Drovers recently received an inquiry from a college student conducting research for a public-health class project. She sent a list of questions regarding the relative merits of finishing cattle on grass versus grain-based rations. Her questions, while somewhat biased, reflect common misperceptions of grain feeing and the kinds of question consumers are asking. For that reason, we have adapted the questions and answers into this article, to serve as possible “talking points” for our readers as you encounter similar questions from the public.
We’ll be posting the 13 questions, along with our answers, over the next couple weeks. Here is question 11:
What changes in the U.S. do you think will have to be made for majority of cattle to be raised on pasture?
If large numbers of consumers demonstrate a preference for grass-finished beef, and a willingness to pay enough to make production profitable, producers will adapt. However, for that to happen on a large scale, we would need to convert a large amount of land from other uses to grazing land to produce adequate forage for finishing the majority of cattle.
According to calculations from Dr. Jude Capper in a study published in the journal Animals, if the total U.S. beef produced in 2010 was produced by a grass-fed system, the increase in land required compared to conventional production would be equivalent to 75% the land area of Texas.
Without an expansion of available grazing land, a large shift toward grass-finished cattle would result in a dramatic reduction in overall U.S. beef production and significantly higher beef prices for consumers.
See question 10 from this series here.