This quote is from Simply In Season, a wonderful and usable cookbook, written by Cathleen Hockman-Wert:

“Cows in feedlots eat grains like corn, soybean meal and barley, which mostly are grown on large industrial farms fueled by petroleum.  By one estimate, it takes about five pounds/2.5 kg of grain–and a quart or litre of gasoline to produce one pound/500 g of beef in a conventional feedlot system.

“Pasture-raised cows, in contrast, convert grass–produced through the energy of the sun–into a food that human bodies can use.  This process uses fewer or no chemical fertilizers and pesticides, requires less machinery and water, and produces less soil erosion and pollution–while utilizing land that may be fine for grazing but not suitable for long-term cultivation.”

While this is specifically about cows, we would add the following benefits of grassfeeding vs. feedlotting farm animals, be they cows, pigs, or chickens:

*The powers that be have determined that cows contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.  However, the fine print explains that those are grain-fed feedlot cows.  A high grain diet disrupts a cow’s normal digestion, resulting in fermentation of the grains in the stomachs (they have 4), which in turn results in a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.  A cow fed on primarily on grass not only requires the tractor to use less fuel, but is less gassy itself.
*Pasture-raised animals contribute to their own food without the need of petroleum inputs.  Most chemical fertilizers were the result of WWII science, when they had a lot of industry geared up to turn petroleum into things but suddenly had no need of their products.  Hence was born the “green revolution” whereby petroleum chemical based agriculture could “feed the world.”  Indeed it did for a while.  Now we are reaping a secondary harvest in nutritionally empty food, dead soils, and sick people.  We have personally experienced the rejuvenation of soils and pastures by the use of animals to graze and fertilize the land.  During the months when the land can’t feed them, the gathered animals continue to contribute in the form of compost material that can be returned to the land.  Did you know that a cow eats less food weight than she produces (weight-wise) at the other end?  Gold comes in many colors!

*As pastures become more mineralized and alive, the grasses and other animal feeds therein become more nutritionally dense.  We learned in a recent seed saving class that plants in such conditions are more resilient against adverse weather and pests, and they produce more viable, longer lasting seed.  They also noted that mineralization has a correlation to flavor.  Wonder why a “factory” grown “on the vine” tomato tastes less sweet and rich than a farmer’s market tomato?  And why do you prefer one farmer’s tomato over another’s?  The more alive the soil the more flavorful the fruit.  We have found from experience that chickens grazed over improved, richer soils grow more efficiently, have stronger frames, and taste better.

As we enjoyed the glimpse of the pastures last week, we started thinking about spring and green grass and pasture.   Spring is coming!