Grass fed vs. Grain fed, what does it mean?
As we discussed with the “no antibiotics” post, food labels can be very misleading, a lot has to do with the fact that producers want to get as much bang for their buck as they can.
Let’s start off talking about the cows a bit. Cattle are ruminants, meaning that their diet must contain forages- like hay and grass. They graze on plant materials that we cannot eat. Most cattle are finished by feeding supplemental grains such as soybeans, wheat, and corn to increase the amount of energy that they are getting.
Grain fed cows are introduced grain at a young age. That is not to say that grass is not available to the animal at the same time. The grain helps speed up the growth of the animal faster without any added hormones, is more tender, has more marbling and the fat is generally whiter than grass fed. There are some wagyu breeders that have been successful on only feeding their cows grass, but its not very often that it is as successful as feeding grain.
Grass fed, grass finished- what does it all mean? There is no government agency that regulates labeling any package as grass fed or finished. So could that mean for some producers that they have fed their animals grain at some point in their life? Absolutely. Grass finished ‘generally’ means that an animal was brought to weight with added grains, then the last few months before their processing date, they were put onto only grass fields with no added feed. USDA’s standard for a ‘grass-fed’ beef animal is that it has to be fed 50% grass-fed over its lifetime- so technically according to that we could say we are grass fed (which our cows are). Some grass-fed producers are fighting for more strict guidelines to labels, which would clear up a lot of confusion.
Our animals are born on grass pastures, and have access to grass their entire lives. They are also fed grain daily- depending on what their ‘job’ is. Our breeding herd is fed once a day in their troughs- and they LOVE their grain. The calves have 24/7 access to continual grain feeders that they can snack on all day like a buffet. Our feeders (heading to freezer camp) also have a continual grain feeder in their field where they have access to grain at any time. But we do still feed them by hand to keep a good relationship with them.
We also feel that hand feeding makes for much calmer cattle. They have a very intimate relationship with us. It gives us a chance to look over every animal daily to make sure that they are all good, and don’t need any added attention to anything.
It’s frustrating that labels are so misleading, and that many consumers don’t know what it all really means, especially when its used for marketing purposes to raise the prices of the beef.
There are many health benefits to both grass fed and grain fed- a lot depends on your personal preference. We have found that adding grain to our animals diets is the best for them, and our customers.