Beef Choices Grass Fed or Grain Fed

How beef is raised impacts the quality of the meat. Cattle that is grass fed differs from grain fed in taste, texture, fat content and nutritional value.

The quality of beef that you eat is affected by what the cow eats. Flavor, nutritional value and fat content are all aspects to be considered when choosing meat. Another factor that some might want to consider is the humane treatment of the livestock.

There are several philosophies on raising beef and it is a conscientious consumer who pays attention to what they are eating and feeding their families. Not all ranches are equal and not all ranchers are scrupulous. Some beef is better than others and better for you.

               Grass Fed Grass Finished

Grass fed beef is just what it sounds like; the cow is in the pasture happily munching grass. There are ranchers who exclusively feed their cattle on pasture grasses to the very end. The beef is grass “finished”. It is necessary in this approach to carefully monitor the types of grasses and other forage such as legumes that are planted for the cows. The animals need to be rotated through a variety of pastures to maintain a healthy pasture feeding program. This philosophy does not include supplemental grains and hormones. Grass fed grass finished beef is lower in fat than grain fed beef. The ranchers who raise their beef with this method will generally lay claim to a humanely treated animal and a healthy natural end product. It is not necessarily certain that hormones have not been used just because a cow has been 100% grass fed. You have to ask. Some individuals claim that grass fed beef tastes very different from grain fed and that it is also less moist because of the lower fat content. It is also reported that grass fed beef will taste different from different farms depending on the crop that they are fed. Those who eat grass fed beef regularly report that grain fed beef is bland.

Grass Fed Grain Finished

Some cattle is raised grass fed, grain finished. Now the question remains, how long is the cow allowed to graze and forage before they are put on grain for finishing. Up to 45 days prior to harvesting a grass fed cow is supplemented with a diet of grain and other vegetable products. One company I researched feeds their cattle a supplemental diet of snow peas, alfalfa, flax and barley the last 45 days. The reason this is done is to add weight quickly and enhance the flavor and nutrition to the end product. The meat will typically be more marbled with this method, however, the higher fat content of grain finished beef may be contrary to your lifestyle and diet. Again there are differences in how the animals are treated at any one ranch. It is not certain that beef that is grain finished is organic necessarily. As far as flavor is concerned it will have to be up to the individual. Many people claim that the grass fed grain finish is the best of both worlds. You have the flavor of the grass fed cow and the tender marbling fat of the grain finish. Again the question of hormones and other supplements in the feed still needs to be asked if that is a concern to you. Also if you shop at a local butcher you can ask lots of questions about the practices of the rancher where the beef was raised. It may be a little more difficult to get information out of the chain grocery store.

Feed Lot or Factory Farming

This practice of raising beef in a confined feedlot is done to produce the most meat at the lowest price. They are called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (COFO). The animals are kept in a high density feeding operation with an intense feeding, vaccinating, pesticide application routine. There are enormous problems that have to be managed because of the proximity of the animals to each other. Diseases and waste have to be carefully managed and treated and the lack of humane treatment of the animals is an issue for animal rights activists. The large quantities of animal waste has to be dealt with in compliance with environmental protection laws.

The decision of what kind of beef you buy and where you buy it is of course a personal decision. Your sensitivity to the humane treatment of livestock, the flavor and fat content as well as your wish for an organic product are considerations for each individual to make. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your grocer or your butcher. Someone knows where the beef came from and you can always do more research if you get the name of the ranch or the brand on the beef.

So fire up the grill, throw on some steaks and get to know your neighbors!

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Salvatore W. Delle Palme
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