cattle: The Ultimate "Upcyclers"

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What is “upcycling”?  Upcycling means turning otherwise unusable material – such as ranchland that is too wet, rocky, steep or arid to support growing crops – and creating a higher value product from it.

Cattle ranching is the perfect example of “upcycling.”  Cattle graze on grasslands turning natural resources like pastureland and solar energy into beef and other everyday products. They are upcyclers that take otherwise useless materials, add nutritional and environmental value, and transform them into a high-quality protein. 

How do Cattle Upcycle?

About 90% of what cattle eat can’t be digested by humans, making them invaluable to a sustainable food system. Cattle consume those inedible plants and through their unique digestive system, transform these plants into a high-quality, nutrient-rich protein. In addition to the grasses they graze on for most of their lives, cattle can eat numerous other food byproducts. They can take items like brewers’ grains, pea pulp, beet tops, and potato peelings and turn those products into beef. 

Approximately 35% of the land in the contiguous United States is too wet, rocky, steep, or arid to support cultivated agriculture. However, cattle graze on plants native to their surroundings that humans can’t eat.  Their unique, four-compartment stomach and digestive system is home to trillions of microbes. These microbes allow cattle to benefit and gain nutritional value from these sources that other animals can’t digest. 

Approximately 35% of the land in the contiguous U.S. is pasture or rangeland that is too wet, rocky, steep,or arid to support cultivated agriculture. This land is able to support cattle, sheep, and goats— and protein upcycling.

Upcycling Infographic

The Value of Upcycling 

  • Upcycling adds additional value to products that otherwise would’ve been wasted.
  • Byproducts from biofuel and food production industries are digestible by cattle, reducing the volume of waste going to landfills.
  • Properly managed cattle grazing can improve rangeland and wildlife habitats.
  • As the global population continues to grow, ruminant animals like beef cattle can help us make more food with less.
  • More than 44% of an animal’s live weight transforms into other goods such as leather, cosmetics and pet food.

Corn going to feed beef cattle represents only 10% of harvested corn grain in the U.S. or 8 million acres. By comparison, 37.5% of corn acreage in the U.S. is used for producing fuel ethanol.

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