What is upcycling?

This post is a collaboration with Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. on behalf of the Beef Checkoff. I received compensation, but all opinions are my own.
That big belly is not because she is pregnant,
but instead it is her 4-part stomach filling up with grass
and helping her make delicious Beef! Upcycling!

Recycling, upcycling, composting, using less and doing more.....those words and ideas are all part of the sustainability picture and the bigger picture of climate change. We all need to do our part and identify ways that we can really make a difference for the environment--and that means cows too! Cows have a really cool ability called "upcycling" and it has already been helping the environment! So what is "upcycling?"

Merriam-Webster dictionary site defines UPCYCLING as "to recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item; to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value)."

I know we can all upcycle plastic bags, tin cans, and other trash that we used to throw away, but cows have an even bigger ability--they upcycle things we cannot eat into delicious, nutritious Beef that provides us important vitamins and minerals, as well as the taste that we crave! So how does a cow do this?

A cow has four parts to their stomach and the
rumen is the important first step in converting
things we cannot eat into nutritious foodstuffs
that help cattle make high quality Beef!

A cow is a ruminant, and what that means is that they have four compartments to their stomach. They each serve important purposes, but the one that allows them to upcycle is mostly the biggest compartment called the rumen. It is a huge fermentation vat, filled with microbes and specialized bacteria to break down the cellulosic bonds in various foods to release the nutrition the ruminant needs. In rancher terms, a cow can eat grass that we cannot eat, and because of their rumen they can digest it and thrive by eating it!

So what kind of things can a cow eat that constitute upcycling? First off, nearly all cattle are raised for most of their life on grass. So, all ages of cattle eat grass and grow muscle, bone, and fat. All things that make up for a healthy animal, and nutritious Beef. 

Distillers Grain can be fed to mama cows
as a protein supplement, to growing calves and
to finishing cattle--mixed in with other feed sources
and balanced by a bovine nutritionist.

Another example of upcycling for cattle is distiller's grain. This mushy, grainy pile of distiller's grain smells like cornflakes and is the leftover byproduct of making ethanol from corn. So, at the distiller, the sugar and carbohydrates are removed from the corn kernel, leaving a pile of stuff that originally we weren't sure what to do with! It was considered trash and often ended up in a landfill. Without getting too far into the weeds, remember that we want to reduce trash and the stuff that rots in landfills. So animal scientists and bovine nutritionists got to work and found that the distiller's grain is quite high in protein and that it is safe to feed to cattle. The nutritionists figured out how to feed it and how much a cow can eat and created a means to upcycle this byproduct that once was trash to a feed source for cattle! That is UPCYCLING at its finest!
For more information about UPCYCLING and cattle, go to BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com and check out the Sustainability tab!

There are other things that cattle can upcycle and they vary by region. I have a friend whose ranch is near a town with a pizza manufacturing company. My friend was able to get the crumbs from the crust of the pizzas at a very low cost and he mixed them into a diet for their cattle. The pizza crusts used to go to waste, and now they are cattle feed--making Beef!  Other examples in other parts of the country are potato peels, cottonseed hulls, some ugly vegetables that are not fit for sale and even byproducts of making chocolate can be upcycled by cows.

Upcycling is a win for the environment, as it keeps these things out of the landfills. And it is a win for cattle as it is a nutritious food source that can be combined with other feeds to make a nutritious diet for cattle. Win-win, in my book!

Upcycling means creating something of greater value
from a discarded object of lesser value. I think
high quality, safe, nutritious Beef is a delicious
high value product!
It is pretty cool to me that delicious, nutritious Beef can come from such humble feed sources. It is the cow's amazing 4-part stomach that makes it all possible. The cow is an Upcycling Superhero!

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