Pasture containing grasses, wildflowers and herbs is the natural diet of cattle and sheep. Yet today, very few animals are fed on pasture alone. The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association brings together British farmers committed to producing high quality food in a more natural way, here they tell us why.

We all know that cows eat grass, but here are some facts that you might not know.

  • More than one third of the world’s cereal grains and 75% of soya beans are fed to animals. Of this 65% is fed to pigs and chickens and 20% to cattle. Isn’t that a waste when 15% of the world’s population is hungry?
  • Nearly two thirds of the world’s farmland is pasture, the natural diet of cattle and sheep, and that pasture can take carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in the soil – reducing global warming? Pretty amazing when you think about!
  • There is more than twice as much carbon in the world’s soils as there is in the atmosphere. That makes the soil a good place to store carbon and pasture can put it there!
  • Under traditional management a dairy cow can live for up to 15 years, producing milk for around 10 of them. But under intensive management they are often slaughtered at just five years old because they cannot maintain the very high yields required. Isn’t that a waste?
  • Meat and milk produced wholly off pasture is better for you – because of the types of fats and vitamins that it contains.

So doesn’t it make sense to raise cattle and sheep wholly on pasture rather than feed them on grain?

That’s why we set up the Pasture-fed Livestock Association to encourage farmers to raise their cattle and sheep just on pasture, the place where they feel most at home. And as a community interest company, many of us volunteers, we are not driven by profit. A year ago we developed a certification Mark “Pasture for Life” which guarantees that meat or milk showing the certification Mark comes from animals raised only on pasture. There are many companies selling what they call “grass-fed” beef but without evidence to back it up. In many cases these animals have been fed grain, particularly in the last two to three months. This matters because many of the health benefits from their early days on pasture are lost when fed grain.

To be sure its 100% grass-fed always look for the Pasture for Life certification mark. The good news is that an increasing number of farmers are adopting our standards. This is good for the environment, good for the animals and good for you. These farmers are focused on increasing the organic matter in their soils, taking carbon out of the atmosphere into the soil and absorbing water that might otherwise contribute to flooding. The biodiversity of their meadows also encourages bees, birds and other wildlife. Before long you will be able to buy certified Pasture for Life milk too.

So next time you are in the countryside, take off your headphones and listen to the grass growing, as it quietly harvests the energy of the sun, then listen to the cows happily munching it. Next time you are in the butcher’s shop or the supermarket deli, ask for meat certified as Pasture for Life and if they don’t have it, why not ask them why not?

About John Meadley

During nearly 50 years when John was working in rural Africa and Asia in agriculture he became acutely conscious of both poverty and hunger, believing it to be crazy that we feed cereals and soya beans – both carbon-intensive to produce – to animals when there are so many hungry people and so much pasture available. In November 2009 John met two farmers already raising their cattle wholly on pasture and together they decided to set up a discussion group. Thanks to an amazing response from farmers, they set up the PFLA as a community interest company in 2011. Get in touch with John at sheepdog@pfla.org.uk.