above ground reflects a short root system below ground. Inadequate rest for the grass plant means that roots are going to be bound closer to the surface, and not allowed sufficient time to grow deeper. Smaller, shorter grass plants are going to have less litter covering the surface, and potentially also more soil exposed between plants.

Severely overgrazed pasture - springtime.
These calves should not be on at this time of year.
With overgrazing comes excessive trampling, as mentioned above, which also invites compaction. Cows are heavy animals, and with a large number of them on a piece of ground for a long period of time (such as all grazing season), coming back again and again to their favourite grass patches, the ground can get packed down enough to impact the plants growing there, even if that piece of ground hasn't turned into dirt--yet. Cows aren't the only animals that can cause a pasture to become hard-packed if mismanaged: Horses are just as bad.

A nice rule of thumb to remember is this: If you can see their hooves and their poop piles, your pastures are overgrazed.

Compaction is especially a problem in pastures that have been "renovated," or cultivated to break up and old pasture then reseeded again. Tillage is often a disastrous method pasture rejuvenation because it breaks up existing soil structure, and breaks soil aggregates into finer particles that makes it more difficult for water to permeate through. Instead, water runs off more than it will soak in. I will talk a little more on this later on about crops.

The other problem associated with overgrazing is the significant lack of "residue" or "litter" cover protecting the soil surface. The above photo is a great example. Rain drops are not slowed down when it impacts the surface with very little litter and green material cover. Plants should act as a kind of multi-canopied "umbrella" for the soil in capturing and slowing down rain drops so that they gently trickle onto the soil enough for the water to quickly soak, not strike with such an impact that they bounce off and begin rolling on downhill, taking soil particles and other nutrients with it.

If you wonder why creeks and rivers get so full and become sediment-heavy after a rainstorm on surrounding pastures (and cropland), it's actually not because the ground has become saturated, but because of a serious water infiltration problem that is a result of poor management practices.

With regards to more arid regions of the world that used to be largely grassland, but have now turned into a lot of shrub brush, bare ground, and patches of heavy-graze-tolerant grasses and forbs, erosion and runoff is a significant problem for the reasons that overgrazing has been misinterpreted as "too many animals" for so long. These arid regions are suffering from overgrazing in such a way that there are just too few animals on the landscape that are too spread out, and are allowed to come back to their favourite grazing patches too often and too soon.

Those plants that have gotten too far ahead of the animals have produced dead plant material which is unpalatable to the individual animal. In arid regions, conditions are just too dry and hot for many soil microbes that normally can survive in more moist and cooler conditions, so that dead plant material simply cannot break down on its own. Instead, it oxidizes, and remains on the parent plant, impacting tiller growth of subsequent daughter plants coming from that same bunch. Eventually the bunch of multi-generational grass plants just dies, suffocated by it's own death of ancestors that couldn't otherwise be removed by grazing animals.

Allan Savory of the Savory Institute and Holistic Management calls such environments "brittle," because not of lack of moisture (even though these arid environments do receive less than 10 inches of precipitation per year), but because of how unpredictable and irregular moisture events are, compared to non-brittle environments, such as the tropical rainforest.

Nothing takes the place of those grasses that die out. More bare soil comes up, to be eroded away by wind and rain. More heat is generated from these areas because of the incredible solar radiation capacity of bare soil; surface soil temperatures can get very hot, upwards of 110 to 140ºF or more (43 to 60ºC). That alone impacts weather and climate events to degrees that I don't think many of us have figured out quite yet. And folks wonder why our climate is changing--at least for those who don't have the wool still pulled over their eyes?

As in the case of our ARA friend who made the blanket-statement, tool-blaming move of claiming cows are the problem, he's only partly right, but he completely misses the boat when the reality is that, as Nicolette Hahn Niman, author of Defending Beef put it, "It's the HOW, not the COW."

I laugh at those who like to blame cows for things like climate change and desertification. I like to tell them they're like the self-proclaimed "handyman" that tends to blame his tools for doing such a shit job with his building projects rather than the man (or person, sorry ladies) who's wielding them!!

Reminds me of Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertan's song, "Hard on Equipment."

Anyway, I'm getting off course here. And I believe I've made myself crystal clear that it's the management (i.e., the human brains) behind the cows that is the problem, not the cattle themselves.

Just like the human brains that can make up some pretty stupid bullshit, like crops being better for the soil than well-managed cattle grazing.

Crops Degrade the Soil Too

"Growing crops, on the other hand actually adds roots and binders to the soil, keeping it in place."

Just so you know, there's no such thing as "binders" in regards to what crops supposedly are adding to the soil, according to this "knowledgeable" ARA.

This blanket statement holds a very dangerous assumption which blatantly ignores several important details: Use of tillage, and use of biocides and fertilizers. Also, growing crops does not occur during all 12 months of the year for most locations with arable land, particularly North America.

Crop plants actually only add roots and bind the soil for 3 to 4 months out of the year.

And heck, there's still a lot of farmers that will fallow fields; by "fallow" I mean grow nothing on them, and keep them all bare via what I call "recreational tillage" or spraying herbicides, or both.

Ain't gonna be no crop on those fields to bind the soil and keep it in place!

Really, the only time that crops are going to help the soil is when no tillage, and very little to no biocides and petroleum-based fertilizers are used. Crop rotations use more than just one or two species, and also incorporate cover-cropping practices that keep the soil covered and a living root in the ground at all times.

But hey, all-knowing ARA, 98% of all cropland in North America doesn't even use these practices!

Why? Because of something I keep hitting on something called MANAGEMENT; i.e., "The HOW."

Most farmers only manage the land according to what the agro-chemical companies "recommend" they do, what the agronomist who has no concept of soil health and soil biology is going to tell them to do and grow, and what their neighbours are also doing. That's their management. But is it any good to the soil, better than managed grazing? I answer that further.

Sure, the growing of crops (i.e., the event that once the seed is planted, the plants begin to sprout and grow up right to maturity) are going to add some roots. But not much. Most roots that do grow are often short, sparse, and staying close to the surface where most of the nutrients are within easy reach. I'll talk a little more later on why that is. Keep in mind, though, that industrial agriculture is of the mind to treat soil like it's nothing more than just a growing medium for plants.

What's more, compared with any kind of natural system that has plants covering the soil, the square footage between each plant in a crop field is so much larger than what you'd find in most forests, all grasslands, and pretty well any pasture there is. In such ecosystems, there is literally little to no space in between plants; and if there is some space in between, it's covered by a layer of plant residue.

But not with crops, and that's no matter if we're talking corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, peas… There always has to be a bit of space between each cropped plant within rows and between rows. The soil beneath will get some coverage by the leaves of the crop, but not enough to completely cover the soil. Enough sunlight gets through to the soil below for the other "undesirable" plants which are called "weeds" to germinate and grow up to try to cover that bare soil left alone.

You know what, though? Weeds are considered bad, and competitive with the crop for sunlight, moisture, and nutrients--which is truth, by the way--so what does a farmer do to keep his crop clean? Use chemicals to kill them all except the crop itself. Gardeners and those with lawns who've also been taught to rely on chemicals and man-made fertilizers for their plants see no different.

Yet that bare soil left in between each wheat or corn plant is bare and naked. And Nature abhors bare soil, no matter where it is, be it under a corn plant or a tree.

So those weeds will just keep coming back, no matter what is done repeatedly year after year.

Another important caveat completely ignored by our ARA pal is that crops aren't like your front lawn that stays as-is for as long as the house is standing. Cropped plants die and don't grow back, and their deaths are actually what bring the harvest--the grains, oilseeds, pulses, etc. They ain't gonna grow back after harvest. And when the above-ground part of the plant dies, so does the roots.

What's left is called "stubble." Now that stubble may remain as-is over winter, or it may get cultivated after harvest. It depends on the farmer. Some farmers have no-till drills that can drill seed right into the stubble without having to cultivate, but some crops make it extremely challenging to do even that without causing problems. If a farmer grew corn or canola the previous year, chances are he's going to be needing some kind of tillage--unless he purposely sows in between the rows of last year's canola--to break up those tough, thick stems to be able to sow in an even crop of wheat, as an example.

Now, tillage breaks up both above- and below-ground biomass; stalks and roots. That physical stress that a farmer is putting on the soil no longer enables those roots from that previous crop to bind that soil and keep it in place. That soil is now loose as fine sand, and much more liable to blow away in the wind, or be washed away with any kind of moisture event.

Does that sound good to you? I didn't think so.

Just like what happens when you allow a bunch of cattle beat a pasture all to hell and turn it into dirt, tillage invites the same problems: Soil erosion, runoff, extreme heating of the soil which kills microbes, dries it out, and is possibly what's causing a lot of climate issues; water infiltration issues; and most of all, a significant decrease in organic matter. That's right: Those roots and stalks that get incorporated into the soil don't amount to jack as far as organic matter is concerned.

This young ARA would be surprised to know that most cropland under industrial plant agriculture has very little organic matter; most range from 0.2% to barely 1% organic matter. That's piss poor compared with well-managed pastures that can have at least 4 to 7% organic matter. Why is that? Well…

Copiotrophic or R-strategist bacteria, found in all soils, quickly consume that organic matter and stimulate a primary-succession event by dying and releasing plant-available nitrogen into the soil. That nitrogen is for the weed seeds that have been sitting dormant for decades to use upon germination to quickly grow up and cover the soil, and protect it.

Weeds are actually Nature's first-line of defense in protecting bared soil. And you thought they were bad!

And what about chemical fertilizers and biocides? Well, fertilizers make plants lazy, as well as the microbes in the soil. The plants find they don't need those microbes to do all the work for them when they have enough NPKS from the pellets the seed was sown with to grow and use all season long. The microbes die out because they have no food source; the plants won't give them food when the plant doesn't need them to get the food for the plant. Make sense?

And as for the roots, as I already mentioned, the roots don't amount to anything because they're so short and stubby that the only purpose they serve, really, is to keep the plant upright and rooted in its place during a wind storm. They don't add much to the soil when there's not much root growing there in the first place, and when plants aren't made to utilize their natural mutual partnerships with microbes. In a natural ecosystem, plants have microbes working for them in a bartering system so that they can find and export nutrients and moisture from soil particles and soil aggregates, and transport them back to the plant in exchange for "liquid carbon," their energy food source.

With biocides, they kill everything. Every single living thing in and on the soil, be it a plant that came up between the wheat stems, or insects or a species of fungus rotting away the root system. Everything dies, except the crop itself, and except for the occasional passers-through bug or deer that may (or may not) get enough biocide to cause much damage.

All in all, growing crops the conventional, petrochemical, agrochemically-reliant industrial way is not better than grazing cattle and sure as hell is not anything close to being better for the soil. I've yet to be proven that deep-rooted perennials are better than shallow-rooted annuals. The only time shallow-rooted annuals work is if they are replaced by deep-rooted perennials for the long-term. That or, if the current methods of producing crops are replaced by a much more regenerative system that promotes more life and building of good things, such as a diverse crop rotation, use of cover crops, incorporating animals, and following basic biomimicry principles such as keeping the soil covered at all times, keeping a living root in the soil at all times, and reducing or eliminating unnecessary physical, chemical, and biological stresses (tillage, biocides, and overgrazing), respectively.

Otherwise I've just proven that this ARA is, yet again, full of crap and doesn't know what the hell he's even talking about.

I know the ARA is desperately trying to find a way to justify the means of being vegan and creating a sound cause for more people to become vegan, but God damn it, the kind of asinine drivel that folks like him keep pushing are only making them look stupid and all other vegans horribly ignorant and selfish.

This whole post was about the stuff beneath our feet, the kind of stuff that most of us find disgusting, not worth thinking about, and totally not sexy. It matters to ALL of us, regardless of diet, belief, ethnic, or nationality. And if we can't get our act together and our heads out of our sandy asses and understand what's going wrong with the soil and why, there's no hope of stopping this runaway train headed for a 10-foot thick fortified wall.

December 7, 2017

Misinformation and Misunderstanding: An Activist Confuses Grass for Grain for Cattle

It's funny how animal rights activists pride themselves in how they believe that they know everything about animal agriculture and livestock, from the history of agriculture to digestive physiology to grazing management. They believe that they know it all so much that they feel the need to "educate" a farmer about how much "better" it would be if animals are raised a different way, or not raised at all. 

The problem is that they've got themselves so deeply convinced that they know it all--I've heard also how they quickly try to cover their asses by claiming that they don't try or wish to call themselves "experts" on agriculture, even though their contributions to a debate with me to prove me wrong make themselves appear otherwise--that they become blind to the fact that they don't know a damn thing of what they're talking about. They get so stupid that they don't even know they're that stupid.

I'm ARA bashing, I know, but there's a reason for it. About a month ago I got into a debate with one such ARA who figured he's heard "all the meat-eater arguments" and knows all the rebuttals to such arguments. But there's just too big of an elephant in the room to ignore: He honestly didn't. 

This particular activist, whose name I won't mention here nor what animal activist organization he's a part of (although he's a part of one of those organizations that condones the actions of stealing or "liberating" animals as a means to "rescue" them), thought that he could provide a good rebuttal to some of the farming arguments that actual farmer or agriculturally-literate folk were providing. I kept a few of his gems to talk about on here to make a couple more posts on. 

The first one he made was in response to this, by my farmer-friend "Rich":
"How do you propose to grow crops in areas that are very arid, and feed people? Without massive amounts of irrigation, YOU [CANNOT]. [It's] not even sustainable, let alone regenerative. However you can grow livestock (they can walk to water sources, plants can not) and the livestock have been shown in many cases to improve arid grassland areas and reverse desertification. Remove animals from an ecosystem and [you're] doomed to failure."
Here's the young know-it-all ARA's comedy-gold response that I want to talk about today:
"Re: Growing crops in arid environments is not possible, but raising animals is: It's not possible to raise animals without growing crops as well. To produce one pound of cow flesh, you must feed ten pounds of grain. People who live in arid environments and choose to raise animals are forced to either import feed or grow it themselves, with much difficulty. It would be much more sustainable to directly eat the grain."
To me, who comes from a farm and has immersed herself quite a bit into regenerative agriculture and grazing management, this response from the ARA is quite amusing, to say the least. For those of you  who aren't as knowledgable about farming and grazing practices who may not share my thoughts and may start thinking that the ARA is making sense, then let me take you further to explain why this young activist is proving himself to be the poster-child for the Dunning-Krueger Effect.

And, you get to see why I don't like ARAs very much.

The Assumption that Cows Need Grain 

While I do realize that Rich could have been a little more clearer about the fact of the matter that cows need and eat grass more than they do grain, the ARA here has clearly made the assumption that cows require grain all through their life, including the cum hoc ergo propter hoc (with this, therefore because of this) argument that "it's not possible to raise animals without growing crops as well."

Unless I make an argumentum ad logicam (argument to logic) fallacy, the ARA is creating the kind of fallacy that assumes that, because raising animals and grain production occurred around the same time agriculture first started, therefore it must be that animals need grain to live. The logic he was making was mistaking correlation for causation.

That is assuming that the definition for "crops" in the context of the ARA's argument/statement above, is primarily that of short-lived plants grown for the harvest of seed (i.e., grain, oilseeds, pulses) on arable or cultivated land. Thing is, to be really technical, pastures and hay lands could also by lumped under the much broader definition of crops which is the growing and harvesting a variety of plants for food and feed purposes of people and animals, further brought together as "forage crops" or even "perennial forage crops." However, since the ARA's statement is directly correlated to cultivated annual crops, I wouldn't be making an argument-to-logic fallacy.

Therefore, the fact that the advent of raising farm animals and the growing of grain and other food crops occurred at the same time does not mean that farm animals need grain for their survival. In reality, for most farm animals--particularly cows and cattle--they really can do just fine without.

That's what Rich was trying to teach the ARA about above. Animals, particularly cattle and cows, don't need grain to survive, much less to be raised. Cattle are ruminant animals, with a four-chambered stomach specially designed for digesting and breaking down the kind of plant matter that we humans cannot eat, thanks to several million microbes living in their rumens. Because of this they can thrive just fine on grass and other edible forbs (including legumes like alfalfa) without needing that grain.

The only time cattle need grain is if the plants aren't meeting their nutritional requirements, or the cattle themselves are metabolically not suited to such a roughage diet.

It's like this: Putting a herd of Holsteins (your average black-and-white dairy cows) out on native grassland would be animal abuse because those cows are not genetically, or rather metabolically equipped or adapted to thrive on such coarse forage. They'd starve to death with their stomachs full of the stuff.

But when you get beef cattle like Herefords or Texas Longhorns on that same patch of ground, they're much more likely to gain weight and/or produce enough good-quality milk to raise some nice healthy calves. These are just two exemplary breeds of course, but other grassy-type breeds like Devons, Red Polls, Galloways, and the more hardier heritage bloodlines of the Aberdeen Black/Red Angus breed would do just as well.

The thing is, for a farmer to have their cows earn their keep on a pasture-based operation, those cows need to be able to gain and produce milk on forage (grass and legumes primarily) alone. Feeding grain should be a rarity, not a regular occurrence. If a farmer's cows are needing to be fed grain on a regular basis, then it might be time to think about a) changing the genetics of the cowherd, and/or b) take a step back and see what else may be wrong with how things are being managed.

There is No "Must" With Finishing Cattle on Grain

The fact is that the ARA completely missed the point that Rich was directly talking about raising cattle on grass. Not grain. So our ARA friend just had to throw in the parroted rhetorical strawman fallacy phrase, "To produce one pound of cow flesh, you must feed ten pounds of grain." Does that not help the ARA's stance much on this subject? No, I didn't think so. Nor does it help that the ARA's continuing on with is cum hoc fallacy arguments.

So I hope you can tell that the ARA was all over the feedlot model, not the grass-finishing model, and couldn't discern the difference. Once again, if you haven't noticed already, Rich was talking about grazing cattle on grass, not feeding them grain. Talk about taking things out of context. 

You see now how this ARA is a poster-child for the Dunning-Krueger Effect?

So once again, because cattle are ruminant animals designed to live and thrive on primarily grass, there is no "must" with feeding grain to even get a steer up to slaughter weight. None whatsoever.

The only reason you "must" feed grain to cattle is because it's a much quicker way to get finisher cattle fatter in a shorter amount of time. Grain and stored feed also ensures that a feedlot operation can finish cattle and truck them out to the slaughter plant at any time of the year. It's also been the answer since the 1950s for cheaper, more marbled (fatter) beef by an increasingly urbanized consumer population.

Grass-finishing, on the other hand, is seasonal; according to folks like Joel Salatin and Nicolette Hahn Niman (author of Defending Beef), the best time to send grass-finishers to slaughter is between the first killing frost and the leaves turning colour to get the best flavour and quality beef. It also takes longer for cattle to reach the right age and weight for slaughter.

But still, there is no "must" in feeding grain to cattle. Only if you're striving for quicker, fatter, bigger, younger and don't care much for quality of the beef.

I know I'm making a bit of a straw man fallacy here, so forgive me. The ARA is close to being right that about that amount of grain needs to be fed to get a pound of beef (actually it's more closer to 6 pounds, not 10 [which is a 1950s value]), and especially that it's not as nearly as efficient as feeding grain to pigs or poultry.

But the reality is that cattle are more healthier and happier being raised on perennial forage. I'm pretty sure that a steer would sooner be out grazing a tasty perennial salad bar full of different species of plants and getting moved to a new grazing spot every one to three days, than he would standing around in a dirt lot full of dust or mud when it rains, and having the nearly same damn feed mix to eat day after day, twice a day, for four to eight months long.

I know. I've seen how steers react when they get the opportunity to eat fresh grass over the same old hay, silage and some grain. If you had them to choose between some silage that's been fermenting and put out for them at the bunks and a sward of fresh grass, they would go for the grass first and ignore the silage. That's why for most folks who do the conventional way of feeding cattle through the winter need to keep their animals in the dry lot to clean up the silage pile before they go to grass. Otherwise, if those animals went to grass first before the silage pile was cleaned up, it would be mighty hard to get them to clean it all up in time to get the pens cleaned out in the spring.

And for the farmer, it's a lot cheaper to graze than it is to feed. It doesn't take a whole lot of money to make grass grow. But money needs to change hands if a farmer needs to get or even grow some grain to feed his cows. Same with making or buying hay and silage.

If there's more than one way to raise and finish cattle on grass to get a quarter tonne of beef per animal without breaking the bank in the long term and without causing harm to the landscape by avoiding poor management practices (like "free-ranging"), then why is there a "must" with feeding grain to cattle to get the same product when it costs a lot more--both financially and ecologically--to do so? It makes no sense!

It's Near Impossible to Grow Grain in Arid Environments

I found it very ironic that the ARA literally confirmed--repeated, more like--what producer Rich said above with this statement,"People who live in arid environments and choose to raise animals are forced to either import feed or grow it themselves, with much difficulty." But wait until you see what this particular sentence lead into below! 

It's one of those, "No shit, Sherlock!" moments that still completely missed the point that Rich was directly referring to grazing cattle grass, not feeding them grain. 

Because this ARA made the cum hoc fallacy above about can't raise animals without raising crops too, he's got it in his head that cattle can't be raised in arid environments either because they need these crops to keep them alive, which is a load of bullshit. 

Yes, ARA Sherlock, it is more difficult and costly to grow or import feed to feed to cattle. BUT, because it's not impossible to raise animals without crops (grain) and you don't need any grain to get some good quality beef, why in the hell would anyone be stupid enough to do or think that they need to grow or truck in grain to feed their animals in the first place? 

Arid environments aren't devoid of grass; they haven't been in the past before a bunch of greenies decided that cows are bad for the land, and range science has adopted the reductionist management reasoning that overgrazing means too many cows on the land (which is not true at all). And the grass that historically and naturally grew there didn't need irrigation or man-made chemicals to grow and thrive there. They needed grazing ruminant animals with their hooves, their dung, and their mouths--not necessarily in that order--to eat and trample and poop on those plants to encourage more grass to grow and feed and support even more life.

So, why in the hell does that land need to be used for growing petroleum-guzzling, resource-inefficient, ecologically/environmentally-destructive crops instead? The answer is that it doesn't!

What those arid environments need is more perennial-based systems that can support more livestock, and which is also supported by livestock and the people managing them to encourage more perennial native plants. This in turn supports more plant life and more animal life. You simply cannot get that when you replace that natural system with a monoculture of corn.

THAT is what Rich was referring to as a more regenerative way of bringing the land back to life using more livestock, not less. 

There is Nothing Sustainable about Producing Grain the Conventional Way--No Matter Where it's Grown

Let me get one thing straight: Sustainability is about maintaining a closed system. Crop production is anything but a closed system.

So how is it really "more sustainable" for people to eat the grain rather than have the animals eat the grain, when the animals in question (being cows) don't particularly need the grain in the first place, and if they do, won't need much of it anyway?

And since when are most people going to be eating lots of grain? Grains need to be processed--milled--somewhat before it's actually viably suitable for human consumption. Otherwise it's just nutrition-less carbohydrates that, for most people, make them fat and unhealthy.

Otherwise, growing grains conventionally require outside inputs in terms of fertilizers, pesticides, and petroleum (fuel), and the outputs are going to be the grains with a lot of nutrients within them, as well as soil particles that get blown or washed away with the wind or rain because there is very little to no cover on the soil surface.

When grains are fed to people, there's no human manure that gets put back on the fields. No, more man-made fertilizers are made so that more grain can be grown the next year. A lot of water still needs to be used to grow these crops, and in arid environments that means having to access below-ground aquifers that could be drained down further if more grains need to be grown.

And if grains can't be grown, but other possibly more water-intensive crops can be grown, well farmers will grow them. What's grown in excess is exported to other parts of the country.

How is that sustainable again? Well, it isn't. It isn't more sustainable than raising animals on a perennial vegetative landscape that doesn't require near the amount of inputs that a lot of crops do.

And if we're going to look briefly at Regenerative Agriculture, the current industrial conventional means of producing grains and other foodstuffs today is NOT regenerative; it's Degenerative.

Yet how can someone continue to support a much more degenerative system of agriculture and claim that it's "better" than raising livestock in a regenerative agriculture that really is ever-growing?

Apparently this ARA can. Ignorance is bliss I guess, especially when you're an ARA who's only understanding of farm life comes from vegan propaganda movies and videos and misinterpreted captioned photos.

My next blog post targets this same ARA's response to my comments on cattle grazing and soil health. You won't believe until you see the kind of ludicrous "facts" he tried to "educate" me with on how annual crops were better for the soil than cows being intensively managed on pasture!! 

November 1, 2017

"Saddest Slaughterhouse Footage Ever": What's Really Going On?

Commonly I hear suppositions, inferences, surmises and assumptions that the fat Charolais steer in the above video,"...knows what's coming..."; " so terrified/afraid of what's ahead..."; "is trying to turn around to escape to get away from what he knows is going to happen to him..." and so on and so forth.

But the question I post to everybody here is what is really going on?

I wrote a post earlier this year about animal slaughter, and why it's really and actually necessary here. I made the argument that slaughtering animals, or killing animals, for food, is necessary to make more room and more vegetation available for new animals coming in. Simply because of the fact that the amount of vegetation that the world produces is finite. Not killing animals threatens the capacity of the earth to feed all those extra herbivorous animals, thereby exacerbating inhumane issues such as starvation, malnutrition, and severe environmental damage.

But when we get down to the actual animal behaviour and psychology of animals prior to slaughter, there tends to be a way to expose the crazies, the ones who don't actually understand how animals may think and act and choose instead the far easier path of anthropomorphizing rather than using a bit of extra brain power to think outside of the human-shaped box.

The Simplicity of How Bovines Think and Behave

"Cows are not human, they don't think like a human," I argue.

"But humans are animals!" The response I often get in return. "If you were put down that corridor and seen what happened to those in front, wouldn't you be scared?!"

Typical straw-man argument.

Of course I would be scared because I, as a human, have much greater capacity and intellect to think and ponder about things that all other animal species cannot even comprehend. Simple things like how a pencil works, what makes grass grow, and that Death is always a part of Life; Things must die in order for others to live.

But does a bovine, like that steer in that video above, "feel" the same thing? Can he in fact comprehend the same concepts of Life and Death?

I've worked with and interacted with cattle for all of over two decades now. They've taught me a lot, and showed me the way they think and act in response to various different stresses, or lack thereof, in their lives.

Steers gathered around me a) because they can and
b) they think I have a tasty treat for them.
They know I'm not a threat, and a giver of good things.
That's why they're gathered up like that. Photo by the author.
Each and every time I've worked with them they've never argued with me about petty and trivial matters, talked back to me, questioned me about my behaviour or habits, nor have they attempted to or forced me into negotiations in attempt to reach a democratic decision with me or any other person of where they should go, what they should do and why.

They've never forged a grudge against me, hated me, plotted to murder me in cold blood because they know they're going to be killed in the end by me or another member of my species, nor have they ganged up on me and tried to torture and humiliate me.

Instead, they've been very forgiving, incredibly responsive to my own thoughts and feelings, and aren't afraid to tell me if I'm getting too close, or if I'm not close enough. They are quick to learn to associate certain sounds and sights of objects with good (food) or bad (pain); they can tell you if they like or feel afraid of their surroundings, and whether they like or not how they're treated. And, if you're particularly attentive, they'll tell you if they're tense and stressed out, or if they're calm and relaxed.

And they simply love being with their own herd mates, even after several others successfully escape from their own big, roomy pasture to join up with the larger group, and get to fighting over the bovine pecking order for a couple of hours. They love being with their herd so much that even those cattle that haven't had much to drink or salt to lick will quickly head back out to pasture to catch up to the rest of their pals.

Cattle, like all non-human animals, also live in the now. They don't fear or ponder about the future, nor do they live in the past. They certainly do remember things in the past, and from past repetitive experiences learn to anticipate things. But that still doesn't make them worriers or nostalgic renegades of the future and the past, respectively.

See, animals anticipate things by what they've learned from past experiences. It's not so much the situation they get put in, as the smells, sounds, and sights of certain objects that sets them into nervous bundles of bovid-snorting muscle, or causes them to relax and eructate some chewing cud.

Those sorts of things certainly do not make cattle (nor horses, nor dogs, nor cats, nor sheep, nor... etc.) human.

Nor does it nearly even make them capable of actually knowing, in a particular split-second moment that they're about to die. Not even when there's the business-end of a gun pointed at their heads just above their eyes. Nor, even when they get to be the last bovine to go down that chute into the kill box of the slaughter facility.

So what's really going on with that steer? Here's a hint: It's not what you think or what you read in the description.

Actions and Behaviour Tell Everything

As you could see in the video, first there was two, and then there was one. 

Right off I noticed these two were obviously in an unfamiliar environment. The steer in the first 45 seconds was attentive, ears pricked forward, staring forward. The one behind him has his head down, more for protection and because he has a herd member with him he feels safe with. But the leader up front is one who's the least sure. 

When the hissing of the gate is heard and suddenly opens up, the first steer balks and backs up. When cattle are in an unfamiliar environment, any sudden sights or sounds startles them and causes them to go into fight or flight mode. Flight was engaged first, and flight was to back up away from this unfamiliar, seemingly threatening sound he's never seen or heard before. But the steer wasn't so scared that he tried to leap up over the race to get out. 

That's the first hint you should get that neither steer are "so terrified of what's ahead." 

When the handler comes with the cattle prod and gets behind the hip of the front steer, the first steer knows that he needs to move away from that handler. The prod is just to make sure the steer keeps moving into the kill box, and doesn't baulk suddenly. 

I got into an argument with a vegan about this particular video, and the fact that the second steer actually willingly followed the first right into the kill box. The vegan tried to deny that that even happened, even though, right at 0:50 to 1:11, that steer exactly willingly followed the first steer right into the kill box, and would have also gone in with the first steer had the door not tried to stop him. Just two seconds after the door dropped down did the last steer finally decide to back up.

Following is primal herd-follower instinct of any bovine. They know there's safety in numbers, safety in each other's company. When they get alone, they start getting a little more nervous. And it doesn't help either that they're in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar sights, smells, and sounds. 

The last in the chute, the last in the bunch to be sacrificed for the human palate, backs up half-way down the chute, pricks his ears up at the sounds ahead, and predictably startles some at the sudden bang of the cap-bolt and the legs of the first steer crumpling suddenly down in the chute. He backs up a bit more down the chute, still nervous at being alone and in unfamiliar surroundings. 

But I still am very doubtful that he's "so terrified." Or even knows what's coming. 

Now, we need to remember that there's the person just behind him filming his every move. He knows that the videographer is there, and is just as unsure about him as he is what's around him. He keeps trying to move back, but doesn't want to, turning his head so his left eye is on the person above him rolling on the camera. Notably too he doesn't back all the way up so he's squishing his ass against the back gate. I know steers that have gotten themselves so worked up about being put in a chute that put their asses so far up against the back gate that their backs hunch up. Not this guy.

Eye on the videographer behind him,
yet curious about what's up front.
Curiosity is naturally bovine-esque
Nope, he moves forward again. He seems a little curious now; he can't see what's behind that gate but he hears curious sounds that he's trying to figure out, but can't. But then his insecurity gets the better of him and he backs up again, this time trying to get his head around to try to turn around in the chute. 

I can tell he's confused. He's alone, nervous, in unfamiliar surroundings, doesn't particularly want to stay in that chute for very long--he's probably getting a little hungry and thirsty since most cattle are forced to fast for over 12 hours prior to slaughter, and trying to find a way back to bovine company again. He's definitely not thinking that he's about to die. 

He's too big and fat to turn around, despite his attempts on either side. He certainly doesn't appreciate nor trust the human above him filming his movements, because he keeps cocking an ear back and casting a look back behind him. I can tell he doesn't even care if the person is a vegan with an undercover camera; It's a human to be wary of, like all humans. 

This steer is instinctually a prey animal, after all. And like most bovines, to him, all humans are predators to keep an eye on. 

Again he moves up, sniffing the walls as he goes, judging the scent of those before him, and backs up again because the handler has come back out to herd him up the chute. 

I don't believe that second hot-shot shock was necessary. 

He walks into the box without much fuss. You see, if he really was so terrified and knew what came, he would be fighting and putting up a hell of a fuss before eventually and finally getting into the box. But he went in pretty smoothly without much fuss. 

And when he was in the box, he wasn't kicking and screaming and putting up a hell of a rodeo before the cap-bolt put him down. I've seen cattle that just went into the squeeze chute for a little pokey needle that really made a real mad racket. Not this guy in this video, not even by some of the movement of his feet. 

Then hiss-BANG it was all over. 

That steer didn't know what was coming, that he knew he was about to die, nor was he nearly as scared or terrified as many are being lead to believe. He was just nervous about being in unfamiliar surroundings, about being alone, and liked that a lot less than the unknown prospect that Death was waiting for him just around the corner.

That's what was really going on. 

October 31, 2017

The Beef vs. Vegetable Land-Use Argument: Why it's Really a Non-Issue

Almost 38% of the earth's terrestrial surface (32.1 billion acres) is agricultural land (12.1 billion acres). "Agricultural land" refers to the sum of all arable land, permanent crops and permanent meadows and pastures. This means it encompasses all land used to grow crops and land used for grazing livestock on. (Source: World Bank Data on Agricultural Land)
"At present some 11 percent (1.5 billion ha) of the globe's land surface (13.4 billion ha) is used in crop production (arable land and land under permanent crops)."
From World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030. Ch. 4: Crop Production and Natural Resource Use
"Livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources, with grazing land and cropland dedicated to the production of feed representing almost 80% of all agricultural land. Feed crops are grown in one-third of total cropland, while the total land area occupied by pasture is equivalent to 26% of the ice-free terrestrial surface."
From Livestock and Landscapes Quick Facts and FAO Animal Production.
"About 60 percent of the world's agricultural land is grazing land, supporting about 360 million cattle and over 600 million sheep and goats."
From FAO's Livestock on Grazing Lands.

"'If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million,' David Pimentel, professor of ecology in Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, reported at the July 24-26 meeting of the Canadian Society of Animal Science in Montreal. Or, if those grains were exported, it would boost the U.S. trade balance by $80 billion a year, Pimentel estimated."
From: U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat, Cornell ecologist advises animal scientists--Cornell Chronicle

After reading all that, you may be wondering what the purpose of all that kind of research was.

The answer is quite simple. Statistics can be interpreted in multiple ways, to shock people, or to inform. Rather, I was giving you a taste as to why these land-use arguments even exist. 

These kind of stats are commonly used in land-use debates all over the Internet to create shock-and-awe or to drive home the sentiment that somehow livestock are bad and they take up way too much land, way too much space, are too inefficient to feed in the current commercial agricultural system where many are confined, etc. 

Here's the caveat: These sentiments aren't something to be disagreed with; they do have a certain element of truth. 

David Pimentel touched on that in the quote above. That's why, in my prequel post, The Beef vs. Vegetable Land-Use Argument: Breaking Down the Numbers, I specifically made the point that I am not denying nor ignoring the fact that you most definitely can and will produce a lot more "plant-based food" (i.e., vegetables, starches, fruits, and grains) on an acre of land than you can meat (be it from cattle, pigs, poultry, sheep, or goats).

What Pimentel is targeting is the problem around the industrialized, centralized, standardized, globalized, consumer-driven food system that is still called "agriculture." It's the system where most crops are grown as monocultures, and most animals are raised in intensive confinement operations--and I'm talking predominantly poultry, pigs, and dairy cattle. It's the system that is environmentally, socially, economically, and even culturally a major problem. 

Now, I didn't create this post to rant and rave about commercial agriculture. But, it does play a very big role here. 

What I'm most concerned about and really want to address is the overly simplistic view of comparing one (plant-based foods) versus another (animal products), as far as the very sentiments expressed above:
  • Efficiency of Resource Use
  • Space Requirements
  • Question of Quantity
I may be out to lunch with this thought, but my thoughts are that these memes follow precisely in the footsteps of what is industrial agriculture, with CAFOs, and with monoculture crop production. And that is, perhaps, the biggest flaw of all.

You see, while I will continually acknowledge the fact that it certainly does take less space and less resources to grow more plant-based foods on one or 1.5 acres, it consistently ignores the various hidden costs associated with just looking for better efficiency, higher quantity, and saving space.

And it's those particular costs that are associated with our current food production model which are posing an enormous, global issue today. I believe that we can address those costs by simply regarding this land-use argument as a non-issue.

Before we do that though, let's take a nice in-a-nutshell look at our current food production practices.

Cropping Agriculture

The vast majority of crops are cultivated and grown as monocultures, requiring artificial, chemical inputs to be grown. Fuel and machinery are needed from preparing the ground for seeding to harvest, and further equipment (and more fuel) for distribution upon sale. Irrigation is necessary in areas where rainfall is not enough to meet cropping water demands (and for other reasons I'll mention below). The primary focus on producing crops is quantity produced (yield). The higher the yields, the more income the farmer is expected to get. Compared with animal agriculture, cropping agriculture seems to be more the more lucrative venture.

Animal Agriculture

Like with cropping agriculture, commercial raising of livestock is also primarily done on a monoculture basis, in a matter of speaking. Most animals raised in intensive confinement are pigs, poultry, and dairy cattle. Intensive confinement typically is within a building that is climate-controlled (occasionally open-air ones, like with a lot of dairy facilities) which follows a system of harvested feed hauled in, manure hauled out. Feed grown and harvested for these animals is predominantly through the means already described above, with some exceptions depending on the farming operation, such as herbicide use, and use monoculture crops (most hay produced for dairy cattle is either primarily alfalfa, or a mix of alfalfa, timothy grass, and orchard grass). Beef cattle are the luckiest out of the four groups--three species--because they get to spend most of their lives on pasture, with most only seeing intensive confinement--outdoors dirt lots primarily--during the last four months of their lives. Animals that are harvested for their meat are not killed on-farm, but rather shipped anywhere from one to several hours away from where they were last held and fed. The slaughter plants follow a factory-style production system, which often are not so accommodating for different-sized animals.

Land-Use Arguments are the Bases for Environmental Concerns: But Soil is of Utmost Importance

With both types of agricultural systems, there are inherent and serious environmental issues at play. And it's these particular issues that neither have a monetary value attached to them, nor an economic price tag, and certainly not the kind of public relations nor attention that they deserve to have.

I often notice the kind of environmental issues that exist today, from desertification to soil erosion to ocean dead zones, get the wrong kind of PR from those who want to point fingers at anyone besides themselves and continually fail to see the whole picture of what's actually going on.

That has to stop.

And the only way to stop it is to continually educate, educate, educate.

So, the costs associated with the current food model are those costs that largely get ignored by the big-time agricultural establishments, as well as the extremist groups that consider the use of animals for food, among other things, an abomination. (Precisely the memes I used in my previous post are most certainly vegan memes. I do feel that these extremist groups largely depend on the industrial agricultural concept to push their ideologies forward; why else do you think those two memes from Cowspiracy and VeganStreet even exist, let alone can actually come to pass?) It may be argued that they do not, but I challenge that assertion.

I challenge it based on one particular resource that is largely ignored, misunderstood, neglected, abused, and treated like dirt. Literally.

And that resource is about the soil.

Therefore, my top reason as to why this meat vs. plant-foods land-use argument is a trivial waste of time is because of the soil. It's not something more... sexier, I guess, like the whole romantic and nostalgic aspect of raising livestock on the land. No, it's far deeper than that.

Dear God I can go nuts with all those soil puns...

Jesting aside, I am dead serious about this. The context of soil is very important if we are to understand how these meat vs. vegetable land-use arguments are unimportant compared with finding ways to improve and regenerate a seriously degraded resource. Once more and more people wake up to that thought, these environmental issues so often talked and debated about actually begin to fix themselves, with the help of us humans as a society, a multitude of cultures, and as a people.

Because, really, the entire basis of such arguments is about concerns for the environment. As I mentioned before, though, they're the misdirected kind of concerns that really do ignore the context of...

The Soil. 

This is were things get messy (pun not intended...). You see, soil itself is a resource that forms the basis for the support all plant life, and therefore of animals too. Because of that, this starts gathering a whole range of discussion spin-offs, from why there is such a range of different "plant communities" no matter where you go, to how land can be healed from conventional cropping production practices.

The Soil as a Resource for Growing Things

Here's your crash course on dirt *ahem* soil.

It's made up of geological material--stuff from ground-up rocks and minerals--called "parent material." It also has an organic component that is made of dead, decomposed or decomposing organisms. That organic component also has living organisms made up of detritivores, plant roots, and a microbial component comprised of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and archaea.

The most important resource for plants is in the top three inches. That's where most of the activity happens, and where most of the nutrients and moisture are acquired by the plants themselves. Even though many areas can develop a soil organic matter layer--let's call it SOM from now on--that goes much deeper than six inches, the other soil layers below that are called subsoil layers.

Soil scientists have particular labels of identifying those layers based on various parameters including depth, structure, geological history, etc., in order to essentially classify a type of soil. Use of that classification is sure-fire means of identifying what plants can grow where, just as the plant species that will actively grow in an area are indicators of what type of soil exists beneath.

What every gardener and farmer--and rancher--needs to be the most interested in is what kind of soil is making up the top six to eight inches. This is because that's where most of the root biomass is going to be. Three main things of concern are: How much organic matter is there, what kind of texture is the soil, what kind of structure is the soil, and what nutrients are available for plants.

Lately, more farmers--and gardeners--are looking at soil at a different way. More are looking at soil not as a growing medium that holds a certain nutrient cocktail for plants, but rather as a biological, living entity.

If you were to do a soil test on your property, typically you'd send it into a lab that does a nutrient analysis--Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, and Sulphur. It's optional for the lab to do a texture analysis. And, for extra payment they'll also look at pH (acidity/alkalinity), EC (salinity measurements based on "electric conductivity"), and "micronutrients"--Calcium, Magnesium, Boron, Iron, Selenium, etc. While I'm no expert on how these kind of tests are actually done in the lab, basically it's around the fact of treating soil as a growth medium, NOT as a living ecosystem.

And the funny thing is, the way I've heard it, is that you can send the exact same soil sample from the same hole you dug from the same property with the same soil and soil type to several different labs and--get this--get different results from each lab.

I personally will need to try that some time, just see what I get. It would be interesting.

Now, if you were NOT to send a soil sample to a lab that does the nutrient analysis, but instead a lab that does a soil health assessment, you'd get some really interesting results.

A soil health assessment looks at the soil not for its nutrients so much as for the structure and biology that exists in the soil itself. (I'm not saying it abandons the whole nutrient analysis whatsoever, but rather looks at it in an entirely different way.) The Haney test looks at soil by how much organic matter is there, what level of compaction or hardness is there, aggregate stability, water retention capacity, respiration (soil microbial abundance and activity), and others.

On-site soil health assessments can be easily done: All you need is a shovel. Digging up a clod of soil can reveal a whole lot, from compaction layers to where the roots are, to even evidence of mycorrhizal fungi and earthworm activity.

What I'm getting at is that soil should be looked at more from the aspect of biology, not just chemistry or just physically. The biological component is often ignored to satisfy the question of the other two aspects of the soil.

Some Key Things on Soil Biology

Soil organic matter is made up of dead, decaying or decayed things, yes--I already mentioned that. But actually, it's the plant roots that contribute up to 60 to 80 percent of the soil's organic matter, not the litter material; not even the dead and decaying or decayed plant and animal remains.

In the top three inches if soil, there is more soil organisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there is people on Earth. These soil organisms are largely bacteria, fungi, archaea, and protozoa. And plants need these organisms to make soil nutrients more readily available for absorption through the roots.

How do they do it? It's a little more complicated than this, but basically through bribery, seduction, selectivity, and bartering. Plants take the carbon they get through photosynthesis from the air, push it down into the roots, and release it to the microbes through root exudates, essentially feeding the microbes, and exchanging that carbon for nutrients only the soil microbes could extract with their enzymatic activities. Plants can use these microbes to communicate with other plants, protect themselves against pathogens, find more nutrients, and survive--or ensure the survival of their offspring--the unpredictable changes of their environment.

Mycorrhizal fungi are a part of those soil microbes that benefit plants. The Latin term literally means "fungi + roots", and, literally, refers to the mutual coexistence between fungi and plants. The benefits plants get from this partnership is an extension of their root system beyond what the plant can grow itself. Fungi have these very, very fine, hair-like projections called "hyphae" that expand through the tiniest spaces between soil particles to access water and nutrients.

The advantage of mycorrhizal fungi for the soil itself is its ability to form soil aggregates. It does this, rather indirectly, through glomalin, a glycoprotein produced by the mycorrhizal fungi as a means to coat the hyphae to keep water and nutrients from getting lost to and from the plant.

You see, the purpose of glomalin is more to ensure the exchange of nutrients and cations goes smoothly rather than to act as a glue to knit soil particles together. But in order for this exchange to occur, glomalin is needed so that these "pellets" remain a good source of nutrients that resist erosion, break-down by water and other microbes, as well as high temperatures (up to 121ºC or 250ºF). This is what creates aggregates that increase porosity, water retention and infiltration, and hold soil particles together during a heavy rain event.

Essentially, hyphae is the frame upon which soil particles collect, while the glomalin glues them together and protects them.

More can be read here: What is Glomalin? Does it Hold your Farm Together?

It's that partnership between plants and these microbes that enable plants to grow even in the most questionable places. Like a tree in a rock. Someone who doesn't consider the power of biology would still be scratching their head at how a plant can do such a thing!

And it's that kind of thinking--that paradigm, or preconceived notion--that persists in that plants require soil as a growth medium in order to grow, and nothing else. The concept of organic elements, of living organisms and soil biology does not exist in such a frame of thought.

But where did this come from?

The Advent of Soil Chemistry and Modern Agriculture

A lot of events and famous people had lead to where modern commercial agriculture has come about today. From Charles Darwin's discovery if the concept of evolution, to Henry Ford's creation of the automobile and the adaptation of mass production and the assembly line, to the first steel plow created by John Deere, and finally to German chemist Justus von Liebig.

Now, it wasn't Liebig who was the one who discovered plants pulled nutrients from the air. That all started with Jan Baptiste von Helmont in1634 during house-arrest as commanded by the Church. During his forced stay he was trying to figure out just how plants grew. He didn't quite put two and two together (one where plants grew by taking on water, and the other that burning the plant material produced more gas and ash than expected) like Swiss chemist Nicolas-Theodore de Saussure put it all together and, in 1804, discovered the process of photosynthesis: Plants did not pull carbon from humus, but rather from the air! 

But the quandary about where plants get other nutrients from was still puzzling scientists after this discovery. After all, the old understanding that manure helped plants grow still remained, and seemed to have countered de Suassure's discovery. And that despite scientific attempts to prove that this material--and other rotting organic matter--couldn't possibly be absorbed by plants because it wasn't water soluble.

But then, Justus von Liebig in 1840 picked up the thread and lead the way to discrediting the humus theory of plant nutrition. He wrote an influential treatise on agricultural chemistry where he reasoned that carbon in soil organic matter did not fuel plant growth because, as de Saussure had shown, plants obtained the carbon they needed from the atmosphere. And, the nutrients in plants--nitrogen and phosphorus--somehow were already there by demonstrating the mineral content of the ashes after incinerating the plants. He reasoned that the matter left over in the ash was what nourished plants, and therefore, soil chemistry held the key to soil fertility. 

So sprang the "Law of the Minimum" that is still used today: The nutrient in shortest supply relative to the plant's needs limits plant growth. 

Liebig and his followers took no time to identify five key elements essential for plant growth: Water (H2O), Carbon dioxide (CO2), Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K), the latter two which are rock-derived elements. They then jumped to the conclusion that organic matter played no important role to creating and maintaining soil fertility. 

So began the mining efforts to develop a supply of N, P, and K, starting with the Peruvian guano islands nearly mined into oblivion for nitrogen-rich fossilized bird droppings, the search for more rock phosphate, and then going into the First World War with he Haber-Bosch process of obtaining ammonium nitrate; initially used in bombs, later found to be useful for incredible boosts in yields of crops, despite the required substantial energy inputs. 

Today, ammonium nitrate is illegal to obtain and use because of the usefulness of it in making home-made explosives.

Through World War II, governments compelled farmers to increase their use of chemicals to apply to crops, and in doing so, paid a portion of their costs in subsidies; also subsidizing the development of the fertilizer industry. And the subsidies weren't about making bigger, better harvests: factories that made fertilizers could easily be converted to munitions manufacturing and vice versa. 

Of course the start for such conversions came about at the end of the First World War at the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, where the Allies stipulated that the Germans, as part of the agreement, to share the then-secret of nitrogen fixation (which was discovered initially by German chemists Hermann Hellriegel and Hermann Wilfarth when studying the nodules of peas), and therefore the Haber-Bosch process. 

The consequences were felt across the Atlantic when the Tennessee River was dammed to generate cheap electricity so that fertilizer plants could be converted to munitions plants on short notice--that easily done so when the war started, and back again to fertilizer factories after the fall of Berlin in 1945. Such factories preserved the option of quick conversion of production should another war start up again. But really, the war never really ended; instead of war against nations, it turned into a war on the soil, which is still all too common in commercial agricultural practices today.

Environmental Costs Associated with Modern Agriculture

"Our soils are naked, hungry, thirsty, and running a fever."
                              -- Ray Archuleta, Soil Health Specialist and Conservation Advocate

Combining the use of fertilizers with tillage, as well as other inputs needed to grow a high-yielding crop has revealed a whole web of environmental concerns that have largely been ignored or ridiculed for the last 70 years, and only recently have more and more people began to wake up to. Myself included.

Since the end of the war and Liebig's treatise on the theory of the Law of the Minimum, the soil has been literally treated like dirt; like nothing more than a growing medium. The physical and chemical make up of the soil has garnered far more attention than the biological component which, in Nature, is equally the largest component that enables plants to grow and thrive without human inputs.

Because of that, many ecological issues have raised their ugly heads, despite the conservation and nutrient management plans and efforts to provide bandaid solutions to cover up the elephant in the room:

Erosion via wind and water. Poor water infiltration and holding capacity, creating runoff and flooding problems, and perpetual droughts. Compaction. Salinization. Infertility. Weed issues. Disease issues. 

Desertification. Deserts are getting bigger and bigger, and spreading out more. Why do you think that is? It's not only because of overgrazing by livestock, that's for sure.

So how do we fix it? And do we actually know what the problem is? Because, you know, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

Well, our soils are damn broke alright. And they need fixin'. NOW.

Tillage (particularly excessive, "recreational" tillage) is the biggest culprit out there. It is a major disturbance that brings soil to the surface where it becomes oxygenated and wakes up these organic-matter eating, biotic-glue-digesting bacteria called "R-strategists" or copiotrophic bacteria. Their job seems like a bad thing until you realize that these organisms set the stage for what's called "primary succession."

What they do, while they break down organic matter, litter, glomalin, and other material, giving off carbon dioxide as they go along, is to create an environment suitable for what most consider "weeds" to help heal this damaged ground. When they die, they release nitrates (consider bacteria only have a 20 minute lifespan), which is an easily-absorbed nutrient source for weed plants to take up as they germinate and grow.

Most farmers are surprised to hear that all of their land has a weed seed bank in the ground. It's common thought that if you spray with something like glyphosate (RoundUp®), or other herbicides, the weeds will go away and not come back. Of course that isn't true, not especially when tillage continues to turn up new seeds to the surface, creating perfect conditions for those seeds that can sit dormant for decades at a time to germinate.

So tillage exacerbates the destruction of the biotic glues (glomalin) that holds soil particles together. What that means is destroyed aggregate structure and stability, which becomes much more sensitive to severe rain events and wind storms; both end up washing soil particles and nutrients away, never to return.

The rainfall simulator. The front jars is water that ran off. The back jars are what
has been infiltrated. Note the extra soil/water that ran off beyond the
run-off catchment jar on the far left.
It also destroys the ability of the soil to infiltrate and hold water. Water has a much more difficult time filtering through soil that doesn't have the large pore spaces in between either aggregates or particles. Water will filter through more quickly in sand versus clay, but it will also filter more quickly through soil with vertical ped (short for "pedestal-like") structure, compared with that with compacted layers, or a with a hard blocky structure. Instead, it ends up sitting on the surface for a long period of time, or, if gravity permits, runs off into streams or to the lowest part of the field, creating a large puddle or pond.

Growing up on the farm I've always heard my folks say that the reason for the huge puddle at the bottom part of the field was because, "the soil got so saturated from all that rain." I know now that that's not true; it's because the soil has poor water infiltration due to the damage caused by excessive disturbance of the soil.

And where does all that water go? Well, most of it eventually gets evaporated. For a lot of cropping areas, the minerals (largely salts) left behind after the water evaporates makes it unsuitable for crop production. ( Especially with monoculture crops, a lot of these areas remain bare, or get covered by weeds that the farmer *tries* to get rid of with spraying and yet more tillage.

It's no wonder farmers are feeling the hit so bad now with more severe droughts and flooding than "what's been seen in decades."

And what about compaction? Compaction comes about with tillage, that breaks up the natural structure of a soil that is created and maintained with the mutual partnership between mycorrhizal fungi and a perennial plant cover, as well as raindrop impact: A heavy rainstorm on disturbed ground helps "mold" the soil particles tighter together, creating a crust at the soil surface that can become impenetrable. Wheel traffic also creates compaction problems, as does a lack of diversity in crop rotation. You can read more about compaction here: Soil Compaction: Causes, Effects, and Control - U of MN Extension.

Finally, soil heating via solar energy is disastrous for soil microbes. Exposed soil tends to absorb heat, whereas plants dissipate heat. Bare soil can generate at least a 10-degree increase above air ambient temperature, making it feel hotter than it actually is. Soil microbes can only stand soil temperatures that get to 100ºF; above that, they start to decline in activity. At higher temperatures they'll either go dormant, or eventually die if they are continually denied nutrients they need to survive.

The truth is, the vast majority of farms today are not adapted to climate change. They are run by what Ray Archuleta calls "ancient sunlight," and have become very fragile, non-resilient systems.

A lot of pastures are also not adapted to climate change.

The reason for this is also largely due to management--mismanagement, rather.

The mismanagement is in the lack of actually managing the land itself. By that I mean farmers and ranchers just throwing out their animals to a large area for them to graze all season long.

The reasoning behind this form of grazing--which is called "continuous grazing"--is that animals are free to choose whatever, whenever, and wherever they graze with no restrictions. They can choose what is most palatable and nutritious to them, and ignore what isn't. Some would consider this "free ranging." Basically it's a "management practice" that suits individual animals, but certainly not the land--both the soil and the plants.

It's truly the most lazy way of grazing animals, as far as I'm concerned. You don't need much for fencing, and you don't need to be out every day moving animals. In the short-term it seems like it's not all bad, but over the long term that pasture becomes less and less healthy, with plenty of patches of overgrazed and undergrazed growth, more weeds, more compacted soil, less diversity, and reduced soil fertility. Costly fixes--I call them "band-aid solutions"--include pelleted fertilizer, or breaking up the pasture entirely, cropping it for a year before reseeding it back to forages again.

Rangeland areas that can't be broken up just become more weedy or, especially if the mentality that there's "too many animals on the land," more woody plants begin to come in and take over what was once predominantly true grassland. And, what grasses that die in order to regrow in the spring accumulate dead material.

In arid regions especially, if that arid material is not stomped into the ground by hooves or eaten because there are not enough animals on the land (or, as in the "protected" areas, none at all), it oxidizes and reduces a grass plant's efficacy and vigour in regrowth. Eventually the plant just dies because it gets snuffed out by the accumulation of its own dead material. The more dead plants there are, the further that area goes into desertification. Alan Savory has noted that desertification is not just about overgrazing, but rather due to severe undergrazing and under-utilization of a dying natural forage resource.

And if that's not bad enough, continuous grazing animals allows for excessive manure disposal around their loitering and watering areas. Uncontrolled animal movement can be severely detrimental to riparian zones of any natural or man-made water source, reducing water quality and impacting the wildlife that depend on these areas for their own needs.

But fortunately, there is hope. And it all begins by realizing that we can fix the soil by diversity and incorporating animals into the farming operation. This is where these land-use arguments become non-issue.

Regeneration and Healing is Possible--Regenerative Agriculture is Humans Working With Nature

Things will get worse before they get better. But as I said and also believe, there is hope. 

Hope is in the realization that the soil is a living, biological entity, a "sub-aquatic" ecosystem full of billions of organisms that work together.

Hope, especially is the changing of millions--perhaps billions--of minds to understand soil function, and of looking at the system and systems within a larger system holistically. 

Finally, hope is the fact that the Earth is a biological system in and of itself that is capable of healing and regeneration, even after the damage that has been caused by human activity and ignorance.

The thing is, I can't even begin to describe the thousands of different methods that any farmer anywhere in the world can apply to their own farm or ranch to help enhance this regeneration process. But the principles that apply to all remain the same. They are:

  1. Understand your social and ecological context
  2. Cover the soil at all times (with dead and living plant material)
  3. Grow a [diverse] living root 24/7
  4. Synergize with diversity: Crop rotations & Cover crops
  5. Integrate diversity of animals
  6. Reduce chemical, biological, and physical stress
Now, I cannot go into details on every single point, but because I'm reminded again of what this post is actually about, the aspect of integrating the diversity of animals is very pertinent here.

This land-use argument incites fear about "too many animals" and "too much land/crops used" for these animals. I'm saying that's nothing to be afraid of. 

When you're integrating livestock into the farming operation, you are doing so by changing the way you manage them. Manage them by mimicking the movements of the great bison herds in response to predation: Mob-graze them. Utilize short-duration grazing where animals are grazing a small area for much shorter time than it gets rested. The temporary electric fence and you are their "predator." 

Grazing them this way ensures that they get what they need but don't overgraze the area--as determined by the manager of course. Grazing this way also incorporates the control of where they get their water from, and more and more producers are realizing the benefits of providing a water source that brings water from undisturbed dugouts, creeks or springs, or from the well, rather than just having the animals drink from the dugouts or creeks themselves. 

Incorporating livestock into the cropping as a crop rotation, gives the land a rest from being used for growing crops, and has an annual cover crop mix or pasture mix used for various livestock species to consume. It also takes them off the pasture if an area of the pasture is being preserved for grazing in the fall, or if pasture resources are running low. (Annual pasture mixes are also great for grazing animals in the winter.) Doing this allows more nutrients to return to the land in the form of dung and urine, the kind of nutrients that diverse crop mixes alone couldn't generate in the amount of time that it takes to mob graze livestock over that parcel of land. 

All of this diversity and incorporation will, without a doubt, help heal the soil and build organic matter and top soil much faster than once thought. More and more farmers are practicing these regenerative agricultural practices and finding these out; these aren't just theoretical practices thought up by some wacko scientist. That's what makes this regenerative agricultural movement so great. 

And regardless, animals do have their benefits above cropping practices. They can be grazed in areas unsuitable for crop production, and consume by-products and wasted food not consumed by humans. Actually, pigs and poultry are much more efficient and better animals for this than even cattle or sheep. Cattle and sheep are great for utilizing crop residues and pastured areas filled with good grass to graze. 

So you see how this land-use argument is a non-issue, and how the FAO stats are nothing to be alarmed about? 

Really, we need more livestock animals on the land, not less. And I would love to see 100% of agricultural land used for raising livestock as well as food for people. Not either or. 

I leave you with this 23 minute video of one farmer who practices what he preaches about grazing and cover crops.