IS LIVESTOCK FARMING AS BAD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AS WE ARE TOLD?

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

In this article I will try to answer this question from my point of view and from my experiences. It is not necessary to answer it as quickly as possible, but I invite you to analyze it in detail in order to draw a conclusion.


First of all, I would like to introduce myself, I think it is important to see from which point of view I am going to approach it: my name is Miquel, I live in a very small village in the Alt Penedès region (Catalonia), an area characterized by wine production and the sheep sector. When I was a child (and when I grew up) I was never interested in the agricultural sector in my area, until I decided to run my own vegetable garden at home. What a change! The little land that I have made me realize the great work that farmers, ranchers, ranchers and anyone who works in the rural world do. I am curious by nature, and that made me get to know the work that farmers and ranchers do. How did I do it? By asking them, taking an interest and above all, listening to them. They always welcomed me with open arms, and never refused to answer any questions.


It is true that perhaps the variant that dominates more is that of agriculture, but everything is connected. All the people who work in the rural world are the ones who take care of the fields, the mountains, they are the ones who are day by day in these beautiful places that we have. From here I express all my respect and encouragement to all those people who carry out these tasks, many times, nefariously recognized.


Going deeper into the livestock sector, in my opinion, cattle and sheep farmers play an indispensable and fundamental role. If we look back to our origins, the activities that led us to develop and, consequently, to increase our carrying capacity, were agriculture and livestock farming, and the fact that these two activities are still in force today must be for some reason, don't you think?


When the shepherd or shepherdess takes his herd out, he or she takes it for hours through mountains and fields. The cattle, during this journey, take the opportunity to feed on the grass that grows in the field, doing a very little visible but no less important work: clearing our fields. I could name many examples, but one that I particularly like is the one I will comment below: an acquaintance of mine, a wine farmer, has vineyards with different varieties of vines, one of them is a type of vine called in Catalan "Macabeu" (old vines, more than 40 years old), and they are beautiful, because in the vineyard you can not see the land, but it has natural grass, making a perfectly green soil with lots of microbial life. I asked him how he managed to mow all those acres of grass he had, and he laughingly replied that he didn't even bother to mow it. He said, "come one day and I'll show you how I cut the grass without lifting a finger", to which I agreed.


After a few days I went with curiosity to see how he did it, and to my surprise I found the whole vineyard full of sheep. At the time I was only amused, but after a few days of reflection I came to the conclusion that it was a very intelligent choice. We have to take into account that, apart from clearing the fields, the cattle also fertilize them with their feces. For a strong and healthy development of vegetation, the most important part is the composition of the soil. We must have soils rich in nutrients and organic matter for its correct development, and cattle offer us all this for free, each one providing different nutrients. Only manure from herbivorous animals, such as horses, cows, sheep, etc., is good. In a way, cattle are in charge of closing a cycle, the grasses they eat are transformed into feces, which are then transformed into natural manure of very high quality, returning to their place of origin, the earth. In this article I will try to answer this question from my point of view and from my experiences. It is not necessary to answer it as quickly as possible, but I invite you to analyze it in detail in order to draw a conclusion.


First of all, I would like to introduce myself, I think it is important to see from which point of view I am going to approach it: my name is Miquel, I live in a very small village in the Alt Penedès region (Catalonia), an area characterized by wine production and the sheep sector. When I was a child (and when I grew up) I was never interested in the agricultural sector in my area, until I decided to run my own vegetable garden at home. What a change! The little land that I have made me realize the great work that farmers, ranchers, ranchers and anyone who works in the rural world do. I am curious by nature, and that made me get to know the work that farmers and ranchers do. How did I do it? By asking them, taking an interest and above all, listening to them. They always welcomed me with open arms, and never refused to answer any questions.


It is true that perhaps the variant that dominates more is that of agriculture, but everything is connected. All the people who work in the rural world are the ones who take care of the fields, the mountains, they are the ones who are day by day in these beautiful places that we have. From here I express all my respect and encouragement to all those people who carry out these tasks, many times, nefariously recognized.


Going deeper into the livestock sector, in my opinion, cattle and sheep farmers play an indispensable and fundamental role. If we look back to our origins, the activities that led us to develop and, consequently, to increase our carrying capacity, were agriculture and livestock farming, and the fact that these two activities are still in force today must be for some reason, don't you think?


When the shepherd or shepherdess takes his herd out, he or she takes it for hours through mountains and fields. The cattle, during this journey, take the opportunity to feed on the grass that grows in the field, doing a very little visible but no less important work: clearing our fields. I could name many examples, but one that I particularly like is the one I will comment below: an acquaintance of mine, a wine farmer, has vineyards with different varieties of vines, one of them is a type of vine called in Catalan "Macabeu" (old vines, more than 40 years old), and they are beautiful, because in the vineyard you can not see the land, but it has natural grass, making a perfectly green soil with lots of microbial life. I asked him how he managed to mow all those acres of grass he had, and he laughingly replied that he didn't even bother to mow it. He said, "come one day and I'll show you how I cut the grass without lifting a finger", to which I agreed.


After a few days I went with curiosity to see how he did it, and to my surprise I found the whole vineyard full of sheep. At the time I was only amused, but after a few days of reflection I came to the conclusion that it was a very intelligent choice. We have to take into account that, apart from clearing the fields, the cattle also fertilize them with their feces. For a strong and healthy development of vegetation, the most important part is the composition of the soil. We must have soils rich in nutrients and organic matter for its correct development, and cattle offer us all this for free, each one providing different nutrients. Only manure from herbivorous animals, such as horses, cows, sheep, etc., is good. In a way, cattle are in charge of closing a cycle, the grasses they eat are transformed into feces, which are then transformed into natural manure of very high quality, returning to their place of origin, the earth.


Images from @muletviticultors



With this example I wanted to illustrate a situation that I experienced and that made me think: how nice to take care of nature using nature itself!


I will comment in a smaller way on some of the great tasks that they also perform:

  • They conserve the vegetation cover of the poorest soils.

  • They are an effective weapon for controlling the proliferation of shrubs and invasive species.

  • They are very important for the prevention of forest fires.

  • They take advantage of many areas of our geography that would be desolate without livestock.

  • Some economic sectors derive from their activity: rural tourism, etc., directly generating the maintenance of the landscape.

  • They favor the germination of plants thanks to their digestion.


I have always surrounded myself with small farmers, cattlemen and cattlewomen, since that is where the true essence of knowledge resides, and never with large farms, which I think seek to maximize their profits without taking into account the ecosystem or the animal itself.


Large farms, unlike small livestock farms, force the destruction of large tracts of forests to obtain fodder and land to grow food products for livestock. They destroy absolutely all the biodiversity that can exist in a natural space, causing an excessive consumption of fodder, and consequently there is a degradation of vegetation, greater soil erosion and deterioration of its fertility and structure. They have a negative impact on food safety, since many of the diseases that animals can suffer from (avian flu, swine flu, etc.) all derive from industrial livestock farming. Animals are treated as machines to produce money, often the conditions in which the animals are kept are terrible. Industrial livestock farming also has a negative impact on the economy, as it generates far fewer jobs than organic livestock farming, where the processes are not so automated.


With these words, I just wanted to give you my vision of these activities, which undoubtedly fascinate me and I hope that after reading these lines, you too, at least a little! We must not forget where we come from, we come from the earth, and we have to strengthen that love for it, and for that I recommend you to look at the natural landscapes we have in a different way, knowing that they are formed by thousands of different species, ours being one of them. All of them are in balance, none of them is dispensable and all of them fulfill their function. You just have to know where to look and put a little love and curiosity to see how rewarding it is to know that we live from nature, without impacting it negatively.


Only with love and respect we will be able to see all the good things that nature offers us, sometimes in a very unnoticed way, but without a doubt, they are there for all of us.


Miquel Martos Doroteo


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