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‘Cows are not the problem’

A Wyoming rancher speaks at British Society of Animal Science Convention, tours UK.

7 Min Read
Jim Jensen at UK convention
Wyoming rancher Jim Jensen, far right, recently spoke at the British Society of Animal Science Convention in Belfast, Northern Ireland.Jim Jensen

This spring, Jim Jensen and his wife Jamie of Lucky Seven Angus, near Boulder, Wyo., were contacted by Andrew Clark, Agricultural Manager of the Foyle Food Group, inviting them to Northern Ireland to talk about their environmentally friendly beef and their unique cattle operation. 

“Wayne Acheson, one of four brothers who co-own the Foyle Food Group, tried for 5 years to talk us into doing this. He set everything up, and was with us every step of the way on this trip,” Jim said.

In the meantime, Jim and Jamie were putting together a feature film called Lucky Seven Angus; The Art of a Cowboy and had finished the first episode.  “The film crew heard about our invitation to Ireland and wanted to do the last episode with ‘Lucky Seven Angus Goes to the World’ so the Foyle Food Group took all of us over there.” 

Jim Jensen is a fifth-generation rancher and graduate of the University of Wyoming. He and his wife have 2,500 cows, raised in the harsh conditions of what’s been called the Nation’s Icebox. The cows graze on 38,000 acres, with some pastures above 10,000 feet elevation.

During their life, these cattle are trailed over 200 miles of rugged terrain and must have structural soundness, feed efficiency and desired carcass traits. The Foyle Food Group and asked him to be their keynote speaker at the BSAS (British Society of Animal Science) Conference in Belfast.

“April 6th they flew us to Edinburg, Scotland and the next day we went to Ireland,” Jensen said. “We were on an informational tour, talking to registered breeders, visiting several top pedigree Angus herds in Scotland and England.” 

On to Belfast

The next day they went to Belfast, the headquarters of the Foyle Food Group. “They are one of the largest beef production chains in the UK. They had a seminar for our group and we went through their packing facility,” he said. 

“This is a big company, with 1,400 employees. We toured their smallest packing house where they kill and package a beef animal in less than a minute. That afternoon we went to the Foyle Food Group’s farm branch and agriculture testing facility for cattle and crops.

"They invited bankers and top people in the government, agriculture sector, media people, plus a lot of producers. They wanted us to tell the public about ranchers and that what we do is a good thing.  For a full week, the owner took us everywhere and displayed great hospitality.”

They met with the Agricultural and Continuous Improvement Managers to gain an understanding of how those teams tackle sustainability challenges and use innovation to improve performance while encouraging this within their supply base.

Jensen gave a presentation to beef industry representatives including members of the Northern Ireland Aberdeen Angus Breeders Club, Aberdeen Angus Quality Beef (AAQB), agricultural representatives from local banks as well as Foyle suppliers.

Talking sustainability

On April 11 he and Jamie went to the main event where he was scheduled to speak. The Foyle Food Group were sponsors of the “Sustainable Beef Production through Animal Science” session at the BSAS (British Society of Animal Science) Conference in Belfast. 

“All the events we attended were focused around how to feed people and keep sustainability, not just for the environment," Jensen said. "My talk emphasized the fact that first of all, sustainability means the rancher must be able to continue to make a living.

"Second, we must create a food supply system for an ever-growing population," he said. "Three, sustainability means we have to consider the environment. If we don’t have the first two, however, no one cares about the environment if we are all starving to death.

“Cows are not the problem,” he said. “If you look at the methane cycle, and the carbon footprint, the problems are coming from other sources. The methane will come and go, regardless of whether cows eat it or the grass just decays by itself.

“On our ranch we’ve created cows that eat grass, live longer, and healthier,” he said. “These cattle have a different ‘motor’ in them. They take in an energy source, either produced outside or by the cow as methane, but turn it into beef. Cattle are the solution; we just need to make the engine more efficient.

“If we can drop the methane level from a rate that can’t be changed, and which isn’t the problem, it may help counterbalance the people flying back and forth to Washington on their big jets and all the construction going on in the cities. They keep increasing the problem on their side, but we can decrease the problem on the side that is stagnant. This means we are the solution, and not the problem,” he said.

“We talked about what Lucky Seven Angus has done as a leader in high elevation cattle (good PAP scores), creating animals that are healthier and live longer. We lead in the world in feed efficiency. In cattle, feed efficiency and dry matter intake is directly related to less methane production. We also have cattle that last longer,” he said.

“Regarding production a cow, if she’s 2 years old before she produces a calf, and you only keep her until she’s 6 or 7, she is much less efficient and possibly more environmentally harming than cows that live until they are 16.”

Breeding program

Jensen’s breeding program focuses on longevity and feed efficiency. His bulls have a four-year guarantee and he advertises then as some of the most efficient in the industry. Trials conducted using GrowSafe have shown that his bulls consume 38.6% less than that of competitors. His heifers can maintain body weight with 54% less feed than industry standards.

The genetic goal is for cows to be productive for at least 16 years. Any cows that are flushed must be a minimum of 12, to ensure longevity with proven genetics. Any that don’t perform well are sold after their first calf. This selection pressure moves the herd toward more efficiency and desirable traits.

His cows are moderate frame, since big cattle can’t handle the harsh conditions on his ranch, but he points out that feed efficiency is not necessarily correlated with size.  Some small-framed cattle are not feed efficient.  It’s also important to eliminate the impact of compensatory growth when evaluating feed efficiency, to ensure accurate data.

To conclude their UK visit, the Jensens talked with Irish Aberdeen Angus breeders and Angus Beef Ireland.  “Now there is talk of taking us to Kazakhstan, and Buenos Aires in Argentina to speak,” Jim said.

“The U.S. also needs to pay attention to agricultural sustainability and importance of animal agriculture. The UK is 10 years ahead of us in pushing ranchers around, making it challenging to keep farming—with the environmental focus that views animal agriculture as bad. We need to tell our story, and how we are doing things to fix the problems that the so-called environmentalists think are problems,” he said.

“We need to show them that we are doing our job, and that we are good people.  Most city people are hungry for our story. Agriculture is the only industry on earth that is sustainable and totally necessary for human existence. Cowboys are the most iconic figures, so I believe God has set this up for cowboys to get people to understand and not be confused, and to save agriculture. I think this can be a positive time—even though the current political climate is crazy and our country is trying to survive. I think people are waking up and realizing we don’t have to do stupid things,” Jensen said.

“Even in the UK, farmers and ranchers are saying the environmental movement is putting less pressure on them to get rid of cattle than they were two years ago; the rigid regulations are loosening a little.”

Hope for the future

Maybe the pendulum has swung far enough in the wrong direction and can move back toward balance again.

“It needs to, because all those farmers and ranchers in the UK are at least 65 to 70 years old, just like they are here,” Jensen said. “There are no young people moving into this industry.” 

Farmers and ranchers need to be allowed to make a living, he said.

“There are 570 million farmers, ranchers and agriculture producers in the world, but none of them will ever get together to control the food supply,” he said. They need to be allowed to continue to produce food.  A dictator can control the food supply, he added.

“The whole world has been heading the wrong direction. People are pushing us to have an environmental product that’s not sustainable in the way they want us to do it.  Yet we can be sustainable by doing it our way,” he said.

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