Pastured foods for the Paleo Diet

Is the USDA finally wising up to the fact that factory farms are not sustainable? A new study BY the USDA shows that factory farms produce more pollutants and that pastured animals are better for the environment. But we also all know that pastured animal products are better for us and better for the Paleo diet.

Cows in the pasture. Photo by Jim Champion

The peer-reviewed study, led by C. Alan Rotz, PhD, an agricultural engineer for the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service at University Park, Pennsylvania, and an adjunct professor at Penn State, appears in the May/June edition of the USDA’s Agricultural Research magazine. The study concluded that dairy cows living outdoors in a more natural environment may leave a considerably smaller “hoofprint” on the environment than a similar cow raised in a factory or concentrated animal feed operation (CAFO). (Organic Authority)

And he says he is “tired of all the criticism” about cows raised on pasture. “There’s a place for grass-fed cows. There’s nothing wrong with grass-based systems, and from an environmental point of view there are a lot of benefits,” he says.

According to the USDA’s Agricultural Research magazine for May/June 2011, Rotz’s peer-reviewed study, first published in a research journal in 2009, concludes that “a dairy cow living year-round in the great outdoors may leave a markedly smaller ecological hoofprint than her more sheltered sisters.”

To find out which system was best from a sustainable point of view, the researchers compared four methods of milk production: two with confined cattle, one producing 22,000 pounds of milk a year, another, 18,500 pounds, and a third in which the cows were on pasture for seven months a year, each cow producing 18,500 pounds of milk a year. The fourth group of cows was fed on pasture all year long, and produced almost 9,000 pounds less milk.

The study looked at the environmental problems each group of cows produced: ammonia emissions from manure, soil denitrification rates, nitrate leaching losses, soil erosion, and phosphorous losses from field runoff. Estimates for emission of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide were also taken.

One of the reasons that they leave a smaller “hoofprint” is that they are eating species appropriate food and so produce less gas. As we all know from our own personal experiences, eating grains produces more gas. As soon as we start to eat the right food for us, the less gas we have. The same goes for cows. More grass = fewer cow toots. If you believe that methane from farm animals contributes to global warming, then pasturing is a great solution.

More cows in a pasture. Photo by Evelyn Simak

Keeping cows outdoors reduced fuel use, as well as the carbon dioxide emissions from farm equipment. And one very important point: “When farmland is transitioned from rotated crops to perennial grassland, you can build up lots of carbon in the soil and substantially reduce your carbon footprint for 20 to 30 years,” said Rotz.

Raising cows in pasture is also good for water quality because of a huge drop in sediment erosion. The runoff of phosphorous also drops significantly. Click here to read more

As can be seen, soil erosion was reduced and fuel costs were reduced as well. More great reasons for pasturing.

This study was done on dairy cows, whose milk is not generally part of the Paleo diet, but I see some small steps being made in the right direction. If today the USDA says that pastured dairy is better than CAFO dairy, then they same could be said about grass fed beef, pastured chickens and more. The more wholesome food that can be raised by  natural means, the better for followers of the Paleo diet and everyone else too.


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