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Grass Fed Vs. Grain Fed Beef

We’ve all seen the labels in the grocery story, and have probably seen posts on social media and articles on grass fed beef versus grain fed beef.  A quick search today showed an abundance of articles on the subject (my favorite one was from a blogger who actually took a Farm to Fork tour, and she shares her entire experience – even when she was uncomfortable.  You can read it here.)  My husband sells beef in halves and quarters for the family farm, and one of the most frequent questions he receives is “Is this beef grass or grain fed?”  That seems like a fairly easy question to answer right?
 
In all reality, that question is multi-faceted and usually speaks to a bias towards one side or another, which could stem from several different things.  Let’s talk about what those terms mean first.
 
My standard answer when asked that question is, yes, it is grass fed, but it is grain finished. 
 
Wait…what?
 
Yes you read that correctly.  All beef eats grass for the majority of its life.  When a calf is born, for the first 6 months or so, its diet is comprised of milk from its mother and grass that it eats in the field with her (some beef producers will also provide free choice creep feed, which is generally a pelleted feed that the calves can eat if they choose…this is more popular in the winter when grass is more scarce).  Once weaned, calves are moved into separate fields or pens away from their mothers, and most will continue to eat grass or hay (roughage) until 9-12 months. 
 
This is where grass and grain fed beef differs.  For grain fed beef, when they reach a certain weight they are generally sent to a feedlot.  Feedlots are set up to feed cattle in a concentrated area more effectively and efficiently.  When cattle arrive at a feedlot they are grouped in large dirt pens according to size and weight.  They are fed a very balanced and every changing diet of grain and roughage until they reach the proper weight to be harvested. 
 
For grass fed beef, they will remain on pasture, eating grass or hay, until they reach their finish weight. 
 
For grain finished/fed cattle, they will reach their finish weight in approximately 4 months (sometimes slightly longer depending on their weight when they arrived, and their breed composition).  For grass fed cattle, they will require a much longer time to reach their finish weight – upwards of 8 months or more. 
 
In both of these scenarios, the people caring for the cattle take the very best care of them they can. 
 
As far as the actual product, there are some slight difference between meat from grass fed cattle and grain fed.  Most people will be able to notice a different flavor between the two – in a blind taste test the majority of people can differentiate between these two different management methods.  The Beef Checkoff has put together a great infographic highlighting some of the differences between the two as well, and has shared that in a great infographic.  (You can click on the image to download a PDF and can see more information at http://www.beefissuesquarterly.com/humannutrition.aspx)

Grass-fed-vs-Grain-fed-Beef-Fact-Sheet.gif
 
Nutrition, taste and personal preference all play a role in deciding which type of beef you choose for you and your family.  Whatever your preference, we are fortunate to have numerous beef producers throughout the country who help to provide safe, nutritious and delicious beef for all of us.
 
Monday, August 14, 2017
Comments
Alex Jones
Thanks for giving us these valuable information of grass fed beef and grain fed beef. Your post is important for us.
7/6/2019 7:27:18 AM