The Impact of Management on the Carbon Footprint of Beef Production

Mark Johnson, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Breeding Specialist, offers herd health advice as part of the weekly series known as the “Cow Calf Corner,” published electronically by Dr. Peel, Mark Johnson, and Paul Beck. Today, Johnson talks about the impact of management on the Carbon footprint.

It is possible that Oklahoma farm and ranch operations may someday pay attention to the price of carbon in the same way they track market reports of commodities and input costs. At present we do not because the price of carbon is low. That being said, in voluntary carbon markets, where buyers can choose to pay people to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, agriculture  producers can earn money by participating. Even with currently low prices for carbon, the reality is that operations are playing a role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. How? Production practices such as no-till or reduced tillage, climate friendly grazing practices – such as rotational grazing or adaptive multi-paddock grazing (AMP), as well as breeding programs utilizing cows with less mature size are examples of effectively lowering the carbon footprint of beef production.

From 2011 – 2018, researchers at Michigan State University utilized AMP while examining the weaning weight of calves relative to the mature weight of cows and determined:

  • Cows of smaller mature weight were more efficient. At equal body condition scores, smaller cows weaned off a higher percentage of their mature body weight.
  • Smaller cows (closer to 950 pound mature weight) had a higher net present value than larger cows (closer to 1450 pound mature weight).
  • The smaller, more biologically efficient cows were responsible for producing less methane per unit of land.
  • They concluded that AMP led to grazing forages in the green, vegetative state, and low in lignin resulting in higher energy diets for the cattle, increased digestibility and reduced enteric methane production all of which worked together to increase soil carbon sequestration.

Management does play a role in the carbon footprint of beef production. There is still much to “sort out” in terms of carbon markets for land stewards and beef producers. Long-term, the metrics, management and monitoring of pasture and rangeland soil health has the potential to add an additional revenue stream to cow-calf producer’s earnings. 


Blueprint For The Future – Part 2 Cattle Conference. The Impacts of Management on the Carbon Footprint of Beef. Dr. Jason Rowntree. Regenerative Ranching Panel Discussion. May, 2024

Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet AGEC-9501. Oklahoma Agriculture’s Role in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions. 

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