Raising animals outdoors on deep-rooted, perennial pastures can have significant benefits for the environment, animal welfare, and human health.
Yet, today, pastured meat remains a niche market. It’s estimated that less than 5% of the 32 million beef cattle, 5% of the 121 million hogs, and 0.01% of the 9 billion broilers produced in the U.S. in 2017 were raised and finished on pasture. What would it take to make pastured systems the mainstream model of animal agriculture? And how might scaling up affect land use and the environment?
A new Pasa study led by Franklin Egan, produced in partnership with 10 pastured livestock farms in Pennsylvania, explores how much land and feed it takes for these farmers to produce a pound of grass-finished beef, pastured pork, or pastured chicken. Results varied significantly—for example, while one pastured beef cattle farm was capable of producing 71 pounds of meat per acre of pasture and hay, another farm was producing just 31 pounds of meat per acre. The most efficient of the pastured poultry farms the study examined produced 1,760 pounds of meat per ton of feed, while the least efficient produced 540 pounds of meat per ton of feed.
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