Eating grass-fed beef isn't just some affectation. The meat is healthier, and the perennial pastures on which cows feed build better soil and have lower carbon emissions than conventional cropland.
We still have a lot to learn about soil and grassland ecosystems.
Managed intensive grazing builds fertile soil by pumping carbon into the ground.
TAI POWER SEEFF/GETTY IMAGES
The natural prairie ecosystem builds fertile soil while reducing erosion and flooding.
JIM RICHARDSON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC STOCK
Grass-feeding isn’t just for cattle. These sheep prefer grazing to grain, too.
Exposed soil leaves farmland vulnerable to erosion.
A field of corn is a monoculture of uniform plants, and when the crop is harvested, the soil is left nearly bare.
A field of corn can’t absorb nearly as much water as natural grassland, increasing the potential for flooding.
Look closely at any patch of prairie and you’ll find a great diversity of plants.
MICHAEL DURHAM/MINDEN PICTURES
Deep-rooted grasses can take advantage of water and minerals further underground than most row crops.
Measuring soil nutrients on grassland.
Prairie grasses support a great variety of animal species, too.
Grazing animals have always been part of the grassland ecosystem.
Whether for grain-fed or grass-fed beef, cattle produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. But when given proper nutrition — such as what they obtain from grazing on high quality pasture — cattle produce less methane.
PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO/GREG BRZEZINSKI
Farmers are creating sustainable new models for producing meat by imitating the natural systems of the prairie.