All In Column: Environmental Stewardship

By Chris McClure, Contributing Editor 

I have to admit that there is a streak of environmentalist in me. It’s a practical type of environmentalism, but it sometimes makes me step back and question some of the views prevalent in the industry. Namely, we tend to point the blame at others while they are pointing at us as the culprits. 

The reality is that we are all responsible for the environment, but the only part of it we can truly affect is what is around us. As I think along those lines, a few thoughts come to mind related to the cattle feeding industry. Please keep in mind that I haven’t researched relevant laws or restrictions that might impact some of these thoughts; I just want to throw a few things out there. 

  • Excessive heat can have a significant impact on cattle performance. Shade might be a way to help mitigate some of that negative impact, but shade is expensive to construct, so how about solar panels on the top? I suspect there are some government grants or at least some tax incentives that could help with the cost. 
  • One carbon sequestration method is to plant trees. Would it be possible to plant windbreaks around some of our facilities and utilize lagoon water that has had the solids precipitated out to water those trees via drip system? The trees would provide a windbreak, screen from prying eyes and beautify the premises. 
  • What if packing plants also made trees a part of their water management programs? I visited a vegetable processing plant a number of years ago that had irrigated pasture as part of their wastewater management plan. They utilized those pastures for grazing yearlings. 
  • Packaging is another area of concern. Our landfills are full of packaging from all kinds of products, but Styrofoam trays and clear plastic make up a part of that. We have even moved to shrink-wrapped packaging from the local locker plant. Perhaps we need to reconsider paper? 
  • Food waste is something we don’t really think about from the production side of the business – especially since almost every possible scrap of an animal is utilized in some fashion. However, tons and tons of food are thrown away every day – including uneaten beef. Maybe we need to consider smaller serving sizes? 
  • Water is likely to become the most critical resource globally in coming years due to increasing population. In much of the cattle feeding areas of the country, it is already reaching critical supply levels. Rather than mining underground aquifers, which are most frequently used, is there a way to harvest atmospheric water? If you’ve ever read the Dune books by Frank Herbert, or seen the movies, you’ll know what I mean. 
  • We don’t really think about it in regard to the environment, but judicious antibiotic use is a piece of the puzzle. Keeping animals healthy is important for efficient resource utilization, but overuse of antibiotics can impact water quality as well as our ability to control and stop disease outbreaks. Focusing on prevention rather than treatment is key. Much of that must occur prior to receipt at the feedyard, but insistence on proper handling of livestock prior to our receipt can help. 
  • It may seem like a small thing, but making certain all equipment is in good working order and replacing older, inefficient engines with newer ones can make a difference. Maybe a couple of electric golf carts or some type of ATV for running around the yard would be possible? 
  • We all can reduce the amount of waste we produce. Instead of bottled water, how about a water cooler? 
  • Speaking of waste – I don’t know how many times I’ve stopped and picked up net wrap or bale twine or empty cans and bottles that were just laying around because they “escaped.” 

All of this is just thinking out loud. I’m sure there is absolutely nothing new in what I have written, but it is often good to be reminded. If we all will keep the mindset that our local environment is our responsibility, the result will be a better world for us all and give us a better reputation with the general public.