The California beef industry has developed into a complex livestock production since the second half of the 20th century, helping the United States in becoming the number one producer of beef in the world. The Golden State owes this development to diverse geography and changes in climate conditions. The rapid growth in population, economy, income and urbanization has seen an increase in the consumption of animal products. The demand to meet this consumption need places immense pressure on the state’s freshwater resources; freshwater is a key component used in feed crop, drinking water, cleanliness, hygiene, and overall maintenance of the livestock.
Freshwater is used to clean the animal and provide it with drinking water, and used to grow the crops that feed the animal. The beef cattle feed on a diet of corn mixed with antibiotics, hormones, protein and fat supplements from a common trough. The dietary mix is to compensate for the lack of nutrients and weakened immune system due to the sedentary lifestyle that the cows live until they are 14 to 16 months old and weigh 1,100 pounds or more before they are slaughtered.
As I photographed the various feedlots, I considered the scale of some of these sites where the number of cows can often exceed 100,000. With estimates of water requirements ranging from 4 to 45 gallons per day, per animal, the pressure on natural sources of freshwater continue to mount.