On our farm we raise both grass fed and grain fed beef. As a society we are used to eating grain fed beef and many of our customers prefer the taste and marbling of a grain fed steer. However, some of our customers prefer the lean cuts that come from the grass fed beef.
Here on our farm all cattle sold for beef are born and raised on our farm. We occasionally purchase a young heifer or cow to replace some of our older females but that is a rare occurrence. The calves are born here and stay with their mothers for 3-6 months. As they are weaned we choose a few to stay with the herd that will be raised for grass fed. The grain fed calves are placed in our barn and placed on feed. They continue to have access to the outdoors but they are maintained on a concrete pad for ease of cleaning. They are offered hay at all time but most of their nutrition comes from a premixed grain ration that we have delivered in bulk by a local feed mill. Grain fed beef takes around 11-15 months until it is ready for market with a hanging weight of 600-800 pounds.
The calves chosen for grain fed animals are weaned then placed back with the main herd of females. None of our breeding stock receives a grain ration except for special treats if we need them to move somewhere or if they need to be distracted. The main herd stays out on pasture from May through October. They are moved to fresh pastures every week or two. They are given hay, which we grow on our farm with no pesticides, during drought or when the pastures are behind. Over the winter the main herd and grass fed beef are kept near the barn where they have access to shelter but can also go outside. They are fed hay throughout the winter and have access to a mineral block.
Grass fed beef can take 20-30 months to finish. We find it is best to butcher in June or July once they have had access to the fresh pasture for at least 6 weeks. Grass fed beef usually has a smaller hanging weight due to the reduced fat and overall size of the animal, hanging weight is around 550-700 pounds. Grass fed typically has less marbling and less fat overall.
There is no data indicating grass fed beef is actually better for your overall health. But according to a study from the USDA and Clemson University they found the following:
Compared to grain fed beef, 100% grass fed beef was:
· Lower in total fat and lower in saturated fat
· Higher in beta carotene
· Higher in vitamin E, thiamin, and riboflavin
· Higher in calcium, magnesium, and potassium
· Higher in omega-3’s with a better ration of omega-6 to omega 3 fatty acids
Grass fed beef are fed a more natural diet of what they were intended to eat. They spend most of their days lounging around in the pasture in the fresh air and sun. It takes a lot of work to keep them moved to fresh pasture, increased time to manage fencing, increased need for acreage to graze, increased time and input to maintain hay fields and to harvest the hay and store for winter feeding. Many farmers do not have the ability to raise grass fed due to the increased inputs, time and less demand for the product.
Grain fed beef finishes faster and has a higher fat content. Essentially these animals are being raised on a “fast food” diet that is not a natural diet for them. They are being fed a diet high in processed grains, minerals and sugar in order to pack on the pounds faster. No research has proved that this is essentially “bad” for consumption, its just a different way of raising animals.
So grass fed or grain fed, its your choice. We will continue to raise cattle both ways to meet the needs and wants of our customers.
Buy beef, buy local.