Photo by Carol von Canon.

The myth of the cowboy features a man who loves the land but also freedom. He respects nature, but at the same time, if some pencil-necked hippie tried to tell him how to git along his dogies, he would gently rassle that guy to the ground and hogtie him. But the Christian Science Monitor reports that ranchers are breaking those stereotypes and getting in on new, sustainable ways to manage land, so that they’re producing not just delicious beef but healthy ecosystems. The new cowboy is totally green.

“As a matter of necessity, the old way of ranching is giving way to a new paradigm,” says Bill Bryan, head of the Rural Landscape Institute in Bozeman, Mont. “For some, ranching was pursued in the past with an emphasis on raising beef at the expense of everything else. Raising animals for the dinner table isn’t an activity that has to be at odds with the environment.”

Sustainable ranching can mean herding cows in more confined areas so they don’t eat the grass to the ground; teaching cattle to eat weeds instead of using herbicides; growing natural grasses instead of hay; and welcoming supposed pests that actually do the land some good. (For instance, beavers, once thought to be a nuisance, can help create wetlands that guard against drought.)

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It’s not just small, boutique ranches that are embracing these techniques. Ted Turner’s giganto ranches are taking up some of these ideas, too. This movement could mean more grass-fed beef for everyone — and, of course, hunky green cowboys for the enviro-minded to crush on.

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