Fact or Fiction: You can save 1,300 gallons of water by skipping your lunch burger

FactFictonThere’s an infographic floating around on social media. Perhaps you’ve seen it.

It claims you can save 1,300 gallons of water if you:
– don’t flush your toilet for six months, OR
– don’t take a shower for three months, OR
– for lunch today, don’t eat one burger.

Turns out, this is FICTION.

Let’s look at how the cow (behind that burger) really measures up.

There are many misleading or confusing reports about the amount of water that goes into producing a kilogram of beef or growing a bushel of wheat, for example.

The simplistic math that is sometimes used to calculate water consumption ignores the reality that in crops, water falls as rain or snow before it evaporates or moves through the soils and is recirculated. It’s the same for livestock. It doesn’t make sense to say that animals drink water and then it’s lost forever. Animals retain only a very small fraction of the water they consume. Most of the water they drink is recycled back in the environment.

So, what about water? Here’s the #RealDirt on how consumption really stacks up:

• A mature sheep drinks between four and nine litres of water per day
• A mature beef animal drinks 35 – 65 litres of water per day, depending on their feed source and the outside temperature.
• A dairy cow drinks 80 – 160 litres of water, and produces about 27 litres of milk per day (DYK milk is 88 per cent water)
• Canadians use up to 350 litres of water per day per person – the second highest rate in the world
• A five-minute shower with a standard shower head uses 100 litres of water
• A single load of laundry can use up to 225 litres of water


The Real Dirt on water consumptionSo if you really want to help save water, perhaps look to your cleaning habits. Cows drink less water per day than a single load of laundry – and far less than we consume per day as Canadians.

Enjoy your lunch burger!

For more interesting farm and food tidbits, check out www.realdirtonfarming.ca.

One thought on “Fact or Fiction: You can save 1,300 gallons of water by skipping your lunch burger

  1. That huge water footprint is primarily due to the tremendous amount of water needed to grow the grass, forage and feed that a beef steer eats over its lifetime, plus water for drinking, cleaning and processing their slaughter.
    By far, the largest component of beef’s water footprint is the huge volume of virtual water consumed by cattle through their feed, in this case both forage and grain. There are three primary factors associated with feeding practices and techniques that contribute to the water footprint calculation:

    1. Since beef cattle eat such massive quantities of feed and are quite inefficient in converting that feed to meat (relative to a chicken or pig, for instance) it raises the water footprint. More feed = more water.

    2. The type of feed consumed contains more or less water because grains contain much more water than “roughage” or forage. Also, the more energy concentrated in the food (corn kernel vs. corn husk), the more water that’s embedded in the feed.

    3. Grain grown in more arid locales like the Western United States (like California) depend more on irrigated fields compared to wetter regions like the Great Lakes and the East. Cattle feed produced from regions that have higher precipitation levels relies less on irrigation and, therefore, has a lower water footprint.

    The crop that consumes the most water in California is alfalfa, which is largely grown as feed for cattle and dairy cows. Pasture grown for grazing livestock is the third-largest water user. That means keeping cows fat consumes 2.7 trillion gallons of water a year. Alfalfa and pasture are also the second- and third-most-water-intensive crops in California because they require irrigation to be applied at depths of between three-and-half feet and five-and-a-half feet, according to the Pacific Institute’s calculations. (Almonds and pistachios are the fourth-most-water-intensive crops.) Alfalfa is both water-intensive and comparatively unproductive, generating only $175 for every acre-foot. This is the reason why we feel the water footprint of beef in California is much higher than the national average.

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