Let the Animals Do the Harvesting

Terry Gompert, Knox County Extension Educator

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 - 8.5 ton.

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 hauling.

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 more fun.

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 harvester.

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