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From raising cows to growing veggies: ranchers go vegan

Richard and Cindy Traylor are part of a growing number of ranchers who have made the surprising switch to plant-based agriculture. In 2018, Honey, Cindy’s favorite cow, was injured. Cindy had become so attached to Honey that she didn’t want the cow to go to a slaughterhouse. She got in touch with Renee King-Sonnen of Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, who introduced the Traylors to a whole new way of living.

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The Traylors shared their experiences with Inhabitat about making the change to a vegan diet and livelihood on their Huntsville, Texas ranch.

Related: Why American ranchers are feeding Skittles to their cattle

Inhabitat: What have been the reactions of neighbors, family members and others in your life to halting ranching and switching to veganism?

Cindy: Everyone we have talked to has been supportive. When we explain that we now eat vegan and how good we feel, they seem curious; however, so far we have not heard that anyone has tried to change their diet. We do have a young friend who was wowed when he sat and ate spaghetti and “meatballs.”

Richard: When I was first confronted with veganism, I get the same ignorant response from others, which is “I’m carnivorous. I’m a meat eater. I need the protein. I’m healthy enough. It doesn’t hurt the environment that bad. There are other things that hurt the environment just as bad.”

two cows on a farm at sunset

Inhabitat: Tell us a little bit about why Honey the cow was so special to you.

Cindy: Honey was my “baby.” She would eat out of my hand and was a really gentle creature. When she gave birth, she immediately would let me know and show me her calf. I would ooh and ahh and tell her what a beautiful baby she had. She was the youngest of the mothers and she would let the other calves nurse off her. Our connection was really deep, and I hated to see her hurt!

Richard: When she was a little over a year, I built a five-strand barb wire fence, one strand at a time, from the bottom up. In essence, I taught her, albeit accidentally, how to jump the fence. Each strand I put up, I thought would be the last one she would jump. The top strand, the fifth strand, she would still jump it. I have never seen a cow that could jump fences like her. She did that for several years.

Inhabitat: What have been the best benefits to going vegan?

Cindy: Personally, I had wanted to go vegan in my twenties. I asked my doctor, who immediately told me that I couldn’t. You see, I have Crohn’s and for decades, I was back and forth to the hospital. Now, I jumped at the chance. Not only to see how it may help me health-wise, but to do my part in ending cruelty to animals. I cannot remember feeling this good! It has really helped me with Crohn’s symptoms and my arthritis doesn’t hurt anymore. I have neuropathy in my feet, and now I don’t have that tingling all the time…it is gone! I love creating meals — everything is delicious.

Richard: I don’t have knee or back pain, I have more energy that individuals half my age envy. The first thing I tell people is how good I feel! I have no muscle cramps from working and sweating.

Inhabitat: What are the hardest things about going vegan?

Cindy: I had been dairy-free for decades, because I have a milk intolerance, so that was not a problem for me and Richard followed suit, because I do the cooking! There were a couple of things for me that were difficult. First, it was putting together enough recipes and understanding what veggies provide essential vitamins, minerals and protein. Then, it was finding a substitute for eggs! Baking without eggs kind of stumped me at first. Then, as I read more, I found several products to solve that problem. We now use for breakfast, Just Egg and Just Fold, which we love! Another problem for Richard, was thinking that veganism was boring, tasteless and bland. He soon realized that spices can do wonders! We both wish we had pursued this decades ago. The amazing thing now is that there are so many new plant-based products in the grocery stores and in the fast-food markets.

organic crops in a garden

Inhabitat: Tell us a little bit about what the RAP Summit is and your involvement in it.

Cindy: Well, we attended the first Summit in November, as ranchers in transition. Right now, we do not have our cattle on our property, so in order to have an agriculture exemption, we need to find our “niche” for the future. There are a lot of options, and our state is specific as to what we can grow. The Rancher Advocacy Program (RAP) is helping us find our way. Renee and Tommy [Sonnen] are there to help us with any questions and find experts in whatever direction we choose to go. We have held Zoom meetings with everyone to brainstorm and talk about what we need to do. Renee and Tommy have been incredibly supportive.

Inhabitat: What are some of the new uses you’re considering for your land?

Cindy: Right now, we have several ideas: growing hemp for CBD oil, peas and fava beans for protein sources (this was something that vegan cheesemaker Miyoko Schinner mentioned at the Summit), as we want to produce a product that will be marketable and beneficial for the environment. Bamboo is another option we have been considering; however, this may not be doable for us at this time.

hand holding soil

Inhabitat: How do animal and plant-based agriculture compare as far as making a living?

Cindy: Well, animal agriculture is less intensive during the warm months, as the pastures provide most of the cattle’s feed. We have two ponds for drinking, so that is also taken care of. There is fencing to repair, cattle to take to the market (which I always hated!), hay to buy and store. Plant-based agriculture will be more work-intensive. Irrigation, picking the produce, weeding, marketing, packaging, talking to vendors. The list goes on and on. However, it will be more fulfilling to know that we are not sending an animal to market to get slaughtered. And we are helping the environment. For example, peas and fava beans give back nitrogen to the soil. Other plants will be rotated to put back other nutrients into the soil. That way, less fertilizers are needed.

Richard: We hope to give back to the soil, rather than take from the soil, which we have done for decades. We want to have a healthy environment for the future.

Inhabitat: What else should others know about transitioning from raising cows to plants?

Cindy: There are lots of people out there who are knowledgeable and willing to be mentors to help ranchers transition to another industry. I can attest that changing over to plants is emotionally freeing, because I used to dread when the calves got to a certain age/weight. I don’t think anyone “likes” to have their animals slaughtered.

Richard: The environment is most important to protect our planet. The entire process of methane gases causing rising temperatures, growing hay, grasses equals less trees and less oxygen, the runoff of the fertilizers that end up in the creeks, bayous, rivers and oceans is poisoning the planet.

+ Cindy and Richard Traylor

Images via Adobe Stock

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