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ETpro's avatar

Would cows survive if humans didn't eat them?

Asked by ETpro (34584points) April 2nd, 2012

PETA and the like get up in arms about the sad life of dairy animals. And truth told, the modern factory farm does provide a brutal existence for livestock. Free range animals are healthier, happier, and therefore most likely a better dietary choice for the meat eaters among us. But I have to wonder if the fact that beef is such popular meat among us humans isn’t the key to the continued survival of today’s dairy cattle. If cattle were useless to humans and were turned loose to fend for themselves in the forests, how long do you think they would last?

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51 Answers

tom_g's avatar

@ETpro: “But I have to wonder if the fact that beef is such popular meat among us humans isn’t the key to the continued survival of today’s dairy cattle.”

Are you suggesting that the dairy industry would crumble if were not for meat eating? There would be no way to provide a sufficient number of dairy cows? I’m not following.

tranquilsea's avatar

I get what you’re asking and have wondered the same thing. If we could magically stop everyone from eating beef and dairy I believe the humble cow would just cease to exist in most circumstances.

That being said, I buy my beef from a local rancher and his cows are free range.

sinscriven's avatar

Our continuous need for farming their meat and dairy products are a big reason why they continue to exist in the numbers they do.

Freeing them would not only deprive society of a strong source of proteins for omnivores and vegetarians, and necessary fats but where would the cows go? You can rarely find open places anymore for them to just exist, and even then they’re sitting ducks. Look at the Bison, they were only brought back from extinction because of some bull headed conservationists and people who realize they can make a lot of money on their leaner red meat.

tom_g's avatar

Re-reading this, I’ll take out the dairy question for a minute. If you are merely asking if death of the meat and dairy industries would mean the end of cows, I think it could. But that isn’t a moral or ethical problem, in my opinion. It goes something like this for many lacto-ovo vegetarians (adjust as necessary):

not eating cows > cows not existing > free-range organic farming > factory farms.

thorninmud's avatar

We’ve bred the survivability out of them to suit our needs. So are they lucky that we keep perpetuating the suffering? Is that brief, barren life in the factory our little gift to them?

How about this as a compromise: we eat (if we must) the existing herds, and simply stop replenishing them.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@thorninmud then what would you do with the pastures. Plowing them up to plant corn or vegetables is not an option, if the land was suitable for corn or vegetables, it would already be used for them. Corn and vegetables are more profitable per acre to grow than cows, as long as the land can support them.

Trying to grow them on pasture land will soon have us back to the dirty thirties with dust storms and unchecked erosion being the result.

Keep_on_running's avatar

I don’t think they would be extinct in the future after we’ve stopped breeding them. I mean, there are no predators that could really take them down. As long as there’s grass and a suitable environment they should go forth and multiply…

funkdaddy's avatar

They would exist much like the wildebeest which seems to do alright, or other herd animals for the matter.

WestRiverrat's avatar

Wolves and mountain lions can easily take down a cow. Most of the cattle would cease to exist. There are a couple breeds that may thrive, but as they are not natural to this country they would do so at the expense of the native animals.

thorninmud's avatar

@WestRiverrat Why would we have to do anything with the pastures? If all of the land that is currently devoted to feed and hay production for cattle were freed to grow food for humans, all of that unfarmable pasture land wouldn’t be needed.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@thorninmud the land currently devoted to growing feed and hay for cattle in unsuitable for growing food for humans. They tried that in Kansas and the plains states between 1910s and the 1930s. The farmers at the governments urging plowed up the hayfields to grow wheat to feed the countries fighting in Europe in WWI, in less than 20 years the best of the Kansas topsoil was blowing past Washington DC.

zenvelo's avatar

They’d end up like water buffalo in Africa. Take a few generations, and the weaker strains would die off. And you wouldn’t see them in North America much, but might see large herds in Africa and Asia.

I would not want to get in front of an angry long horn bull.

nikipedia's avatar

Well, I don’t think anyone can say for sure if cows would survive if humans didn’t eat them. But I can guarantee you that a cow doesn’t survive when a human does eat it.

Coloma's avatar

Dependent on their locations, some would thrive and some would not. Habitat is everything for any species. Cattle left to their own devices in large areas with adequate grazing would thrive, those on the outskirts of cities with no access to major range would not.
Those that could survive in certain areas would also ramp up the food chain for larger predators such as Brown bears, Cougars and Wolves. Few domestic cattle could survive in Alaska or in low grass mountainous zones.

I like what Eckhart Tolle says about cows, he says that if he had to be a cow he would not want to be an american cow, only a cow in India or maybe Switzerland. lol

thorninmud's avatar

@WestRiverrat Every bit of the enormous amount of corn and soybeans that go into cattle feed is grown on land suitable for human food crops. That acreage alone would feed far more people than the beef it supports, without ever touching the grasslands you’re talking about.

Coloma's avatar

@thorninmud Yes, I forget the ratios, but something along the lines of it taking like 1200 lbs. of grain to raise something like 400–500 lbs. of beef. We could, abslolutely, feed more people on those crops than it takes to raise one steer, but most humans don’t want a soy burger, they want the beef. lol

thorninmud's avatar

@Coloma It’s much worse than that—on the order of 14 pounds of grain per pound of beef.

Coloma's avatar

@thorninmud aaaah, well, I knew it was a LOT more grain than meat rendered. :-)

WestRiverrat's avatar

What would you do with all that idled pastureland? The farmers won’t want to pay taxes on land they can’t use for anything. No one will buy it because it isn’t worth anything. Some farmers will go broke, others will plow up that pasture land so they can get something back from it. I doubt the government will voluntarily cut their tax revenues.

The surviving cattle would run loose with no ownership. The farmers would have no stake in keeping them off the roads, in fact they would work hard to keep them off their land. You think a car deer accident is bad, wait until there are car cow accidents every day.

The feed grown for cattle cannot currently be fed to humans, you would have to change federal/international law to allow it. The crops that could be grown for human consumption will not produce the same yields.

What would you use to replace the natural fertilizer cows produce. The only other viable option currently available is petroleum based.

Ron_C's avatar

You obviously haven’t been to India. Killing a cow there has the same penalty as killing a human. The cows seem to do fine. The only problem is that I get cravings for a good steak when I see them lounging around.

Coloma's avatar

@WestRiverrat Oh man, the deer are bad enough!
I once narrowly missed hitting a giant black cow/bull in the middle of a road after dark. Scary, like hitting a brick wall at 50mph.

jaytkay's avatar

_What would you do with all that idled pastureland? _

Grow food. Grow biofuels. Let it go wild. Reintroduce the bison. It’s not like there is one single perfect way to live and it happens to be what we do now. People adapt. Things change.

ucme's avatar

As long as they have a field to shit in, bulls to fuck em & a local store that sells grass at competitive rates, then yeah, they’ll do just fine.

thorninmud's avatar

Sure, you couldn’t make such a radical change without disrupting some lives that depend on the status quo. I guess you’d end up having to decide whether it’s worth perpetuating one of the most resource-depleting and environmentally damaging industries ever contrived in order to keep ranchers solvent. Or how about we just pay them off? We subsidize the corn they feed all those cows anyway. Give that money to the ranchers instead.

If on top of that they want to run cattle on all that unfarmable land, let ‘em, on condition that they don’t then send them to feedlots. Better that than the horrors of factory farms.

As for yield, something tells me that Monsanto could do the same thing for human crops that it has done for feed crops. But even if the yields were a fraction of what we get for animal feed, we’d still be swimming in food. It’s that much more efficient to cut the animal out of the process.

chyna's avatar

I read this as crows! Had to read it twice before I read it correctly.

Linda_Owl's avatar

I don’t think that cattle would survive if they were not a protein source for many people. I can’t argue that the land being used to raise vegetables makes more sense than it does to raise cattle….. but I am not a vegetarian, I do eat meat from cattle & chickens. I wish their lives were better, but outside of signing petitions, I have no influence on how these animals are treated. If, at some point in the future, we cease producing & eating meat, I think the cattle will die out, but I think that chickens would revert to the wild (it does not take as much food for chickens as it does for cattle & chickens can fly).

Ron_C's avatar

If god didn’t want you to kill cows he wouldn’t have made them so delicious.

blueiiznh's avatar

I know this one for a fact:
They would survive 38,345,756 years.

wundayatta's avatar

If we didn’t eat meat, cows and pigs and chickens would be slaughtered wholesale because farmers aren’t going to spend money keeping something alive that offers no profit. We would see a massive die-off of these creatures and only the wild variants would survive.

There is a danger that animals would be turned loose to survive on their own, and pigs would survive. They would become a pest. We’d have to kill them.

Cows and pigs have made a Faustian bargain. They give us their flesh and in return we keep them alive in large numbers.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@wundayatta – are cows and pigs smart enough to have understood the bargain? Are they at the intellectual level of 10 year olds?

How about – humans have imposed this situation on farm animals.

wundayatta's avatar

@elbanditoroso Are humans smart enough to understand the bargain? I think not. I think we both are at the mercy of evolutionary strategies that work whether or not we understand what we are doing.

lloydbird's avatar

More so.

Although more of them would end up as roadkill.

LuckyGuy's avatar

The cows in this area would not last a week without someone bringing them food and water, and providing shelter.
If they were released in the late summer through early fall they might last for a little while. But, when winter comes and the grass die they’d be frozen beef in 2 days.

Trillian's avatar

Ah… no longer to see the sight of the magnificent hers of cows, sweeping majestically across the plain.

Pandora's avatar

I have a bigger question. If you let a free cow stand next to a Peta person foraging for food, how long before the cow kicks him or rams into them?
All I know is whenever I see cows in India they look very thin.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] This is our Question of the Day!

whitecarnations's avatar

Well they would survive in the wild in North America for a long time. Bulls would guard the heard.

Berserker's avatar

I agree with @thorninmud, cows are the way they are largely, if not mostly, because of us, and how we breed them. But they must have had a source somewhere, else there wouldn’t be any cows now. So I guess they would be like they used to be in the wild…maybe. Even if we didn’t do anything with them, there might not be much room left for them now.

dabbler's avatar

What would we do with the pastureland? Grow hemp of course.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Dairy cattle are rarely eaten by humans. The odd farmer might feed it to his family, but most are sold off for pet food. The modern dairy cow is bred to give vast amounts of milk, up to eleven quarts twice a day. If they are not milked, they die painful deaths. Today’s Black Angus would never survive in the wild. Legs are too short and body too massive to run from prey. Necks are so short and muscular that they can’t even bend to graze properly—have to be fed at the trough. All this from an NPR episode.

rojo's avatar

Thinking about the “herds” in West Texas, I would say yes, cattle would survive in spite of what we have bred them to become.

Aqua's avatar

There would probably be a lot fewer cows if we stopped eating them, but I think cows would probably find ways to survive. The real reason cows do so well today isn’t because we eat them, but because we own them. Cows are property, so their owners have an interest in making sure cows continue to survive. Tuna, on the other hand, is consumed by people but is being overfished because it is so hard to own fish in the ocean.

ETpro's avatar

@tom_g I should have been more specific. I meant to look at the entire food chain attached to cattle, not just dairy cows, which only end up getting butchered after their milk runs dry, if they live that long. Downers (diseased animals that fall ill before their reproductive stage passes and their milk runs dry) are not supposed to be butchered and eaten by humans, although there is plenty of video evidence that is a nice fantasy and not the actual practice at meat packing companies.

@tranquilsea Excellent choice. Our local farmers need the support, and I am sure their produce is a more healthy choice than that from factory farms.

@sinscriven Exactly. And the bison is far more naturally adapted to their environment than modern cattle. Our farm cattle are the product of centuries of selective breeding for muman nurture and consumption, not of natural selection and survival in the wild.

@thorninmud That’s an interesting question in itself. All life is suffering. So are we actually doing a living thing a favor when we kill it prematurely? Apparently, at least among humans, we think not.

@WestRiverrat If that’s true, it certainly introduces an interesting dillema. Can you cite a source?

@Keep_on_running No predators? There are wolves, cougars, cyotes (taking calves), mountain lions, bears—and of course humans hunting. Beyond predation, there are the elements. Winter cold and summer heat. Droughts. Starvation. Human farmers protect their herds from all these. But the current cattle have been bred to survive in this sheltered environment and be as productive as possible, not to exist in the wild.

Sunny2's avatar

We would have to find something besides cowhides to make shoes, belts, brief cases, purses, etc. Plastic, anyone?

ETpro's avatar

@Sunny2 I just finished setting up a Website for It’s not even turned on yet Still in final shakedown. But they will be selling Vegan shoes here.

Suby's avatar

Humans have hybridized the bovines so much so that they are not fit to fend for themselves in a natural environment any longer.
At some point in their evolution they decided it best to be dependent on humans even when individual among them were to be eaten by their caretakers because they stood a better chance of surviving as a specie by making themselves useful to man.
We must appreciate the fact that the collective wisdom of the cows over thousands of generations have ensured the survival and improvement of the specie.
In fact the future is bleak for the life forms that don’t make themselves useful to man one way or the other.

ETpro's avatar

@Suby How true. If recent projections on global warming come to pass, there will be large scale extinctions of those life forms humans don’t depend on and thus protect.

Suby's avatar

That brings us to the question: Is it the humans that are using the cows or could it be that it is the cows that are using us humans better to ensure their survival as a specie! Whatever may be the answer, the cows wins hands down!

ETpro's avatar

@Suby Even if not by design, that is the fact of the matter, isn’t it.

blueiiznh's avatar

Of course, what else would we have to tip?

ETpro's avatar

@blueiiznh Yeah, they are fun for that. I guess we’d have to feed and protect them anyway.

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