Life-cycle assessment of the beef cattle production system for the northern great plains, USA

J Environ Qual. 2013 Sep;42(5):1386-94. doi: 10.2134/jeq2013.03.0101.


A life-cycle assessment (LCA) model was developed to estimate the environmental impacts associated with four different U.S. Northern Great Plains (NPG) beef production systems. The LCA model followed a "cradle-to-gate" approach and incorporated all major unit processes, including mineral supplement production. Four distinct operation scenarios were modeled based on production strategies common to the NGP, and a variety of impacts were determined. The scenarios include a normal operation, early weaning of the calf, fast-tack backgrounding, and grassfed. Enteric emissions and manure emissions and handling were consistently the largest contributors to the LCA impacts. There was little variability between production scenarios except for the grassfed, where the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were 37% higher due to a longer finishing time and lower finishing weight. However, reductions to GHG emissions (15-24%) were realized when soil organic carbon accrual was considered and may be a more realistic estimate for the NGP. Manure emissions and handing were primary contributors to potential eutrophication and acidification impacts. Mitigation strategies to reduce LCA impacts, including diet manipulation and management strategies (i.e., treatment of manure), were considered from a whole-systems perspective. Model results can be used for guidance by NGP producers, environmental practitioners, and policymakers.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry
  • Animals
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Cattle
  • Environment
  • Greenhouse Effect*
  • Manure
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Red Meat*


  • Manure
  • Carbon Dioxide