Many dog owners prefer homemade dog food so they can use grass-fed meats in the diet. They feel that grass-feeding is a more natural way to feed livestock and that the meat is healthier. And indeed the meat tends to be leaner. But because it is leaner, it takes more of it to meet total US meat demand. This actually makes grass-fed livestock a less environmentally sustainable method than the present feedlot method. The following information is from work done by Dr. Judith L. Capper, if all US demand for beef was met by grass-feeding cattle.
1. Grass-Feeding Requires Larger Numbers of Livestock
According to Dr. Capper’s research grass-fed beef needs to be fed over 22 months longer and still weighs about 100-pounds less at slaughter than conventionally raised cattle. That means an additional 50.2 million head of cattle would have to be added each year to meet the present demand for beef. Adding the extra cattle has environmental consequences.
2. Grass-Feeding Increases Land Use
The additional 50 million head of cattle would require an additional 131,000,000 acres of grazing land. This is the equivalent acreage of 75% of the state of Texas. But most of the open land in the US that could be used for grazing is open for a reason. It lacks what all grazing land needs, enough water to grow grass all year long.
3. Grass-Feeding Cattle Increases Water Use
The addition of the necessary grazing land would require 468 billion extra gallons of water per year. This is the same amount of water used by over 53 million U.S. households. Water scarcity is thought to be the next major global problem in the not too distant future.
4. Grass-Feeding Increases Greenhouse Gases
Because the grass-fed beef live almost 2 years longer before slaughter than feedlot cattle, they emit more lifetime greenhouse gases. That would add 134,500,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the planet each year. That is the equivalent of adding 26,000,000 cars to the road annually.
Feeding grass-fed meat certainly sounds like a better alternative. But like everything in life, there are trade-offs. A mass movement for grass-fed meats could have serious consequences for the planet and in fact be an unsustainable alternative for homemade dog food and our own diet. This article is not intended to discourage choosing grass-fed meats for homemade dog food. It is also not meant as a definitive argument against grass-fed meat.
Those of us that choose to feed homemade dog food do so because we are concerned individuals. We are concerned about the health of our dogs and quality of their life. This article demonstrates that our concerns must also be more global. Nutrition decisions we make for ourselves and our dogs may impact more than just our lives.
Dr. Ken Tudor,
THE DOG DIETITIAN