The Six Year Plan - Where's the Beef?

My Dear Reader,

This is an essay I wrote last year. It was for a Horticulture class. It was supposed to be an essay on a topic in sustainability. I chose to write about Beef. Typical Six Year Plan. I did pretty well on it, and it's pretty entertaining. I thought you guys would enjoy it.

I've been perfecting some new recipes these past few weeks, so I'll share them with you next week. Trust me, they're gonna be good. Heads up, Moms of the world, one of them is gonna be perfect for the upcoming Holiday Season.

P.S: Check out this blog. Written by a very wise man.

Anyway, here's the essay, enjoy.


Humanity loves food. Correction: humanity really loves food. The United States designates twenty percent of its land purely for crop farming, while another twenty five percent is used for raising livestock. The act of preparing and eating food is, arguably, one of the most intimate relationships known to man. Such a relationship is brought about and derived by initial need. Ever since the first Neolithic farmers domesticated animals, raising livestock has become a priority in sustaining the global human population. Whether it’s poultry, fish, cattle, or other livestock, without them, modern humanity would not exist as it does today.

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the Kingsolver family consumes solely organically grown produce and locally raised livestock for an entire year. A vast majority of the food is procured from the Kingsolver’s personal farm. The family learns the importance of hard, diligent work, as well as the true environmental impacts of farming and raising livestock. Throughout Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the topic of “free range,” “pasture – finished,” and “grass fed” livestock comes to light several times.

Generally, “free range” refers to livestock that can freely roam about open pastures as opposed to being confined to closed access feed lots. In regards to sustainability, there is much debate whether “free range” or “conventional” farming is more superior. The aim of this essay is to analyze how different factors affect how efficient and sustainable these farming practices are. The following criteria will form the basis for this comparison: biological diet, environmental impacts, health issues, and ethical treatment of livestock.

Biological Diet

Livestock, along with every other living creature on this planet, need nutrient to live. This being the case, shouldn’t it matter what kind of nutrient these animals ingest? Is there a right or a wrong way for these creatures to eat?

“Free-range” livestock have access to open pastures for the vast majority of their lives. Subsequently, these animals eat what is readily available to them: grasses and seeds. Just as their ancestor species did for countless years prior to domestication, “free range” livestock forage for their food; cattle will munch on virtually all types of grasses and shrubs, while poultry peck and graze for seeds and insects. “Free range” allows the livestock to eat all the foods the previous, heritage species ate. It allows them to eat what their bodies have been evolved to digest.

Although this is the most ideal scenario, it is highly unlikely. Instead, some “free range” pastures are supplemented with grain feed bins. These feed bins may be scattered throughout the pasture so that the livestock will continue to roam the fields, instead of lazing around the feed bins. While this does detract from the essence of being truly “pasture fed,” it ensures that the livestock receive a fair amount of feed while remaining mostly grass fed.

Conventional livestock feeding revolves mostly around the CAFO, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. These feed lots are designed to maximize animal growth and production, and thus, economic viability, while minimizing land usage and feed costs. The livestock are provided a seemingly continuous supply of feed. A majority of this feed consists of various grains, soy based filler, and whatever else a farmer decides to add into the mix. This constant supply of feed ensures that livestock are at an optimal sized and weight in time for harvest.

While the feeding procedure for CAFOs is highly efficient in regards to economics, many issues can arise. Many farmers reincorporate cattle by-product into the feed lots in an attempt to reduce “harvesting waste.” Although economically logical, studies have shown that these practices increase the likelihood of contaminated feed. The presence of pesticide, insecticide, and bacteria ridden feed make CAFOs a breeding ground for new, resistant strains of bacteria, one such example being the infamous E. Coli bacteria.

When it comes to livestock dieting, the answer seems pretty clear; it may not be one hundred percent efficient, but “free range” feeding is a more sustainable practice. Simultaneously, “conventional” feeding may have its downfalls, but it isn’t completely negative. It all depends on the farmer’s preference.

Environmental Impacts

Considering the amount of arable land agriculture and livestock farming utilize, it’s a safe assumption to say that the environment is impacted. Whether through free range or conventional farming methods, positive and negative impacts are present.

Conventional farming is based on optimizing productivity and land use. In this regard, it is a sustainable practice. This practice gives each animal a set amount of land area. The feed lots are usually arranged in a grid formation, which helps organize and minimize land use.

In contrast, this very same condition poses severe environmental setbacks. Since the livestock are confined to a set area, they have no room to move around; subsequently, neither do their excrement. Piles upon piles of waste and manure are left with decompose where they drop. This build up can be potentially deadly. A single feed lot has the ability to produce as much waste as a medium sized city, but unfortunately, there is no way to treat or process this waste. This abundance of waste produces enormous amounts of methane gas, which if untreated, releases large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Bacteria and virus strands are given the chance to reproduce in these waste piles. Many of these become super-diseases, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as Mad-Cow disease. Conventionally raised livestock place quite the burden on the environment; perhaps with more planning, these issues can be resolved.

Open pasture livestock directly impact the environment on a day to day basis. Since the animals are allowed to freely roam about, their waste is evenly distributed among the pastures. Because of this distribution, most of the waste is decomposed before it produces excessive amounts of methane gas. Natural decomposers, such as fungi, earthworms, and other insects, break down the waste and incorporate it into the existing soil. This leads to a more nutrient soil base; the manure acts as a natural nitrogen fertilizer.

If the livestock are freely roaming without supervision or enclosure, some issues can arise. One problem depends on what type of soil the pasture is. Given the amount of livestock grazing and moving around, the topsoil layer may become compact if it is tread too much. Once the soil becomes too compact, it may prove difficult for grasses or seed to re-grow, and ultimately, feed the livestock. Alternately, the constant grazing and soil compaction from these animals may contribute to the erosion of the landscape, as well as water run-off problems.

Clearly, there are positive and negatives to both free range and conventional livestock farming practices. Free range is, again, the more sustainable of these methods, proving to minimally impact the environment in a negative fashion.

Health Issues

Although the ultimate goal of livestock farming is to provide sustenance for humanity, it is important to keep the animal’s health in mind. Do the opposing farm methods affect cattle, poultry, or swine differently in regards to their health?

Since free range livestock spend their lives roaming and grazing, they have a significant physical advantage over conventional livestock. As mentioned previously, these animals spend their lives eating when their bodies are meant to digest: grasses, shrubs, seeds, and other plants. The combination of this diet along with the constant movement from pasture to pasture, ensure that the livestock remain at a healthy, typical weight. For example, free range adult cattle weigh anywhere from six to seven hundred pounds; their conventional counterparts typically weigh twelve hundred pounds: twice the normal amount. Grass fed beef boasts significant amounts of B, E, and K vitamins, as well as lower levels of saturated fats. Studies have shown that pasture fed chickens laid healthier eggs; they contain half the cholesterol, more E vitamins, and a substantial amount of Omega-3 fatty acids not found in conventionally laid eggs. Unlike conventional, grass-fed livestock are hormone and antibiotic free, for the most part. This helps the animals build strong, healthy immune systems, which enhances their disease resistance. Because of their health and fitness, free range livestock are given the opportunity, and ability, to reproduce amongst their colonies. Due to constant confinement, many conventional animals don’t have the muscle strength to reproduce. In fact, the Broad-Breasted White turkey is specifically bred not to breed: farmers must artificially inseminate the females. Confinement seemingly drains the animalistic instinct. Conventionally raised livestock are subjected to overcrowding, and thus, show tremendous stress levels as opposed to free range animals.

Naturally, free range livestock are healthier than conventionally raised stock. The differences between the methods are stunning. In this regard, free range is more sustainable.


While it may draw parallels to health issues, ethical treatment is an important factor when it comes to animal welfare. While no farming practices directly affect pasture stock in a negative fashion, some issues still exist. Some laws state that if roaming free rangers cause any sort of property damage, the owner is not liable for those damages. This being said: is it right for a farmer to allow his livestock to cause property damage, however unintentional it may be? Another issue deals with predators. Free range animals have open, possibly un-fenced, access to pastures all hours of the day. Subsequently, so do potential predators. Although the chance of an encounter is relatively slim, this farming method provides these animals with minimal defense in the case of an attack. These issues may seem miniscule, but they are still issues.

Conventionally raised livestock, on the other hand, raise all sorts of ethical questions. As stated before, CAFOs reincorporate slaughterhouse leftovers back into the grain feed in attempts to optimize production. Through this method, farmers are forcing cannibalism onto the helpless animals, sometimes leading to infection. This cannibalism is the single source of Mad Cow Disease; there has never been a reported case with grass fed beef. Overcrowding in feed lots increases the animal’s anxiety and stress levels, and even prompts violence in some cases. The crowding is so bad that farmers must de-beak chickens and turkeys; this prevents them from picking at and fighting each other, an act that typically results in death. Hopefully, more laws can be enacted that help regulate CAFOs and conventional farming.


Although the two farming methods show different levels of efficiency and sustainability, when it comes to down to the final judgment, free range farming is far more superior in contrast to conventional farming. Pasture raised livestock are biologically more fit, impact the environment in a more positive fashion, provide a healthier, more nutritious product, and are ethically respected in the long run. Conventional farming does what it was designed to do: turn farming into an efficient business. Free range, on the other hand, turns farming into a sustainable, beneficial method.


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Until Next Time.


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