Yet I'm also a California girl with a degree in environmental studies. So I've written about ranching with a twinge of guilt. Cattle ranching can be bad for the earth. We should all eat less beef, experts tell us, not just to preserve our health but to help tackle global warming. And living in the warming, drought-ridden west, I definitely want to help with that problem!
Then today, I read a fascinating article. Allan Savory, an esteemed ecologist, is arguing that raising cattle is not the problem that's contributing to climate change. It's how we raise cattle. It's feeding them corn instead of the grass their bodies were designed to ingest. It's sending them to feed lots instead of allowing them to graze freely over big parcels of land.
According to Savory, the earths' grasslands evolved along with large populations of hoofed grazing mammals. Here in America, we had deer, bison, antelope and others. When they ate and trampled the grass, they made room for new grass to grow. Their droppings fertilized the prairies. When they moved on to new grazing lands, the grassland regenerated behind them.
Without these animals, if we follow Savory's reasoning, the grassland slowly dies. New plants can't make their way through the old dead grass. Other plants move in and colonize, or, as has happened in places like Africa, the land becomes desert.
Even the British royals agree with this idea, and since many of us romance readers are excited about the May wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, let's hear from Harry's dad. Prince Charles summarized this research in a 2012 speech, saying "If you take grazers off the land and lock them away in feedlots, the land dies."
And apparently grasslands hold a whole lot of carbon down in their roots. A ton of carbon per acre. So if we could make them thrive again, we could sequester some of the carbon currently floating about causing trouble in the atmosphere.
Now all this is good in theory, but how do we know it's true? Well, in Zimbabwe, where grasslands turning into deserts is a large problem, they did an experiment. Here is what the article says about the results.
In Zimbabwe, for example, the Africa Centre for Holistic Management has restored desertified grasslands by running 400% more livestock than it originally did.
"Through two recent serious droughts they have increased livestock further and the river that had gone dry in most years is once more flowing perennially in most years supporting a great increase in animal life,” Savory writes. “New permanent water pools, complete with water lilies and fish have appeared where not previously known in living memory."
Pretty neat, right? Not only are they trapping carbon in the grasslands, but they are restoring habitat and making the land more resistant to drought.
After reading this article, I did some more research, which cast a different, much dimmer light on Allan Savory's theory. Although it sounds good on paper, it hasn't worked when researchers have tried to put it into practice. The grass didn't regenerate. The cattle didn't thrive.
But I'll leave you with this. If Allan Savory and his colleagues are correct, or at least, somewhat correct, wouldn't it be amazing if we could close the feedlots, break down fences and let the cattle roam? How wonderful to have large swaths of healthy prairie, and delicious grass-fed beef that could benefit us all!
Who knows? Maybe one of my future heroes or heroines will take down their fences and see the grasslands start to thrive!
If you'd like to learn more about these ideas, here are a few resources I found.
The original article I read:
Allan Savory's website: https://www.savory.global
A Scientific American Article that explores his ideas:
The Sierra Club article that explores and then ultimately disagrees with Allan's ideas:
An article from Slate.com that vehemently disagrees with his ideas: