Sustainability isn't a label to slap on a package of beef.
Sustainability and environmental stewardship looks different on every single farm or ranch you may visit. It's less about one definition than a philosophy. And philosophically, we strive to raise beef sustainably, which really means we raise beef responsibly.
When it comes to being responsible with the environment and natural resources involved in raising beef cattle, aside from the actual health and wellbeing of the cattle we care for, it's our main priority.
We use the combination of our education, experience, and the mentality that we are in this for the long haul to inform our stewardship of land and water resources. Some basic tenants of raising beef responsibly are:
We believe cattle can improve the soil under their feet. I (Nicole) have the opportunity to visit farms all over eastern Washington and see different practices in my work as an organic inspector and consultant. It's conducting these audits where I see firsthand how beneficial cattle can be for the environment -- putting much more back into the soil than they take out via grazing and how if you focus on taking care of the ground, the ground will take care of your cattle.
This isn't just anecdotal. It's science. We strive for holistic management of our ranch, which takes into account everything that matters: the health of our animals, the land, and financial viability. Learn more about the science of holistic management from the Savory Institute.
We believe cattle are the greatest upcyclers/recyclers. Upcycling involves taking a marginal resource and turning it into something more valuable. Here's how:
Mother cows and their calves can graze what remains after the harvest of just about any crop you can think of. With some temporary fencing, a crop field that's been harvested can become winter sustenance for cows and calves, and the manure they deposit while grazing crop stubble puts nutrients back into the soil that are needed to grow the next healthy crop. Cows diminish the farm's need to use synthetic fertilizers, and make the ground productive in the winter when it would otherwise not produce anything or be completely disced under and left bare over the season.
Steers and heifers that move on from pasture to our feedyard consume a ration (mixture of feeds that provide the appropriate nutrition cattle need to healthily gain weight) that is composed of feeds that are grown for cattle, as well as feedstuffs that are leftovers, or byproducts of food production. Whenever a crop is processed for human consumption, there is a byproduct of some kind. There are dry or wet byproducts from every process - you name it -- from brewing beer to peeling apples and making wine. To the processor, it's a waste product that needs to be disposed of. To cattle and cattle feeders, it's an opportunity to recycle the product into the ration cattle need, and upcycle it ultimately into high quality beef protein.
I mean, come on, cows are amazing! Cattle take everything from pretty low-quality forage hays that can grow many places that aren't even irrigated (and vegetables certainly wouldn't grow) to the leftovers from distilling booze, and turn it into beef. These are just a few ways, in addition to protecting land from development and reducing fire danger, that cattle make our entire food system more environmentally sustainable.