After visiting the Bowen Cattle Co. ranch near Worden on a recent spring day, I began thinking about how the beef industry is slowly but surely diversifying, and that society may benefit because of it.
Like many Montanans, Scott and Tami Bowen raise beef cattle for a living. But rather than sending calves off to a feedlot for fattening, their cattle live on pasture.
Most of the millions of beef cattle raised in the United States start their lives eating grass but are fattened on corn and other grain before being shipped to market. Many receive antibiotics to help ward off diseases that crop up when they live in confined spaces. And many receive growth hormones to help them gain weight quicker.
The Bowens market Tami’s Grassfed Beef directly to customers, many of whom believe that eating grass-fed beef promotes better health and tastes better, to boot. Many customers appreciate knowing that their beef was raised under humane conditions and without antibiotics or hormones.
After the Bowens provided a firsthand view of their operation, their cows and calves indeed look happy and healthy grazing in a sea of green.
The ranch visit made me reflect on my childhood growing up in eastern Colorado. In those days my dad and hundreds of other small producers raised cattle in feedlots, fattening them on corn and alfalfa that they grew themselves.
It was hard work making sure our animals always had enough to eat and plenty of dry bedding. But at the time, nobody in our part of the country was talking about pasturing cattle until they were ready for market. The beef industry has changed a lot since then.
Obviously, grass-fed beef has enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years as consumers search for more healthy foods. The fact that Whole Foods, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage and Lucky’s Market are marketing grass-fed beef means the movement has some momentum.
It also serves as a reminder that most cattle lived on grass for centuries before ranchers began stuffing them with grain. I began to wonder what would happen if this trend continues and grass-fed beef ever catches on in a big way. Could millions of acres of land now devoted to corn and soybeans be converted to grass and alfalfa so that cattle could graze?
That’s probably a stretch to think that the commodity beef industry will go away anytime soon. But the future looks promising for this niche.