A Third Alternative: Pastured Proteins
"We have neglected the truth that a good farmer is a craftsman of the highest order, a kind of artist."
- Wendell Berry
Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I waded into the ‘protein debate’ on this blog. I find it counterproductive when individuals put down other methods of farming or food production, or try to pit one stream of farming against another. So instead, I will discuss what makes the pastured protein we produce unique. I think Green Beach pasture-raised beef pork, chicken & eggs offers a unique win-win-win situation in terms of farmer profitability, animal health & welfare as well as human & environmental health. There is a lot of discussion about whether we need to reduce our meat consumption due to the ‘significant environmental footprint’ of animal proteins. I put that in quotes because the environmental footprint of the beef on your plate is entirely dependent on how that animal is raised – it’s not the cow, it’s the how. So, how about considering which meat, rather than meat or no meat?
At the Green Beach we feel strongly that animals belong out on the land, expressing their natural behaviours while functioning as an active part of the agroecosystem. Although not all of our animals are suited for a typical Western Manitoba winter, we strive to keep all of our livestock on the land for as long as possible. As we have continued with our journey into regenerative agriculture, it has become increasingly apparent that producing protein on pasture has a number of benefits. Read on to learn about some of these benefits!
Pastured Protein: A Farmer’s Dream!
Let’s start with benefits to the farmer or farm business. Once the system is established, animals on pasture will translate into more money in a farmers pocket. This comes from a couple of different avenues. First, access to fresh pasture every one to three days will reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental feed depending on time of year and species of animal. For a large part of the year, our cattle eat only what can be found in their paddock, with no extra feed supplied. Our pastured hens, broiler chickens and pigs still require feed supplementation on pasture due to the type of digestive system they have, but they have a reduced feed intake as they are able to scratch or root around in their environment for other foodstuffs. In all cases, Green Beach Farm & Food spends less money on animal feed. To offset the cost of supplementation for the pigs and chickens, these animals act as living, mobile fertilizer carts as we move them across the pasture. This is also somewhat true of the cattle, although their ‘fertilizer effect’ comes from nutrient upcycling (rather than addition of nutrients) and biological stimulation. As you have probably gathered, another benefit of pasturing livestock for as long as possible is that the cost associated with needing to dispose of manure is greatly reduced or eliminated. Instead, manure is distributed evenly and safely straight from the animal to the land where it will fertilize plants and stimulate soil biology.
How about benefits to the animals? Well at the Green Beach we like our animals. Some of us also like to procrastinate from time to time... The most effective procrastination tool seems to be sitting and observing our animals. Observing our livestock gives us the chance to monitor health, feed intake, feed preferences and many other things that help us to optimize our management of these animals. One thing we have definitely observed with animals on pasture is they are happier and healthier. Lots of people, particularly in the farming community, balk at claims of ‘antibiotic free’ in livestock production, claiming it just isn’t possible or is ‘inhumane’. From our experience in the last 15 plus years, animals on pasture that are moved frequently to new paddocks just do not get sick. We very rarely have health issues with any of our pastured livestock, so as a result ‘antibiotic free’ or ‘raised without antibiotics’ isn’t a claim or a marketing ploy, it is reality.
Pastured Protein for Better Health: Ours & Mother Nature’s!
Ok, that’s enough about farm benefits of pastured proteins – what about consumer benefits? There is a growing body of research and data suggesting that meat produced on pasture has certain human health benefits that meat produced in a more ‘conventional’ way just doesn’t offer. From his research, Dr. Stephen Van Vliet of Duke University, for example, believes that pastured protein sources reared on a diverse polyculture of plants produce meat with elevated phytochemical levels. According to Harvard Health Publishing, phytochemicals are chemicals produced naturally by plants, many of which are believed to have human health benefits. Carotenoids, for example, have in some cases been found to inhibit cancer growth and cardiovascular disease. Terpenes help us to fight off viruses. Both of these phytochemicals were part of a long list that Dr. Van Vliet found to be present in grass-finished beef. Some of you may be asking: why not just get the phytochemicals straight from the plant? Great idea! Fresh carrots out of the garden definitely offer a healthy dose of carotenoids. However, a significant finding in Dr. Van Vliet’s work is that the cattle that produced the grass-finished beef were bio-concentrating, or magnifying, the phytochemicals in their tissues, offering a bigger punch of phytochemicals with each bite. So when searching for your dietary source of phytochemicals, don’t forget to include some grass-finished beef or pastured pork from the Green Beach!
Finally we have come to the benefit that I enjoy talking about the most: benefits of pastured proteins on ecosystem health. Let’s start broad with this one. First, every ecosystem on this planet evolved with a number of animal species playing key roles in the ecosystem function. Here on the prairies, bison, elk, deer, predators and a number of bird species roamed and grazed. The Prairie needed these animals as much as these animals needed the prairie. At the Green Beach, we have cattle, pigs, chickens and wildlife moving across our landscape. Just like the animals would have done historically, our animals are stimulating soil life and plant growth by chewing, stomping, rooting, scratching and depositing manure. We are careful to leave good ground cover after grazing and allow for adequate rest periods for the forage to recover. We act as the predators would have on the Prairie pre-farming – we keep the animals moving. We have observed increasing plant diversity and biomass production over the last five years as we improve our land management. From a nutrient management perspective, our animals are rotated across the landscape, spreading their manure evenly, and preventing pollution of ground or surface water.
There is a lot of money being invested in lab meats and plant-based fake meats, with founders of these companies claiming these meat substitutes have a much smaller environmental foot print. This may be partly true in comparison to feedlot finished beef, but let’s consider that statement again – a much smaller environmental footprint. That means these companies are admitting that these faux meats are still having a negative environmental impact. That isn’t good enough for me. Regeneratively-raised, grass finished beef, pork, chicken & eggs have a POSITIVE environmental impact by mimicking nature. And it appears they may be healthier sources of protein to boot. It takes all kinds of farms and food producers to keep this world running, but if you ask me, protein produced on pasture is a unique product that stands to benefit farmers, consumers & the environment. Feel free to check out some of the links below if this blog has piqued your interest! I have also included an infographic from White Oak Pastures in Georgia outlining how Regenerative Agriculture sequesters carbon.
Video: MeatRx with Stephen Van Vliet https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFRNj5KwBxA
Yale publication on profitability: https://www.conservationfinancenetwork.org/2020/04/15/farmers-on-the-frontlines-of-the-regenerative-agriculture-transition
Charles Massy Documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6m-XlPnqxI