When you the words “grass-fed beef” at your local market or grocery store, you may get the sense that the cow or bull was treated well, was healthier and, therefore, a better purchase. While there are aspects of that thought that are true, it’s important to understand the differences between the diets of the cows or bulls you’re either buying or eating.
Grass is a cow’s natural diet, meaning it’s a healthier choice for them and you. For consumers, grass-fed beef is lower in calories and saturated fat than grain-fed, while higher in healthy fats like omega-3. Grass-fed beef is also higher in protein than grain-fed.
However, it’s important to be wary of grocery store beef that is labeled as grass-fed. According to the USDA, an animal can be considered grass-fed if it is given a diet of forage. What this means is that cattle can still be raised in a feedlot, but given a diet of grass. That means the animal did not graze in an open-field and the animal could still have received antibiotics and growth hormones. To truly guarantee that your beef has been grass-fed, either buy directly from the farmer or look for the American Grassfed Association (AGA) certification logo, which guarantees animals are raised on forage, in pastures, with no antibiotics and under humane conditions.
Grass-fed beef can be:
- Lower in calories
- Lower in saturated fat
- Higher in protein
- Diet of forage
- Guaranteed only if bought direct from a farmer or stamped with AGA logo
The most cost-effective way to produce beef is by feeding the cows grain in a feedlot. Grain-fed cattle require less land than grass-fed animals and mature much quicker. Additionally, grain-fed cattle is well-marbled with fat, meaning it will likely be seen as a more tender, juicy choice for a consumer.
The fatter animals become on grain, the more calories and saturated fat there will be in the meat. Because grain isn’t the natural diet for cattle, they often become sick and must be treated with antibiotics, meaning grain-fed beef isn’t as healthy of a choice for consumers as grass-fed options. While in early 2017 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began limiting the use of antibiotics in cattle feed and water, antibiotic treatment still exists for cattle that become ill.
Grain-fed beef can be:
- Raised in feedlots
- Higher in calories
- Higher in saturated fat
- Treated with antibiotics
How a cow or bull is “finished” refers to their diet during the last 90 to 160 days until slaughter or until they are sold from their original farm. While grass is an integral part of the diet of a bull, mixing in grains allows farmers to supplement their meals with vitamins and minerals that bulls often lack during the colder months where grass is less abundant. This diet change isn’t something that occurs overnight. Farmers that make their cattle a priority will work to gradually transition the diet from grass to grain, as not to shock their systems or cause any discomfort or illness.
Cows are ruminants, which is an animal with a four compartment stomach. Animals with stomachs like this can digest grasses as well as grains with ease.
At Spring Grove Ranch, our cattle used for beef are grass-fed and grain-finished.
Grass-fed, grain finished beef is:
- Nutrient rich
- More tender than beef that is only grass-fed
To learn more about our breeding philosophy, click here.