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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Kirchner

Local Montana beef producers help address energy dependence

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

Given the invasion of Ukraine by Russia this week, there has been a lot of renewed discussion in the news and markets about US dependency on foreign energy. While I don't intend to get into that topic at a deep level here, it is a good reminder of one of the many benefits that comes from sourcing your protein from local producers.

There is a lot of concern surrounding the impact that the agriculture industry has on the environment. And, yet everyone wants to eat three times a day and there is only so much of the household income that can go towards the grocery bill. These are issues we all face as a society. Buying your meats from local producers is a better option than participating in the modern industrial food system for many reasons.

Take for example the lifecycle of the cattle that becomes beef and is sold by our small family operation. The animals are born in Montana, sometimes as a calf from our own herd, but increasingly we partner with other neighboring ranches to purchase their weanlings and yearlings to grass finish and direct market. These animals live on pasture their whole lives and eat grass from the pastures or brought in grass hay. The only fossil fuels involved here are related to feeding hay. We are actively working to reduce our need to bring in hay by growing more forage in our pastures and letting the cattle graze winter stockpiled feed. A lot of fuel is saved by having the cattle stay on pasture. We buy our hay and drive it in using a diesel truck. The other use of petroleum products in this cycle is the drive the cattle take on a trailer. This is usually only once or twice in their lives including their short trip from the pastures in Sweet Grass county to our local USDA inspected processor at Pioneer Meats in Big Timber MT. I personally pick up the beef and deliver it to our customers.

Compare the above life cycle with that of the factory farmed meat available at the store. They spend a majority of their lives in fields eating grass, until they are sold for the first time usually at a sale barn where they were transported. The second phase is a background-stocker operation where they live until they are moved to a feedlot. Cattle are moved to the third and final phase, the feedlot typically for the last 3-4 months of their lives. Managing a feedlot is extremely fossil fuel intensive. The high grain diet they are fed is harvested and brought it using these fuels, and there is a lot of fuel or energy spent in managing the manure created in these artificial environments. Then the cattle are taken to the processing plant and finally the beef to the store by means of many additional and often long distance trips on the road.

We need to recreate more closed loop local food systems. We have the ability to wean ourselves off of these global fossil fuel intensive systems. Yes, it will cost more for food produced this way because the benefits from economies of scale and industrial efficiency are lost. However, much more is gained than is lost; including the health of our soil, air and local rural economies. The end product is meat from just one animal and not from many that were in the assembly line at the same time. The dollars spent go to local farmers, ranchers and the men and women in your community that work at the small inspected processor. And, then more often than not those dollars stay in your community. The final thought for this article is that when we have access to all the necessary agriculture businesses in our own community to feed our families then we have greater insulation or protection from disruptions that happen in the global markets. There is value in that security and peace of mind that is hard to put a price on.

Thank you for reading and for your support of local food systems. If your family is in need of some local grass fed Montana beef to fill your freezer, please reach out or visit our online store for details on our next round of processing dates. We are currently accepting deposits for beef quarters, half beef and whole beef shares.

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