Grain-fed. Grass-fed. Grain-finished. What do all these terms mean and why are there so many options?
Cattle (just like sheep, deer, goats, and other grazing animals) are ruminants. They contain a rumen which helps them break down grasses into its digestible parts. Humans don’t possess this ability and therefore don’t eat grass.
Throughout agricultural history, humans eventually realized that feeding grain to grazing animals helps to fatten them up, a big plus if you’re in the beef industry. Where this becomes a problem is with the cow’s natural biology. The pH of a rumen is naturally neutral, compared to the acidic environment of a human’s stomach. Grain causes the pH of the rumen to drop to unhealthy levels, causing all kinds of health issues for the animals. This is where antibiotics come into play, finding their way into the meat you eat.
Grain fed cattle may be started off on grass at the beginning of their lives, but are then fed primarily grain, sometimes medicated, for the remainder of their days. Some feedlots switch to grass shortly before butchering in order to market their products as “grass finished,” but this is neither ideal for the animals’ health nor our own. Grass-fed beef has been fed grass ONLY from the day the cow is born until slaughter. The nutrient content of grass-fed beef also tends to be higher and have a healthier ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids.
Want to learn more about grass-fed beef? Check out our farm tour coming up on May 20 under our events tab above!