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Blue Nest Beef

The Art & Science of Grass, Soil & Cattle

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Rediscovering Natural Philosophy

Long ago, what we now call science was known as “Natural Philosophy.”  Natural Philosophy sought to understand both the causes and effects of nature and the full physical universe.  Back then they had to measure what they could and guess the rest.  Over time, more was measured and less had to be guessed.  But as we dug deeper into the mysteries of the natural world, scientists became more narrowly specialized.  Unintentionally, science often lost or just forgot context for the wholeness of natural systems.

In our view, further progress in science requires that we relearn how the pieces of nature actually fit together.  The library of information in our field of nature involving cows, grass and soil is still growing.  Below you will find just a few of the key bits and pieces that will give you a sense for the new Natural Philosophy basis of our direction:

Scientific Papers

For those that like deep details, here’s a set of select scientific papers that are a good place to start:

Stanton, R. L., C. A. Morrissey, and R. G. Clark. "Analysis of trends and agricultural drivers of farmland bird declines in North America: a review." Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 254 (2018): 244-254.

Industrial agriculture's use of pesticides and its effects on habitat loss have been devastating to birds.  Grazing is NOT the problem (but may be a solution?).

Teague, W. R., et al. "Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie." Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 141.3-4 (2011): 310-322.

THE foundational paper documenting changes in vegetation, soil carbon, water infiltration and microbiology as a function of grazing systems.

Wang, Tong, et al. "GHG mitigation potential of different grazing strategies in the United States Southern Great Plains." Sustainability 7.10 (2015): 13500-13521.

Demonstrates that a change to “multi-paddock” grazing leads to a net greenhouse gas equivalent sink in most scenarios and a breakeven in the worst.

Park, J. Y., et al. "Simulating hydrologic responses to alternate grazing management practices at the ranch and watershed scales." Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 72.2 (2017): 102-121.

Using data from Teague (2011), models how better grazing can have large positive impact on water infiltration and runoff.

Teague, W. R., et al. "The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture's carbon footprint in North America." Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 71.2 (2016): 156-164.

Does the math to show that at scale, changes to grazing (and no-till cropping) can turn agriculture into a very large net carbon sink.

Dass, Pawlok, et al. "Grasslands may be more reliable carbon sinks than forests in California." Environmental Research Letters 13.7 (2018): 074027.

Not only are soil carbon quantities in grasslands potentially material, they may actually be more reliable sinks than forests.

Retallack, Gregory J. "Global cooling by grassland soils of the geological past and near future." Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 41 (2013): 69-86.

Millions of years ago, in the age since dinosaurs, co-evolution of grazers and grasslands appears to have cooled the planet a few times already.

Stanley, Paige L., et al. "Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems." Agricultural systems 162 (2018): 249-258.

A milestone paper demonstrating that grass finishing of beef can indeed create a large net greenhouse gas sink.

Dexter, A. R., et al. "Complexed organic matter controls soil physical properties." Geoderma 144.3-4 (2008): 620-627.

A really good overview of what ‘soil organic matter’ actually is and what functions it performs in healthy soils.

Averill, Colin, Benjamin L. Turner, and Adrien C. Finzi. "Mycorrhiza-mediated competition between plants and decomposers drives soil carbon storage." Nature 505.7484 (2014): 543.

A deep dive into the magical relationship between roots, fungi and bacteria within soil that leads to net accumulation of carbon-rich organic matter.

Gomez‐Casanovas, Nuria, et al. "Grazing alters net ecosystem C fluxes and the global warming potential of a subtropical pasture." Ecological applications 28.2 (2018): 557-572.

Fascinating technology to measure the carbon going in and out of a pasture everyday to more deeply understand greenhouse gas dynamics. Documents case of active pasture sink.

Daley, Cynthia A., et al. "A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef." Nutrition journal 9.1 (2010): 10.

An overview of the nutritional properties of grain fed versus grass fed beef demonstrating material differences in fat proportions and key vitamins.

McAfee, Alison J., et al. "Red meat from animals offered a grass diet increases plasma and platelet n-3 PUFA in healthy consumers." British Journal of Nutrition 105.1 (2011): 80-89.

An experimental study of how just 3 servings per week of grassfed beef and lamb actually caused measurable differences in blood lipid markers.

Provenza, Frederick D., Scott L. Kronberg, and Pablo Gregorini. "Is Grassfed Meat and Dairy Better for Human and Environmental Health?." Frontiers in nutrition 6 (2019).

A forward-looking synthesis of what we do and don’t know about healthy meat (and dairy) and how the magic of real, whole food likely lies in many dimensions that we still don’t fully understand.

Books

For those who have the time and want to curl up with a full book:

"Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations"

by David Montgomery

A great place to start to understand that the story of soil and its loss actually IS the underlying story of civilization - literally.

Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet

by Oliver Morton

Dive deep into the story of the discovery of photosynthesis and how that natural technology is the basis of all life on Earth.

Cows Save the Planet

by Judith Schwartz

An easy and compelling read about the basics of the story of soil, grass, carbon and cows.

The Third Plate

by Dan Barber

A voyage of discovery and wonder of the myriad connections between the health of our food system and the health of the planet.

Dirt to Soil

by Gabe Brown

Follow North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown on his journey to figure out this new kind of agriculture. He’s now an Audubon Certified Rancher, too.

Defending Beef

by Nicolette Hahn Niman

Hear a vegetarian environmental lawyer tell her own story about the ecological benefits of beef production done right.

Nourishment

by Fred Provenza

An insightful synthesis of what a true master of grazing has learned about food and nourishment for people by watching cattle, sheep and goats.

Call of the Reed Warbler

by Charles Massy

A new vision for agriculture stitched together with both insight and wisdom from decades of regenerative farming experience in Australia.

Holistic Management

by Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield

Pretty much the overall handbook for a different way of managing any system as a whole - including grazing.

The Thermodynamic Foundations of the Earth System

by Axel Kleidon

In short, it’s all about capturing more energy from the sun.  This textbook is only for the geekiest of the geeks, but if you want to get to the deepest layer of the science underneath all of this, this is your ultimate book.

Videos

For those who just want a quick and easy overview including some science, check out some of our favorite short videos:

"Soil Carbon Cowboys" - The film that started it all from our good friend Peter Byck.

"Soil Carbon Curious" - Setting out on a quest to understand the science (including a cameo by Russ).

"Luckiest Places on Earth" - A glimpse into the gathering of some early scientific data in some pastures in Canada.

"A Fence & An Owner" - Audubon Certified Rancher Nancy Ranney talks about the difference that better grazing has made on her ranch in New Mexico.

"A Regenerative Secret" - A quick profile of our own Allen Williams explaining how this all works in practice.

"Eddy Covariance: Measuring an Ecosystem's Breath" - Might be interesting to the geeks in the crowd seeking to understand how we can measure “the ins and outs of CO2” in any ecosystem in real time.  This is the instrument in the picture at the top of the page.

Social Media

Sometimes we share new and interesting science and information on social media.  So if you want to stay up to date, please follow us on...

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