How much feed and water are used to make a pound of beef beefresearch.ca npower gas price per unit

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[Update] A new study has found that Canada’s beef industry has dramatically reduced its water footprint over the past several decades, and that trend is expected to continue. Learn more at The Canadian Beef Water Footprint in Shrinking, published December 14, 2017

In terms of plant material, because water content is higher in some feeds than in others, feed use is measured on a dry matter basis. Feed conversion (pounds of feed consumed per pound of live animal gain) varies with the type of feed an animal is fed, how it is processed, etc. Current feed to gain ratios in a feedlot animal are about 6lbs of feed per 1lb of live weight gain.

For example, if an animal enters the feedlot at 500lbs and finishes at 1400lbs live weight (which will produce an 868lb carcass with 512lb of edible beef), that animal needs to gain 900lbs. At a 6:1 conversion, that’s 5400lbs of total feed used.

In western Canada, much of the feed used for feedlot cattle is either barley that didn’t make the grade for brewing, or sometimes wheat that didn’t make the grade for bread milling, or grain that spoiled in storage. For instance, you hear a lot about the rail shipping backlog leaving lots of grain on the farm. Given last year’s bumper crop, a lot of that grain was stored on the ground and spoiled. Spoiled grain is no longer good for beer or bread, but it’s fine for cattle. Feeding it to cattle means that grain doesn’t go to waste.

*Note that water used during processing was not included, nor water used for irrigation to grow feed (some parts of the country use irrigation, some don’t), because accurate data is currently unavailable. However, we do know that both irrigation systems and packing plants have become much more efficient in water use. Progress

It is safe to say that as an industry, we’re doing a lot better at using water than we used to. Back in the 1950’s, cattle were closer to 3 years of age at slaughter, would have drank closer to 50,000 liters (11,000 gallons), and produced a much smaller carcass (250 lb edible beef). It would have taken 44 gallons per pound of edible beef, instead of the 8 gallons per pound today. (That’s still a far cry from 5,000 gallons per pound!)

Canada’s beef industry produces more beef now, using a lot less water and feed than we used to. That’s good for farm economics, and helps keep beef affordable for consumers. At the same time, improvements in feed efficiency also mean that we’re producing less greenhouse gas and manure per pound of beef. That’s good for the environment.

The sharing or reprinting of this BCRC Blog article is welcome and encouraged. Please provide acknowledgement to the Beef Cattle Research Council, list the website address, www.BeefResearch.ca, and let us know you chose to share the article by emailing us at info@beefresearch.ca.

Nutrients in cattle manure are largely cycled within grassland ecosystems without reaching high concentrations or leaving the system. Nutrients in feces and urine are dispersed as cattle move throughout the pasture seeking new forage stands to graze. Fecal pats provide nutrients to insect communities such as dung beetles and the readily available nitrogen in urine is quickly utilized by plants. Manure from feedlots is also a valuable source of fertilizer and is applied to surrounding farmland, reducing the reliance on chemical fertilizers and increasing the organic matter content of soils. To date, there is little evidence that the accumulation of nutrients in cropland adversely impacts the surrounding environment or crop production.

A global research effort has identified technologies that can reduce methane emissions from cattle. Increasing the value of carbon would increase the use of these technologies in beef production. Meanwhile, beef production is increasing efficient. A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Manitoba, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Lethbridge and Environment Canada found that there has been a 15% decrease in methane, 16% decrease in nitrous dioxide and 13% decrease in carbon dioxide from beef production in Canada between 2011 and 1981. Comparing the same time periods, it took 29% fewer cattle in the breeding herd and 24% less land to produce the same amount of beef. Canada’s beef industry currently accounts for 3.6% of Canada’s greenhouse gas production and 0.072% of global greenhouse gas production.

Hi Jay: You may have overlooked the hyperlink that references daily water consumption statistics for cattle of different ages and ambient temperatures (which both correspond to different times of the year). As noted, total consumption will vary with the production system. The longer it takes to get an animal to market, the more water they will consume. Getting animals to market sooner is one of the biggest things that the industry has done to improve resource use (and reduce waste production) over the years. The blog does point out that it’s difficult to know how much irrigation water is used for livestock (i.e. as opposed to a variety of other crops, golf courses or farm dugouts for human use), or how much water is used by packing plants. But the efficiency of these systems has very clearly improved. For instance, between 1950 and the early 1990’s, canal rehabilitation projects in Southern Alberta reduced the water loss from canals (evaporation and seepage) by 85%. Improvements in the irrigation equipment itself would be in addition to this. One example of how packing plants reduce their water use is by capturing water used to clean equipment inside the plant, and using it again to clean livestock trailers and outside pens. More subtle improvements (like more efficient water recirculation systems, optimizing the water pressure in cleaning systems, maintaining hoses, pumps, valves, etc.) add up as well. For example, an 800 head capacity beef processing plant being renovated near Calgary is installing a water recycling system that will reduce its water requirements from 500,000 to 20,000 gallons per day. That 96% reduction will reduce water use from 625 to 25 gallons per head processed, or from 1.22 to 0.05 gallons per pound of beef. We are currently funding research to be able to get more precise answers to questions about the environmental footprint of beef production in Canada.