The term refers to raising cows — beef or dairy — and other livestock using grass, or pasture, as the prime feedstock. The cows or other animals graze on pastureland for much of the year, generally from March through October in Ireland. During other parts of the year the cows are fed hay, silage, or other grass-based feed. Since the animals fertilise the grass, through their own manure, and harvest the crop – grass – themselves, this form of agriculture is low in energy usage, and its products are often marketed as natural or green products. Grazed pasture also can effectively remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. There is also data to indicate that grass-fed farming products have health benefits not found in products from other forms of farming.
This form of farming contrasts to that which relies on grain-feed or chemical-based feedstock as the prime, often only, source of food for the cows. Grain or other feed crops are raised on other land, treated with fossil-fuel based fertilizers, sprayed with pesticides, and planted, tilled, and harvested with heavy equipment. The feed is then sent to facilities where it is dried, flaked or pelleted, and mixed with other ingredients and then shipped to the animals. All of these steps consume fossil fuels. The extreme form of the latter is industrialized farming involving thousands of cows, or other animals, contained in small areas and fed chemical-filled feed. With concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) the manure remains inside the areas where the animals are kept and disposing of the manure can cause excess chemicals polluting watercourses.
Some further ideas to explore on Grass-Fed Farming
Identify some of the adverse effects of a grass-fed farming system.
What is the typical cost of a grass-fed system in comparison with a grain-fed system?
In the Podcast section of the current (Feb 2013) issue of irish environment, see the Interview with Michael Barry, Director, Irish Dairy Industries Association, on Ireland’s grass-fed family-owned dairy farming, Harvest 2020 and its impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, and ways forward to address the climate change impacts
Teagasc, Agriculture in Ireland www.teagasc.ie/agrifood/
Northern Ireland Agri-Food Sector – Key Statistics, 2012. www.dardni.gov.uk/index/publications/pubs-dard-statistics/key-statistics-2012.htm
Eatwild: The #1 Site for Grass=fed Food & Facts www.eatwild.com/environment.html
Union of Concerned Scientists, Greener Pastures: How grass-fed beef and milk contribute to healthy eating (2006). www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/solutions/advance-sustainable-agriculture/greener-pastures.html