The beef industry is an important sector of agriculture in the U.S. In terms of how the industry is perceived, that depends on who is asked.

Per the USDA, as of Jan. 1, 2023, there were 28.9 million beef cows in the country. At first glance, 28.9 million seems like a large number, but in reality, this statistic is 4% lower than the beef cattle population from 2022. This decrease could be for a variety of reasons, including the increase in popularity of vegetarianism, but it also has to do with the perceived negative connection of the beef industry and the environment.

However, there have been recent developments in the industry that have improved its environmental impact and have increased the positive relationship between the beef industry and the planet.

One farm that has taken a large step toward protecting the environment through their beef production is a farm in Hardwick, MA, called Maple Hill Farm. Jayne Foley, one of the three workers on the farm, was more than happy to discuss the successes and goals of their beef production.

Coming from a background without agriculture, Jayne joined the farm seven years. The new owner, Jayne’s partner, focused on running their beef farm with four main terms in mind: sustainable, renewable, regenerative and productive.

Symbiotic relationship between the environment and beef

Jayne Foley of Maple Hill Farm said out of their 280 acres of land, 70 acres are used as rotational pastures for their herd of Black Angus. Photo courtesy of Jayne Foley

Out of their 280 acres of land, 70 acres are used as rotational pastures, 60 acres are dedicated to hay. Most of their land is in a permanent conservation restriction held by the Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) and the East Quabbin Land Trust.

The operation has a long history. It was first settled between 1730 and 1740 in Western Massachusetts as a large and successful dairy. That dairy business was so strong that in 1896 the old barn was doubled in size to accommodate an increasing herd.

When asked to explain why Maple Hill Farm decided to raise their beef cattle grass-fed, Jayne mentioned the health benefits of four specific groups: the environment, the workers, the consumers and the animals. The environment benefits by the natural fertilization of its grass by the cattle, the decrease in waste materials and the decrease in the resources used to raise the cattle. The workers benefit because it creates an easier operation for them to run, allowing such a successful production with only three workers. The workers don’t have to provide food for the animals – they just have to continue rotating the animals on pasture and providing clean water.

Consumers benefit from the grass-fed approach of raising beef cattle, as the end product looks more appetizing and has been said to be tastier than grain-fed beef. On the Maple Hill Farm website, they explain that “people care about how animals are raised and are willing to pay more for humanely raised, local, all-natural meat.”

Finally, the animals benefit from their ability to graze and access outdoors with minimal contact from the workers.

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by Kelsi Devolve