Question: How many times does something have to be said before it becomes true?
Answer: If it is false, it will never become true.
How many times have you been told we have to have feedlots because we just don’t have enough land to finish all of those cattle on pasture? Have you ever actually sat down and tried to figure out how much land it would take to pasture finish all the beef we need in the US?
There were approximately 29 million head of cattle finished in US feedlots in 2014. It took about 15.5 million acres of cropland to generate the feed consumed by those animals.
Let’s take those 15.5 million acres, seed it down to perennial grass-legume pasture mix, and manage it effectively. Those same acres should be able to finish about 25 million head of cattle as pasture. That is over 85% of our feedlot output just using the same land for pasture instead of crops!
But wait, we are at record low levels of cattle so we should probably plan for the number of head we were finishing 10 years ago. That was about 35 million head. So let’s take the 22.7 million acres of non-wetland or woodland CRP and put it back to a productive use. At a modest yield expectation of just 1.5 tons/acre, those CRP acres provide capacity for another 11 million head.
Apparently the reason we don’t finish all of the cattle in the US on pasture really isn’t lack of available land. What do you think the real reasons are?