Redlands, California—In cooperation with National Geographic, Esri released the National Geographic World Map. The new basemap combines a century-old cartographic tradition with the power of GIS technology to produce a distinctive Internet-based map service serving GIS, consumer, education, and mobile users. In Amarillo, Texas, a patty-forming machine at a Caviness Beef Packers plant (left) cranks out 24,000 half-pound hamburger patties an hour for the restaurant trade. In Amarillo, Texas, a patty-forming machine at a Caviness Beef Packers plant (top) cranks out 24,000 half-pound hamburger patties an hour for the restaurant trade. At Wrangler Feedyard, on the High Plains of the Texas Panhandle, night was coming to an end, and 20,000 tons of meat were beginning to stir.
And so at 6:45 on a Tuesday morning I was standing with Paul Defoor, chief operating officer of Cactus Feeders, the company that operates Wrangler and eight other feed yards in the panhandle and in Kansas.
Cowboys prepare to tag and vaccinate a month-old calf at the JA Ranch, east of Amarillo (left). Cowboys prepare to tag and vaccinate a month-old calf at the JA Ranch, east of Amarillo (top). Cactus Feeders, which is headquartered in Amarillo and owned now by its employees, was co-founded by a cattleman from Nebraska named Paul Engler.
After that came the mad-cow scare; no one yet has gotten the human variant of the brain-wasting disease from American beef, but Americans learned that livestock protein, which can spread the disease if contaminated, had often been fed to cattle until the Food and Drug Administration banned the practice in 1997. In the truck one day I asked Defoor about zilpaterol, a controversial feed additive that makes cattle gain extra weight. Defoor was raised on a small farm north of Houston, where his family grew all their own food and sold some as well. The goal is to pump as much energy as possible through the rumen so that the animal gains weight as fast as possible without making it sick. The high-grain diet also increases the risk of acidosis: Acids accumulate in the rumen and spread to the bloodstream, making the animal sick and in severe cases even lame.
GPS-guided feed trucks deliver precise amounts to each pen, and every morning feed manager Armando Vargas adjusts those rations by as little as a few ounces a head, trying to make sure the animals eat their fill without waste or illness. On the kill floor at Edes Custom Meats in Amarillo, Justin Hatch reaches for a hook to suspend a cow that’s just been killed and skinned. The biggest, most mind-numbing issue of all is the global one: How do we meet demand for meat while protecting biodiversity and fighting climate change?
If Americans eliminated beef cattle entirely from the landscape, we could be confident of cutting emissions by about 2 percent—the amount that beef cattle emit directly by belching methane and dropping manure that gives off methane and nitrous oxide.
An English painting of a well-fed Hereford hangs in the home of Ninia Ritchie, owner of the JA Ranch, which her great-grandfather founded in 1876.
The guru of the movement is a Zimbabwean scientist named Allan Savory, who says that managed grazing can draw huge amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere—a controversial claim.
At the Blue Range Ranch in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado, which sells cattle to Panorama, it was calving season when I visited. At Wrangler I asked the veterinarian, Carter King, how it felt to ship cattle he had watched over. That Tuesday morning, headed north on I-27, Paul Defoor and I caught up with the truck we’d been chasing, which was doing 70 miles an hour. At the Caviness Beef Packers plant in Hereford, Texas, which slaughters as many as 1,800 cattle a day, the president, Trevor Caviness, gave me a tour. When Zack Huggins (with the camera) moved in with Leanne Doore (yellow shorts) in Denton, Texas, they invited some friends to gather around their new grill to celebrate. Photographer Brian Finke is a Texas native; this is his first article for National Geographic. The magazine thanks The Rockefeller Foundation and members of the National Geographic Society for their generous support of this series of articles. The loss of animal species is irreversible and potentially catastrophic, not to mention heartrendingly sad. Find out what National Geographic Society is doing to save animals all over the world, and learn what you can do to help. Esri and National Geographic collaborated to produce a distinctive basemap that reflects National Geographic's cartographic design, typographic style, and map policies. This new map will be added to Esri's collection of existing basemap services designed for different uses and needs. Individual Americans eat 40 percent less beef now than in the peak consumption year, 1976, but there are many more Americans. Cactus ships a million head of cattle a year; Defoor and I were watching a few dozen get on a truck. More than ten tons of live freight surged onto the truck’s top deck, then another ten filled the lower deck.
In 1960, the story goes, Engler came to the area to buy cattle for a Nebraska feedlot and realized the panhandle was the perfect place for feedlots. Engler started Cactus Feeders in 1975 and built it into the world’s largest cattle-feeding company. It takes just seven to operate the automated mill that cooks three meals a day for 43,000 cattle—750 tons of feed. Monensin kills off fiber-fermenting bacteria in the rumen that are less efficient at digesting corn, allowing others to proliferate. Cowboys ride through each pen, looking for an indented left flank that suggests a rumen isn’t full or a drooping head that signals a sick animal.

Every animal that arrives at Wrangler receives implants of two steroid hormones that add muscle: estradiol, a form of estrogen, and trenbolone acetate, a synthetic hormone.
The panhandle farmers who supply corn and other crops to the feedlots are draining the Ogallala aquifer; at the current pace it could be exhausted in this century. A common argument these days is that people in developed countries need to eat less meat in general, eat chicken instead of beef, and, if they must eat beef, make it grass fed.
After my week at Wrangler, I visited a modern broiler farm in Maryland, on the Delmarva Peninsula, a region that raised 565 million chickens last year. Latin American beef, according to the FAO, produces more than twice as many emissions per pound as its North American counterpart—because more of the cattle are on pasture, and because ranchers have been cutting down so much rain forest to make pastures and cropland for feed. Back then, cattle from Texas were often shipped to the corn belt for fattening on small lots. Like other ranchers in the region, George Whitten and his wife, Julie Sullivan, have struggled to make ends meet during a decade-long drought.
Venus shone like the beam of a helicopter in the eastern sky, above a faint stripe of gray that outlined the snowcapped Sangre de Cristos. Tyson had not granted my request to visit the packing plant, but Defoor had offered to follow the cattle to the plant gate.
But their tenure in paradise is perilously close to its end; only about 1,100 seals remain in the wild.
Designed to be aesthetically pleasing, the National Geographic World Map is for users who want to display minimal data on a vibrant, highly detailed background.
Steam billowed from the stacks of the feed mill; trucks rumbled down alleys, pouring rivers of steam-flaked corn into nine miles of concrete troughs. For the sake of the animals, our own health, and the health of the planet, we must eat less of it. By the time we got to the front gate, the truck was disappearing toward Interstate 27 and the Tyson packing plant outside Amarillo.
Calves are typically born in late winter and early spring, graze with their mothers until fall, then overwinter on forage.
Last year Americans ate on average 54 pounds of beef each, about the same amount as a century ago. The first time I saw a rumen, in a small slaughterhouse in Wisconsin, it filled a wheelbarrow; in life it fills most of the left side of a cow. Tylosin helps prevent liver abscesses, an affliction that cattle on high-energy diets are more prone to.
About 6.5 percent of the feedlot cattle get sick at some point, says Cactus veterinarian Carter King, mostly with respiratory infections.
It achieved this while slaughtering 10 million fewer cattle, from a herd that was almost 40 million head smaller. A study last year by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concluded that beef production accounts for 6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Cattle belch at least twice as much methane on grass-based diets as they do on grain, says animal nutritionist Andy Cole, who has put them in respiration chambers at the USDA Agricultural Research Service lab in Bushland, Texas. Today midwestern corn is shipped by rail to Texas Panhandle feedlots like Wrangler Feedyard (right), where up to 50,000 cattle are finished on grain for four to six months.
Today midwestern corn is shipped by rail to Texas Panhandle feedlots like Wrangler Feedyard (bottom), where up to 50,000 cattle are finished on grain for four to six months. If the grazing is managed well, it can enrich the soil and make the land more productive—doing what bison once did for the prairie.
They were first knocked unconscious by a blow to the forehead from a bolt gun, then strung up by their back hooves and killed by a man with a knife who slit the carotid and jugular.
If Isabella Bartol (bottom, at right) had her druthers, she’d eat a burger every day. In one crowded pen after another, large heads poked through the fence and plunged into the troughs.
Though most end up in a feedlot for fattening, they spend more than half their lives grazing, often on land that can’t be used for crops.
Instead we eat twice as much chicken as we did in 1976 and nearly six times as much as a century ago.
We visited the 320 acres he owns outside Canyon, where he goes after work to plow his wheat field or feed his own small herd of cows and calves. It’s a giant vat in which the food ingested by a cow is fermented by a complex ecosystem of microbes, releasing volatile fatty acids from which the cow gets its energy.
At Wrangler only about 8 percent of the finishing ration is roughage—ground sorghum and corn plants.
About one percent die before they reach butchering weight, generally between 1,200 and 1,400 pounds. Finally, during the last three weeks of their lives, the Wrangler cattle are given a beta-agonist.
The pens were crowded but not jammed—the cattle had around 150 to 200 square feet each, and since they tend to bunch up anyway, there was open space. The hormones and beta-agonists used at Wrangler are not considered, by the FDA at least, to be a human health concern.
Prices for corn and sorghum drop, which helps a bit in Africa, but globally the key food grains are wheat and rice. But if the world abstained entirely from beef, emissions would drop by less than 6 percent, because more than a third of them come from the fertilizer and fossil fuels used in raising and shipping feed grain.

Corn is also grown here; to irrigate cornfields, farmers are draining the Ogallala aquifer. In New Mexico and Colorado, I visited several grass-fed-beef producers who practice what’s sometimes called management-intensive grazing. A fine mist formed on our windshield: A heifer in the truck ahead was relieving herself through the slatted sides. Until they reach about eight months of age, threatened young kangaroos, called joeys, will quickly dive for the safety of mom's pouch. Isabella, nine, prefers just ketchup on her cheeseburger; sister Betsy, four, puts everything on hers.
For most of the 43,000 cattle here, it would be just another day of putting on a couple pounds of well-marbled beef. Last January, as part of a longer journey into the world of meat, I spent a week at Wrangler, in Tulia, Texas. After 24 years away, he came back to Amarillo in 1993—a traumatic year for the beef industry. At Wrangler, I came to understand, a rumen is also like a high-performance race-car engine, cared for at frequent intervals by a highly trained pit crew. Zilpaterol, the one with the biggest effect, causes them to pack on an extra 30 pounds of lean meat.
I spent hours riding around the lot with the windows open and standing in pens, and the smell wasn’t bad. But as the animals excrete them, the effect they might have on the environment is less clear. If your goal as a meat-eater is to minimize total animal suffering, you’re better off eating beef. If Americans eat less beef, corn farmers in Iowa won’t export wheat and rice to Africa and Asia.
Hristov of Penn State, the 50 million bison that roamed North America before settlers arrived emitted more methane than beef cattle do today.
If we were to close all the feedlots and finish all cattle on pasture, we’d need more land and a much larger cattle herd, emitting a lot more methane per animal, to meet the demand for beef.
Manure stockpiled at Wrangler is delivered to farmers for fertilizer; runoff from the cattle pens collects in a pond and evaporates.
Instead of letting cattle fan out over a huge pasture for the whole year, these ranchers keep them in a tight herd with the help of portable electric fences, moving the fences every few days to make sure the grasses are cropped just enough and have time to recover. They aren’t extracting nutrients in the form of corn from heavily fertilized soil in Iowa, shipping them up to a thousand miles on 110-car trains, and piling them up as manure in Texas. The deaths I saw at Caviness and at another slaughterhouse I visited seemed quicker and less filled with terror and pain than many deaths administered by hunters must be.
As they grow, joeys' heads and feet can often be seen hanging out of the pouch.Red kangaroos hop along on their powerful hind legs and do so at great speed.
I was looking for an answer to one fundamental question: Is it all right for an American to eat beef?
Four children died and hundreds of people were sickened by hamburgers at Jack in the Box restaurants that had been contaminated by a virulent strain of E. Behind Hatch, the head of the cow awaits the USDA inspector, who’ll check the glands and carcass for signs of disease.
Still, you might think that if Americans ate less beef, more grain would become available for hungry people in poor countries. Though Americans have reduced the amount of beef they eat, they’ve replaced it mainly with chicken. But last year, after 17 cattle turned up lame at a Tyson Foods slaughterhouse in Washington State, Tyson and other beef packers began refusing cattle that had received zilpaterol. Argentina’s famous appetite for beef has fallen because of cholesterol consciousness and economic downturns. Americans eat a lot of meat but still spend just 11 percent of their income on food, less than people in many other countries.
It concerned me that Defoor, a deeply scientific man, wasn’t much bothered about climate change.
In countries where meat is a newly affordable option, animal protein is a boon, not a debate.
They also boast a blue-hued coat, so many Australians call them "blue fliers."Larger male kangaroos are powerfully built. But by 2050, when the world’s population is expected to surpass nine billion, crop production will need to double to provide feed for livestock as well as direct human consumption.
They often lean back on their sturdy tail and "box" each other with their strong hind legs. Kangaroos can also bite and wield sharp claws, which they may do in battle with an enemy like a dingo.Red kangaroos live in Australia's deserts and open grasslands, gathering in groups called mobs.
Aboriginal and European Australians have spent centuries clearing open tracts of land and establishing water sources—both of which are boons to kangaroo populations.
Many millions of these animals roam Australia, and considerable numbers are killed each year for their skins and meat, which is becoming a more popular human food.

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