Saturday, October 2, 2010

Agricultural Animals - Sustaining The Environment

October is National Vegetarian month. I am very intrigued that they would pick such an odd month to claim vegetarian month. I mean if you really want to make a statement choose a month always associated with the consumption of meat... November, everyone eats turkey at Thanksgiving, December, most people eat ham at Christmas, April, there is an increase of lamb and goat consumption at Easter, July, most people grill or have BBQ on the 4th... Seriously OCTOBER? Anyway this month is a great time to explain the important role that agricultural animals play in sustaining the environment.

Recently in one of my classes, Agricultural Animals of the World (Camel Production for giggles), I was reminded of the importance of agricultural animals to sustain our environment and I wanted to remind you as well! I was asked this question: What would you tell someone who thought that agriculture animals (livestock) are a luxury? The following is my response to that question.

Approximatly 1/3 of the world land mass is considered to be agriculture land. In other words only 1/3 of all the land in the world is used for agriculture. This is a very shocking statistic when you think about the fact that with that mere 1/3 of land, farmers and ranchers produce enough food and fiber to supply the entire world. Many people believe that the majority of agriculture land is cultivated and farmed, this can lead to claims of agriculture lacking sustainability etc. The truth is that only 1/3 of the agriculture land is devoted to cultivated farming.

The rest of the land is dedicated to native grasslands and rangelands. When we look at this in the grand scheme, only 1/6 of the world’s total land mass is cultivated. Because so much land is dedicated to native forages, our need for ruminant animals is very great. See, ruminant animals (cows, sheep and goats) have the ability to convert forages that cannot be consumed by human populations into animal proteins which are very beneficial to the human diet. Think for a minute what might happen if we were not able to utilize all of that native range to our benefit? Would it sit stagnate? Would it grow out of control and propose a fire hazard?

Maybe it would be developed into more urban areas and further reduce the amount of land considered agricultural. Ruminant animals are of the utmost importance to human populations because of their ability to transform non usable plant proteins to beneficial animal proteins. The best way I can think to demonstrate that agricultural animals are not a luxury is to think about ruminant animals. How many people do you know that enjoy eating yucca, tumble weed or sage? Cows don’t mind, in fact a cow on native range in Nevada would be more than glad to eat sage, and because of their amazing digestive system we then can benefit from their ability to eat plants that we are not able to digest.

Cows, sheep and goats aren't the only agricultural animals that help us to be sustainable. Pigs, chickens and turkeys help out too! These animals have the unique ability to be able to convert foodstuffs considered waste by humans into animal proteins for the human diet! The ability of livestock to convert what we waste, throw away, discard and are unable to use most certainly proves to me that agricultural animals are in fact not a luxury but a necessity.

October is a great month to explain the importance of livestock! How would you explain the importance of agricultural animals to a vegetarian person who does not believe agriculture to be sustainable? Food For Thought...

Happy Trails,

Photos Via Ryan Goodman & Oklahoma State University Extension

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