Thursday, April 22, 2010

40 ag-related Earth Day practices

Happy Earth Day! It's the 40th anniversary of Earth Day this year and I've read some wonderful stuff earth and agriculture today. One that stood out was 40 things ag does that are great for the earth. Thought I would make own attempt from a beef producers standpoint. So here are 40 things ranchers where I'm from do that are beneficial to the earth every day!

1. Utilize grass, which is indigestible to humans, and feed it to livestock to create a safe, wholesome product that helps feed the world. 85% of U.S. land is unsuitable for crop production, and ranchers use this land to raise livestock and help feed the world.

There, that should cover it :)

Just kidding, I can think of more

2. Recycle. Everything from old rubber tires being used for tanks to saving absolutely everything and finding another use for it. Ranchers have been doing that for decades. You just try to throw away a plastic sac, container, old pair of jeans etc.. that my grandmother has laid her eyes on.

3. Preserve open space. This is very important to the survival of countless plant and animal species.

4. Protect and manage water resources. Ranchers implement progressive, thoughtful water management on their operations that not only benefits their livestock but many plant and wildlife species too.

5. Pick up after themselves. Man I don't like rolling old, rusty barbwire, but keeping the land clean is important.

6. Utilize pesticides and herbicides in a safe, practical manner to control plant and animal species that have a negative impact on the land, livestock, wildlife and people they come into contact with.

7. Poison prairie dogs. I hate prairie dogs with a passion. They compact soil, spread disease, prevent grass from growing and just destroy range land in general. Their holes provide homes for snakes and spiders and are a potential hazard to livestock who can break a leg in them. I really hate prairie dogs.

8. Manage for other problem rodents and predators to protect livestock and vulnerable forms of wildlife.

9. Utilize wind power. Wind mills have been around for a long time and are still used extensively in the west to secure water.

10. Utilize solar power. A growing number of producers are utilizing solar power for a variety of purposes including water, electric fences and power.

11. Implement grazing systems that maximize efficiency. This requires less feed and encourages the growth of higher quality plants.

12. Feed by-products. One example are distillers grains, which are the leftovers after alcohol production. Feedlots and ranchers feed this grain product to cattle, it would otherwise be useless waste.

13. Feed all sorts of stuff that would otherwise be waste. Last year I met a guy whose family raised and sold watermelons commercially. Cool huh? Well, when they were done harvesting a field they would turn cattle in to eat any melons deemed unfit for sale for any variety of reasons. He said cows quickly learn to smash the melon with their head or foot to get at the good part.

14. Use eco-friendly vehicles. Did you know that making an electric car takes more energy than you will ever save by driving it? Ranchers use horses a lot, and the only gas they need comes in the form of grass and maybe a few oats.

15. Ranchers help feed the world and the entire U.S. cattle herd accounts for less than 3% of carbon emissions.

16. Taking an environmentalist stance, as can be seen over at Belle of the Blog and doing all the things that are deemed environmentally friendly by the general public, because that's what best for the land and everything on it.

17. Loving our animals, and our land. Ranchers really do. If they didn't they would find something easier to do that wasn't a 24-7 commitment.

18. Put up hay. Haying preserves grass for winter months and also prevents that grass from going to waste in some cases.

19. Buy in bulk. I recently read that buying in bulk reduces the amount of packaging included and also increases efficiency in transporting items as there is less wasted space taken up by the packaging. Go check out a ranch wife's pantry, come back when you're full. It will be stocked and you know she bought as much in bulk as she could in case there was a storm, big crew, busy month, and because she can't just run to the store. I grew up an hour from a grocery store.

20. Fix everything. Again, it's a long way to the parts store too, especially if your truck, baler, swather, or tractor is broke. Fixing things on the ranch saves fuel costs and teaches job skills to a lot of ranch kids.

21.Give to others. If something is no longer useful on one operation, it is often passed on to another outfit that has a purpose for it. We got our sheep loading alley from a sheep producer who upgraded his. Since we only use it twice a year it works for us.

22. Share. My family and two other ranchers bought a calf branding table together and rotate it between everyone. There's no point in each outfit having one because it's a piece of equipment that is only used a few days a year and it's easy to schedule around each other.

23. Borrow. Much like sharing everyone lends their equipment to each other and thus prevents everyone from owning something that is only used occasionally. Everyone uses my family's flatbed, Clydes portable unloading chute, Dixon's big stock trailer and so on.

24. Help each other. Being neighborly saves time and money. It prevents us from having to hire someone who would have to drive long distances to help. It also helps get big jobs done, such as building corrals, picking up a big mess after a flood, putting out a fire and so on.

25. Leave a small footprint. Relative to most homeowners, ranchers put improvements on a very small percentage of their land and work hard to keep the rest in grass production. Roads are few and far between and land is taken care of because the operations livelihood is staked on growing grass.

26. Manage livestock numbers. Preventing overpopulation of the land keeps it in the ideal condition. Keeping livestock numbers at a rate the land can adequately handle ensures the rancher will have grass in the future. It also reduces erosion and often prevents invasive plants from moving in.

27. Managing wildlife numbers. Hunting and other forms of wildlife management reduce the likelihood of a disease outbreak. Wildlife like to eat specific types of grasses and managing numbers ensures there is enough feed for the population, thus reducing starvation. It also limits erosion and invasive plant growth as wildlife can overgraze an area too, and often to a far greater extent than livestock since most producers can't move them from pasture to pasture.

28. Create useful products from everything. One example is wool. There are certain parts of the fleece that are useful because they are urine and manure stained or too coarse. My mom uses these parts to insulate baby trees and keep moisture on them.

29. Making the old new. Many ranchers rebuild engines and entire vehicles and continue using them long after the general public would consider them junk. My dad and brother turned an old one and half ton Ford into a front-end loader we use to feed hay, move heavy objects, load wool bales and just about anything else you can think of. The only tricky thing is there isn't a steering wheel, just hydraulic levers. They also turned the frame around so the steering is backwards and to hit first you go over (right) and down instead of over (left) and up.

30. Find a new use for something. This might tie in with the previous one. But there are instances where ranchers take something and find a completely new use for it, thus extending it's life and eliminating the need to buy something new, drive to town and pick it up, drive home, find out it doesn't fit/work/look right/?/, drive back, get another one....

31. Teach. This is a big one. Ranchers teach their children to care for and preserve the land for future generations. They welcome school groups and anyone else onto their operation to show how it really works and why. It's important to learn about something from a reliable, honest, knowledgeable source and ranchers can do that on a variety of topics including land, water, forestry, livestock, wildlife and anything else mentioned on this list.

32. Get involved. Agriculture is under constant pressure to change from people who have no comprehension of how it works. To show how things really are and why they're done the way they are ranchers are getting involved and that's important, because ranchers do save, protect and preserve more land, water and wildlife than anyone else in my opinion.

33. Produce All Natural. It's a choice and I've touched on this topic before. But some rancher somewhere produces all-natural pretty much anything you can think of. My family produces all-natural wool and we do it an environmentally friendly way. When you choose all natural consider this, it takes 2-3 times more energy to produce an all natural steer than it does to produce one utilizing modern methods. This is because he is around for a longer period of time, eats more feed and requires more care, water and everything else you can think of. It's not a wrong choice, but it's not always the most environmentally friendly choice either.

34. Car pool. Gosh I don't know how many times I have been crammed in a single cab pickup with 4-5 other people for a long drive (we're talking several hours) We also had a horse for everyone in the trailer, now that's carpooling. I was so impressed when we got our first extended cab pickup, it was amazing!

35. Eating right. Ranchers eat their own product. It doesn't get much more "locally grown" than that. Beyond that several garden and most that do take any extra produce to church or school or the post office and "share" it with everyone else in the community.

36. Never stop learning. The more you know the better you are. That goes for land management, raising crops and anything else associated with agriculture. Farmers and ranchers know what's new and what works and what doesn't and they are constantly looking for and learning new ways to do something better and more efficiently.

37. Increase efficiency. For example the U.S. had 37 million fewer head of cattle in 2008 than in 1975, but still produced the same pounds of beef. This is due to improved management as a result of increased knowledge and the constant desire to be better.

38. Flexibility. You have to be flexible to manage land and other resources in the best way possible and most ranchers work hard to continually improve their management system, thus improving their range conditions.

39. Utilize modern technology. There are certainly environmental benefits to be found through using modern technology in some instances. Farmers can improve application practices through using GPS systems in their machinery. Beef producers use Electronic ID tags to increase consumer confidence and to provide traceback and age and source information on animals.

40. Do these things every day. It's one thing to celebrate earth day on April 22, but all of these things I've listed are done on ranches across the country on a daily basis. Every day is earth day in agriculture!


  1. Great post, Heather! There are so many things in here that I never even think of as having a positive impact on the environment, it is just a part of how we grew up -- like the "buying in bulk." I still can't get over doing that, even though I'm just shopping for one. My freezer is ALWAYS overflowing!

    And thanks for the shout-out on #16 :).

  2. Wow, 40 things!! Can you believe how the littlest thngs can make difference to keep our Earth beautiful and healthy? I think we all owe that much to our planet - thank you so much for this post!!!!

    Also, thank so much for stopping by my blog the other day - I was thrilled! Please stay in touch!