Smart Pasture Operations

One of the most positive recent developments in U.S. agriculture is the growing movement toward raising beef and dairy cattle in what can be called smart pasture operations, or SPOs. These operations take advantage of the contemporary science of farming, as well as efficiencies of scale, while avoiding the unnecessary damage from the industrial approach.

SPOs differ from CAFOs in 3 main ways. SPOs are:

  • Less crowded – leading to minimal use of antibiotics, which lowers the risk of creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria that make human disease harder to treat.
  • Less massive – eliminating pollution problems from unmanageable waste, for instance, while still taking advantage of efficiencies of scale. (In fact, in terms of benefits and costs, these may be thought of as "just right" or "Goldilocks" operations)
  • Pasture-based – taking advantage of a nearly free feed source (grass) while also leading to more nutritious beef and dairy, and eliminating animal health problems that arise when cattle eat an unnatural diet of grain.

SPOs illustrate the important principle of working with and taking advantage of natural systems – rather than ignoring or working against them. What makes the SPO approach "smart" and profitable is that it takes into account new understandings of pasture biology and other natural systems, and leverages this knowledge through techniques like careful pasture rotation and the breeding of cattle varieties best suited to native grasses. Operations using this model are beginning to play a very important role in providing for U.S. meat and dairy needs in a way that doesn’t damage or destroy the very resources and processes we depend on.

Last Revised: August 23, 2008

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