Cows and climate change

Recent stories on my news feed have made bold declarations about how cattle are even bigger contributors to climate change than they previously thought (they already thought they were bad).  Their conclusions are mostly focused on greenhouse gases – how much methane cows produce, and the carbon implications of raising cattle.  I’m not a scientist, so it would be presumptuous of me to offer my opinion of the data or research they are using.  I think I can, however, point out some data points that are absent from virtually every anti-cow article I’ve ever read.
Should cattle be removed from certain regions, namely those which historically have had large grazing ruminants like the Great Plains, what would the impact be on the other species that depend on their presence for ecosystem function?  Is it logical to believe that removing cattle would not have a negative effect on these environments?  What will be done to fill the hole left by cattle?  They provide biological and mechanical services which are critical to a healthy prairie ecosystem.  (Bison and elk, which occupied this role prior to European settlement in the Great Plains, are both ruminants, so the methane component would be similar to cattle.)  And there are other aspects of climate change that would be impacted by an unhealthy prairie – less plant growth (less carbon sequestration), higher soil temperatures (less below-ground biological activity & more evaporation), poor water infiltration (more erosion and poorer water quality downstream), to name a few.
Speaking of bison and elk, I have yet to hear someone opposed to cattle for environmental reasons say that the vast herds of bison and elk that grazed North America prior to European settlers were ever a problem, and their near-extinction was actually a good thing.   If the methane cattle produce is so terrible, would the bison not have been equally as bad?
I would agree with those who oppose cutting down rainforests to make room for cattle.  Wholesale change of an ecosystem by man is something that generally has consequences.  For those who wish to critique modern beef production, there is room for that discussion.  However, to completely write off all beef production as detrimental to the planet’s health demonstrates a lack of critical thought and understanding of how different ecosystems function.
There has to be a balance.  Any rational person believes this.  Unfortunately, the cows and climate change debate is as polarized and dogmatic as any topic you’ll find.  But really, it isn’t rocket science.  When man makes drastic changes to an ecosystem, it’s generally a bad idea – whether that be putting cows where they don’t belong, or removing them from where they do.  We need to become observers of nature and mimic what it does, rather than believe we have all the answers.  We might find a more nuanced approach is the right one.

A Truly American Experience

My name is Alexandra Galber, Alexi or Lexi for short. I am a combat veteran of the Israel Defense Force (SSgt). I have a LL.B (law degree) from Ramat Gan, Israel, and on May 14th I graduated from Chicago Kent School of law with a LL.M (master law degree) in US, International, and Transnational law. I lived in London, England before I moved to Israel at the age of 16.

After graduation I wanted to spend my remaining time here in America doing something truly American. Something that I couldn’t do in either Israel or England. And that is how I fell into South Dakota and landed here at Rock Hills Ranch with the Perman’s.

Growing up, my family (Mum, Dad, and two younger sisters) would spend the holidays camping in the southern English country side rather than in a hotel. Once or twice we even stayed on a farm. But that is the closest that I had ever came to something like the life that I have been living over the past three weeks here on the ranch. With no disrespect to Chicago, I have never been into living right in the city, and I found that in comparison, the fact that the closest town from here has maybe 10 people living in it, is definitely more to my liking.

Over the past three weeks I have experienced things that I could never have even thought of before. Among the many things that I have learnt through experience here at the ranch is that there is so much more to grass that it just being green! And that it is considered to be traffic when there is more than just you and one other car on the road!

The day after I arrived at the ranch a group from the World Wildlife Foundation came to visit. It was a great way for me to be introduced to the ranch as we went on a tour of the pastures and received explanations of how the ranch functions. It was especially interesting as the ranch is based along the 100th Meridian, and also has Native American tee-pee sites. The visit was also the perfect example of how different people with different opinions can work together to find a way to protect, what I have come to learn as being one of the most important things that needs to be protected, the grass.

My first real ranch life experience, and therefore, out of my world experience, was moving cattle. As someone who has never been in the middle of a field completely surrounded by extremely large cows, this experience may have definitely caused me some blood pressure problems.  Even after being around cattle a several more times, I still maintain that I would rather deal with the animals that I had to deal with during my time in the service, rather than deal with an unruly cow. My inexperience with cattle was shown once again when I had to wrangle an escaped bottle fed calf back to the barn where it was kept. Thankfully there are no cameras in that barn. The whole situation would have been a whole lot less amusing had I not been wearing a sweatshirt with the name of my military unit, and the words “counter-terrorism” written on the back!

My second real life experience was the first time that we worked the cattle. Let’s just say that if anyone ever has the need to castrate a bull calf, they can call me.

This past weekend Tucker, the other intern here at Rock Hills Ranch, and I drove down to Mount Rushmore. It is incredible to think that it was carved in a time before the advancement of technology. During our trip we toured a bison ranch with the Grassland Coalitions, of which we are now members, and spent the first night at the Perman’s cousins in Rapid City.  We also visited the Crazy Horse monument, the town of Wall, the ghost town of Scenic, and drove through the Badlands, where we camped on Saturday night, something that was only possible thanks to Tuckers skills at engineering with duct tape.

There has been so much more to these past three weeks that what I have begun to write down and hopefully the next ten days before I fly back, will be just as amazing, and just as American.



We’ve had nothing but polled black cattle around here for the better part of 30 years, give or take a few red recessive genes and a brief trial with some Hereford bulls.  That changed the last day of March when 12 red-hided horned bulls arrived from Llano, Texas.

Akaushi (pronounced “ak-a-ooshee”) cattle, also known as Red Wagyu or Japanese Red, were imported to the US from Japan in the early 1990’s.  They produce very high quality beef, similar to that of the more common black wagyu, although some beef snobs would tell you the reds aren’t on par with the blacks.  I suppose Ferrari owners look down on Corvettes also.  Just a quick note here – “wagyu” simply means “Japanese cow”.  Akaushi acutally means “red cow” in Japanese.

After speaking to a number of people and reading every article I could find about them, I decided they would be a good choice for a terminal cross on our Angus cows.  They should bring $75-100 per head over our straight Angus calves if sold at weaning.  If we were to retain ownership and market them on a grid, it could be double that.

I can get used to the red hide and deal with the horns for that kind of premium.