Let the Animals Do the
Terry Gompert, Knox County Extension
Today I'm not going to discuss the negative
and positive points of large-scale livestock
confinement. Instead, I'll try to express the
excitement and the positive things that I've seen
in the alternatives.
Nearly all the alternatives involve using the
animal as the harvester. Results are no less than
fantastic! They are nearly unbelievable! Reports
suggest significant profits and improved quality
of life for the livestock owners. The land, soil,
and the environment are protected. Consumer
acceptance of the meat is high.
Manure is valuable if it's in the right place!
The manure produced annually per 1000 pounds of
animal weight are as follows: dairy cow - 15 ton;
beef feeder - 11 ton; beef cow - 11.5 ton; sheep
- 7.5 ton; poultry broiler - 13 ton; and horse -
For the individual who has developed a grazing
system, this manure is "money in the
pot." A 100 head beef cow herd will produce
approximately 1150 tones of manure. The
University of Nebraska has valued each ton, on a
nutrient basis, at $9.57. The gross value of that
manure is a whopping $11,005.50.
The exciting opportunity is to capture as much
of the manure as is possible. The extra bonus is
that the better job you do in your grazing
system, the less you have to work.
I once heard someone say that before he
developed a good grazing system, he was
continually hauling. He harvested and hauled feed
to the bins; he hauled it to the livestock; and
he hauled the waste to the field. Once he let the
animal do the work, time was saved, less
equipment and fertilizer was needed, and the
profits went up.
Did you know that those who are in the
business of haying or cropping are mining
minerals? A ton of prairie hay, for example,
contains 4 pounds of phosphorus, 22 pounds of
potassium, and 2 pounds of sulfur per ton. Over
time, the minerals are depleted in the soil and
commercial fertilizer needs to be added.
Livestock manure can also be added back to the
soil, but much of the advantage is lost in
A beef animal recycles mineral very
efficiently. For example, 95% of the potassium
ingested by an animal passes through its urine.
70 to 80% of the ingested phosphorus passes
through the animal in its feces.
Good grazing programs recycle nutrients. The
only free lunches in agriculture are sunlight,
rainfall, and minerals recycled through the
grazing animal. The better we capture these
three, the greater our reward.
Where do I hear of the excitement? I hear it
from dairy graziers, stocker and cow/calf
operators, beef finishers, and buffalo producers.
Pastured poultry, ducks, turkey, geese, elk,
deer, pasture farrowing, and horse rearing is
where I hear the excitement. I hear it from new
farmers and ranchers. It takes less investment to
graze. We are talking about a great opportunity
when compared to confinement.
Crop producers cut costs when the animal
harvests the crop: no storage bins, no hauling,
no "heavy metal" harvesting equipment,
lower fertilizer costs, less hired labor, and
The public likes to eat livestock raised in a
grazing program. It seems healthy. It seems
environmentally safe. It seems right.
Do you see why there is excitement about the
alternatives to large-scale confinement livestock
production? Consider letting the animal be the