No, no it doesn\’t

Population growth is, of course, partly responsible, but so is growing affluence, which, especially in India and China, is increasing the demand for meat. It takes 8lb of grain in feed, for example, to produce 1lb of beef.

This is one of those minor Americanisms that really irritates me.

It is true that if you grow a cow on a feed lot then you get that 8:1 ratio.

However, if you grow a cow on pasture then you get a ratio more like 0:1.

And there\’s an awful lot of pasture out there that cannot be ploughed up to grow grain but is just great at growing grass for cows to eat.

And while this isn\’t entirely true it is generally so: lots of American cows are on feed lots, few European ones. So why do we keep quoting this American number when it\’s simply not true for us here?

16 thoughts on “No, no it doesn\’t”

  1. But when I was farming I could never find pasture for beef cattle between November and April. Something to do with the seasons. Relied on grain with hay. So it is not 0:1 either

  2. I thought it was mostly sheep that are grazed on land that can’t be used for crops, cattle being a bit more demanding?

    But on the other hand, what about the land rotation, natural fertiliser, old-fashioned low-intensity farming, all the sorts of things the greenies like? Doesn’t that benefit from putting cattle onto the cropped fields every few years? In which case couldn’t the “cost” of cattle actually be negative?

    But I’m not a farmer, so open to correction here.

  3. “I thought it was mostly sheep that are grazed on land that can’t be used for crops, ”
    Lot of land close by rivers gets waterlogged during the winter. Unsuitable for crops but good grazing.


    This is a point I’ve always failed to get veggies to see. Agriculture’s a system. Lot of animal feed’s actually a by-product of food production. The land suitability thing. If you don’t produce the meat it’s not a case that you can then produce more veg. Opposite the case. If you don’t produce the meet then you have to substitute the arable to make up the difference.

    On the other hand, how many sandal wearers have ever grown anything (apart from weed)?

    Got a thing down here. Up in the mountains there’s a bunch of hippies been farming the UK benefit system for years. They’re all apparently ‘disabled’ to some degree. Stress of picking up their doll cheques from the mat I s’pose. Now the benefit people are tightening up & the dosh has dried to a trickle. Panic abounds in amongst the peaks. Waily, waily. We’ll all starve. begging down in the town & pissing off the locals.
    Point is, they’re sitting on land’s been farmed for millennia. Arabs terraced it during the Caliphate. It’s not bad land but you’d have to work it. Get some chikkadees & goats for eggs, meat & milk. Put in spuds & corn, range of veg. You’d be fine.
    But you’d need the whole system. The animals & the crops because you’d be using the hens & the goats to utilise what you can’t eat. The goats eat the stalks & the weeds. You put the hens out picking though the soil for weed seeds & left overs.
    You can’t grow rice & probably not lentils & mung beans either on a bloody mountainside. F*** knows where tofu grows.

  4. Even in North America the cattle are about 3/4 grown when they hit the high grain rations in feed lots. Incidentally the 8 or 10 to one ratio is what you get feeding maturing cattle laying down fat. Back in the day I spent a few years raising red veal. That was Holstein bull calves raised on a grain diet to 500 pounds. With a little luck we got a pound of gain for every 3 pounds of corn.

  5. Actually it’s not so minor an Americanism because vast numbers of city-dwellers believe it and argue the case for vegetarianism on the basis that this is true.
    Up in the Dales you can see that cattle graze on land that’s not quite good enough for crops and the sheep graze on the open hillsides that’s not good enough for cows. Varies a bit by season with fresh spring growth making some land fit for cattle grazing and if your crop rotation includes a year’s fallow then cattle can graze in that field as well.
    Winter feed should be hay, supplemented with kale or swede – corn sounds extravagant.
    Of course there is marginal land that could either provide rich pasture or grow poor crops.
    Also blokeinspain is right about some land near rivers getting flooded in winter which provide good grazing in summer (usually in the lowlands).

  6. Peter Risdon @7
    Very good point & one I’ve been making for years.
    You can’t ‘sequester’ carbon in an existing forest. Forests are mostly a zero sum game. Carbon goes in, carbon goes out. The carbon in the forest is constant. The deciduous I used to walk the dogs in UKside was once part of the forests that covered the whole of the SE. The forest floor goes back to the ice age. Dig down & the soil’s 3 inches thick. then you hit clay & gravel.
    Down in the valley’s a church built around the Conquest. The front doorstep is now sitting 10 ft below the surrounding fields. It’s not subsidence. Not unless an entire church can go down like a lift without a single crack appearing. it’s the surrounding farmland risen. Soil with 30-40% carbon in it. The clue’s in archaeology. You want to find ancient remains you have to dig.
    You seriously want to sequester carbon. Chop down the forest & ‘sequester’ it in furniture & chipboard flooring. Then farm the land & sequester carbon in the soil.

  7. We used to have plenty of water meadows in England, excellent pasturage and a wonderful wildlife habitat, now they’ve mostly been ploughed up or built on. Veggies and Greens are reluctant to face the fact that a lot of the wildlife we regret losing was reliant on livestock farming and that when that becomes uneconomic or unfashionable we lose the diversity that goes with it. That’s very apparent to me every time I go a few hundred yards up the road to the South Downs, once stocked with sheep and covered in close cropped turf, alive with birds and butterflies and now little more than a cereal desert.
    Regarding that shale gas thing, spot the nimbys of course but nimbys ignorant of the history of the county they’ve adopted. They obviously don’t know that the Weald was one of England’s premier iron manufacturing districts from the 16th to the 18th centuries ? They might also discover that shale gas was first tapped in East Sussex in the 19th century and was used to light a railway station Then they could turn their attention westwards to Singleton where there is one of the largest on- shore oil sites in England, not that you’d know it was there amongst the hills and woods which strangely don’t seem to have suffered from this dreadful intrusion of vulgar trade.

  8. So Much For Subtlety

    bloke in spain – “Stress of picking up their doll cheques from the mat I s’pose. ”

    Somehow I doubt they are picking up doll cheques. Dole cheques perhaps. But even though Eastern Europeans have pushed the cost of doll cheques down, I suspect that most dolls get by without starving. And any begging is purely recreational.

  9. Excellent book, called Grass, makes the same point as Tim. Only Arable is an economic and environmental disaster.

  10. In general, if someone quotes ‘scientific’ numbers that are in imperial units, it’s safe to assume they’re either US-specific or out-of-date. While elderly people elsewhere in the world may still use obsolete measures, no scientific, governmental or corporate research ever does.

  11. It’s not even true for the entire US. For example, where I live, the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, there are a lot of Black Angus cows. Most of them are fed on pastures where it is too rocky to grow anything but grass. I know this because I see them: I drive past them every day on my way to work.

  12. Pingback: Training and nutrition linkfest, vol. 1 « Blunt Object

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