As more consumers learn about the environmental impact of the food we eat, interest in sustainable beef is on the rise.
But what exactly does beef farming sustainability mean?
And what should a responsible meat eater look for once they’ve decided to be more mindful of their carbon footprint by buying sustainably raised beef?
If you’re curious about the sustainability of grass-fed beef, we’ve got everything you need to know. Below, we’ll cover:
- A clear definition for sustainable beef
- 9 sustainable beef farming practices
- The environmental benefits of grass-fed beef farming
- Benefits of buying sustainable beef online
What is sustainable beef?
Sustainable beef is a catch-all term for describing beef produced through farming practices that prioritize environmental sustainability, animal welfare, and ethical management practices.
There’s undeniable global demand for beef and beef products. The sustainable beef movement is responding to this consumer demand through a set of thoughtful practices that minimize the ecological footprint of beef farming.
The primary areas of emphasis for sustainable cattle production are:
- Long-term viability
- Responsible land management
- Resource efficiency
- Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
9 sustainable beef farming practices
The most common sustainable beef farming practices are:
1. Rotational grazing
Farms that practice rotational grazing routinely move livestock to different pasture areas instead of leaving animals to graze the same patch of land over and over.
This allows the land to rest and regenerate in between animal feeding cycles, prevents overgrazing and soil degradation, and encourages healthier land with increased soil fertility.
Rotational grazing is also the central agricultural practice in regenerative farming. Learn about our co-op of regenerative farms across rural America.
2. Grass-fed and grass-finished
Grain feeding and grain finishing is a cheap way of fattening cattle before sale/harvest but contradicts their natural diet and therefore causes a host of serious health issues.
This is why grass feeding and grass finishing is considered to be the vastly superior way to raise cattle. Grass and natural forage is their instinctive diet, and therefore gives cattle an improved quality of life and results in more nutritious meat.
In addition, because grass-finished and grass-fed cattle don’t rely as heavily on grain production, sustainable beef farming also contributes to lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
Learn more about why it’s essential to purchase beef that is both grass-fed AND grass-finished.
3. Pasture management
Land is a resource that can degrade if not responsibly cared for.
Efficient pasture management techniques like regular monitoring, reseeding, and protection of water sources, ensures that a pasture remains strong and ecologically diverse.
4. Reduced antibiotic and hormone use
When cattle are fed grain, they experience digestive problems that can often only be resolved through the prolonged use of antibiotics.
Sustainable beef farmers minimize (most often, eliminate) the use of antibiotics and hormones. This creates a more comfortable environment for cattle and also reduces any potential harm that could come from humans consuming meat that was treated with synthetic hormones or aggressive antibiotics.
5. Conservation of natural resources
Mindful resource consumption is a core tenet of sustainable beef farming.
Natural resources like water and energy are carefully maintained through the use of water-efficient irrigation systems and the integration of renewable energy sources.
6. Waste management and recycling
Sustainable farmers take responsibility for the entire process required to raise cattle, which must include a consideration of efficient waste management practices that minimize environmental impact.
Organic matter, like manure, can easily become a natural fertilizer, which then reduces the need for chemical fertilizers that often strip the land of important flora and fauna.
7. Biodiversity preservation
Sustainable beef farmers know that the cattle aren’t their only job – so is the land. And more specifically, the long-term health of the land. This means biodiversity preservation and land vitality protections are top priorities.
By planting native vegetation, maintaining wildlife corridors, and supporting habitat development for diverse species, sustainable farmers recognize their responsibility to work with the land and its needs.
8. Animal welfare
Ethical treatment of animals is a fundamental aspect of sustainable beef farming. Providing living conditions that expose cattle to as little stress as possible, including avoiding overcrowding, enhances animal welfare.
This is one of the main reasons why conventional feedlots or factory farms (where most grocery store meat comes from) are harshly criticized by animal welfare advocates. Feedlots are designed to squeeze as much cattle as possible into close quarters, in order to maximize profits from their beef supply chain.
Also known as CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), feedlots can be very profitable, but rarely offer humane animal treatment.
Learn more about the differences between sustainable beef vs conventional beef that comes from feedlots.
9. Carbon sequestration
Some sustainable beef farming operations place a strong emphasis on carbon sequestration by cultivating agroforestry programs.
However, it is widely believed that any farmer practicing rotational grazing, no-till methods, and other regenerative agriculture techniques, is helping to sequester carbon dioxide in the soil.
Learn more about regeneratively-raised beef.
Environmental benefits of grass-fed beef farming
We’ve mentioned several of the benefits of sustainable grass-fed meat above. As you can see, it’s a long list! Here’s a summary of the key factors:
Reduced methane emissions, and other greenhouse gases
Improved animal welfare
Soil biodiversity and improved land water quality
Efficient recycling of organic waste
Reduced reliance on grain and its associated fossil fuel dependencies
Land and waterway conservation
Preservation of natural animal habitats
Reduced or eliminated use of synthetic hormones, antibiotics, and chemical fertilizers and pesticides
Benefits of buying sustainable beef online
For most people, the primary benefit of buying sustainable beef online is that going online is the best place to locate it.
Conventional grocery stores still mostly carry beef sourced from feedlots and offer a limited variety of grass-fed and grass-finished cuts, if they offer any at all.
By locating a reputable online source of sustainable beef, consumers get:
- Peace of mind, knowing you’re serving your family environmentally-friendly and humanely-sourced meat
- Nutritional advantages from eating sustainably-raised meat
- And of course, there’s the convenience of having your monthly supply of meat shipped straight to your doorstep.
Here at Grass Roots, we flash freeze our meat immediately after harvesting to preserve quality and freshness. Learn more about our year-round shipping.
This cozy and comforting Paleo chili recipe is filled with ground meat and a ton of veggies to keep you full and satisfied. It’s a Whole30-friendly chili and AIP-compliant, too, with no tomatoes and no beans.
For ground meats: I recommend bison, pork, or beef or a mix! (I used bison and pork).