How can we justify cattle removal?

Soil health and profits require cattle on the land, together with proper grazing management.


R. P. 'Doc' Cooke, Beef Producer

Nov 04, 2019


For the past 15 plus years our area has experienced the arrival of the "green bean boys." There are a couple of sizeable processing and canning facilities on the Cumberland Plateau and over in East Tennessee. A handful of producers have been growing green beans for the industrial giants for several decades.


But the green bean boys tend to pay high rent, normally stay for three years, and then leave when the soil is mostly gone. It is close to the ultimate destructive farming program as they routinely till a field deep and make a “lettuce bed” and plant green beans. They like to plant and harvest three crops in a 150-day growing season. We are in a high moisture, heavy clay, low-organic-matter area. When the green bean boys leave, there ain't much left but gullies and subsoil.


Historically, David Montgomery notes in his book, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, that the downfall of most civilizations has come and been closely tied to the loss of soil volume and life. Tillage was the No. 1 contributor, and certainly is the fastest way to create erosion.


Egypt’s Nile river valley was successful for thousands of years due to the huge amount of silt and minerals it annually received from the south. It is considered an exception but this is not completely accurate.  Cattle removal in Egypt led to so many problems that their culture was showing signs of failure 4,000 years ago when the Hebrew cattle boys (Jacob) moved down in their country with herds and 70 people. A few generations later (450 years) they left with close to 2.5 million people. I'd say this is a good indicator reproductive function and health is more functional with ruminant consumption.


Walt Davis has written a book, The Green Revolution Delusion, that outlines a bunch of reasons and necessities for using cattle in most all agricultural systems. It's a must-read. We have degraded a bunch of good ground with cattle but when you remove the cattle for really long periods everything gets a bunch worse. Properly pulse-grazed cattle are the major factor to soil restoration and soil building. Gabe Brown totally understands and now utilizes this principle on a daily basis. I think cattle are likely the No. 1 factor in his success.


Think about these components of a properly managed cattle herd...