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Good Manure or Bad Manure?

As with many things, the answer to that question isn’t super straightforward. Whether cow manure is good or bad for the environment and our health depends on the production system that is in place.

One of the most common criticisms lobbied at the meat industry is the gas and poop it produces and how bad it all is for the planet. The argument goes that if you care about the earth, you should replace all meat that comes from a pooping and farting animal with plant-based alternatives. Apparently, soy doesn’t poop, which makes it superior. But here is the shocker—cow manure can be a great thing. Bet you never thought you’d read that sentence. Oh, and poop or no poop, soy just sucks.

Admittedly, cow manure and animal waste in general has gotten a bad rep lately for good reason. There have been many documented cases like this one of animal waste from feedlot operations leading to contaminated water supplies. Farm runoff floating down the Mississippi River is contributing to huge dead zones in the Gulf Of Mexico as I type this. It isn’t pretty.

An estimated 55% of sediment pollution and 30% of nutrient pollution in America’s drinking water comes from livestock manure. You were wondering what all this has to do with your health. Well, there it is—there is probably poop in your water. Doesn’t sound very healthy.

But wait, we said cow manure could be a great thing? Well, yes! Cow manure especially can be a great thing… in the right system. You see, the reason all this manure runoff gets into our waterways is because conventional feedlots have nowhere to put it. Whether it is a pig operation that is raising pigs on concrete slabs, or cattle operations keeping animals in tight, confined spaces, CAFOs are not properly equipped to dispose of manure.

However, in a regenerative system, poop is gold. When animals have plenty of space and are rotated correctly, their waste becomes a potent fertilizer for the soil, incorporating beneficial bacteria and nutrients into the ground. Even cow pee serves a purpose by regulating the pH level of the soil.

All this leads to healthier, live soil that produces more nutrient-dense forage. This bountiful forage then becomes food for grazing animals, which ultimately leads to a more nutritious piece of beef at your dinner table for you to enjoy. And as for the cow farts and burps—according to this recent trial, cow methane production has been significantly overestimated. Even with that 30% overestimation in mind, livestock produces just a small percentage of greenhouse gases. Even so, the amount of carbon a regenerative system can absorb from the atmosphere far outweighs the methane those animals produce.

Boom! Just like that, it turns out cow poop can be a great thing. All we need to do as educated consumers is continue to push the food system in the direction where animals are raised in a system that keeps us and our planet healthy.