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Upcycling is the unsung story of cattle

If you have read this column for awhile, then you know that I’m a strong supporter of sharing our agricultural story to balance out the negative attacks against food producers.

I believe if we continue to push forward while being a positive light and presenting factual information, perhaps we can move the needle in consumer confidence and enthusiasm about beef.

But what do consumers want to hear about? 

A great talking point we can focus on is the environmental piece. The fake meat companies like to claim that they have the superior edge in planetary health. However, we know that when cattle graze and consume forages and feedstuffs that are inedible by humans, it is a responsible use of our natural resources.

Combine that with their ability to convert this inedible cellulosic material into nutrient-dense beef, and it’s a winning story to share with consumers.

From fertilizing the land with their manure, to aerating the soil with their hooves, to reducing the spread of wildfires when they eat brush, to being a critical piece of a healthy ecosystem, there is much to celebrate when it comes to the incredible beef cow!

Today’s blog is a roundup of articles that might prove useful in sharing this upcycling message with consumers. 4-H and FFA kids can also use this as a resource and prepare talking points for public speaking competitions or topics to research in the classroom.

According to Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner, “Cattle have a unique four-chambered stomach, the largest chamber being the rumen, which helps them get the nutrients they need from parts of fruit and vegetable plants that humans don’t consume or can’t digest—like carrot tops, almond hulls or grasses. These leftovers are often mixed into their feed, along with other grasses or hay like alfalfa and grains like corn. Cattle are acting as “upcyclers” in our food system by upgrading human inedible material or food waste into high-quality protein and essential micronutrients.

“For example, in Wisconsin, about 62,000 acres are dedicated to potato production, which results in almost 1.3 million tons of potatoes annually. Culled potatoes, or those that do not meet prescribed appearance standards for supermarket use, are instead incorporated into properly balanced feed rations for cattle.”

This upcycling concept can be further explained by sharing the fact that 90% of what cattle eat is inedible by humans. As a result, cattle are critical to a health food system.

Oftentimes, folks will suggest we could simply take cattle off the range and grow crops for human consumption instead.

This narrative can be overturned by the simple reminder that approximately 35% of the land in the United States is too rocky, steep or arid for modernizing or farming. Yet, these tough terrains are perfect for cattle grazing. While they graze, they not only improve the landscape, reuse water, and coexist with wildlife, but with every bite, they are creating the nutrient-dense beef we love!

There’s a great deal of information on this topic that can be found at, and my best suggestion is to utilize these resources and share them far and wide on your platforms.

Our stories are powerful, factual and real, but if nobody hears it, how will we survive in society? We must step outside of our comfort zones and make valuable connections with our customers. Our fate depends on it!

Amanda Radke is a South Dakota rancher, a writer, and motivational speaker, specializing in the beef industry, social media and consumer trends. Contact her at