For years now I have been seeing posts and hearing comments from students about the enormous amount of (drinking) water used by cattle. Studies propose that it takes 12,000 gallons to produce 1 pound of beef (or 100,000 liters to produce 1 kilogram, see this article). These studies however are based on cattle consuming hay and grain. Do cattle consume hay or grain in their natural environment? No. It is only because meat production has become an industry that it has become environmentally unfriendly.
Anything that is an “industry” becomes unhealthy, unnatural, inefficient and resource intensive. We graze our cows on pasture at Maungaraeeda. Our cows are actually improving our pasture, just by grazing, eating the grass, digesting it and pooping it back out. We are currently running 6 cows. Their food is produced by nature and helped along by the cows’ own fertilising of the pastures. We do not water the pasture at all, nature does that for us when it rains. The cows drink maybe 100 liters of water per day (all 6 combined, with 2 of them lactating), which ends up being around 17 liters per cow per day. The studies calculated the amount over a 2 year period, which is 730 days. So over that period of time one of our cows would drink 12,410 liters of water in total. If we get around 180kg of meat from one of our cows (that’s about average for a good size 2 year old cow at our place), this would mean the cow would have needed 68.9 liters of water per kilogram of beef. This equals to 18.2 gallons per kilo or around 8.3 gallons per pound. That is a huge difference! Especially as on the same page it claims that potatoes take 60 gallons of water per pound to produce…
Pasture fed beef is therefore not only a more humane way of growing beef, it is also better for the environment in water consumption and, if properly managed, can actually improve and build the soil. Rather than not eating beef altogether, it would possibly be better for the planet to support pasture fed beef growers.
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Originally published: https://diyfoodandhealth.com/2016/05/16/cattle-and-water-use/