Anyone that knows me would say I was lying if I said I preferred a grassfed beef over a highly marbled and properly aged grain finished beef. That said, as I get a bit older, I am starting to re-evaluate my diet. Our family are diehard hunters and we process and primarily eat our own wild game. As we have been learning the meat processing business I have researched and tried grassfed beef raised locally in Wyoming and Eastern Idaho. I have to say, I think I am hooked. The purpose of this blog is introduce the idea of purchasing and processing a local grassfed beef and the associated health and sustainability benefits.
THE CASE FOR GRASSFED BEEF
Cattle production in the U.S. typically includes three (3) phases: cow-calf, stocker and finishing. Almost all cattle spend the first two (2) phases on pasture, eating mostly grass. In the conventional finishing phase, cattle are brought to feedlots (also known as animal feeding operations, or AFOs) at 9-15 months of age and fed a diet primarily composed of corn and other grains. After gaining weight quickly, these grain-fed cattle are slaughtered at 16-20 months. An estimated 97% of the cattle slaughtered for meat are fed grains. There is a certain amount of “default” grassfed beef produced in the conventional system, as animals slaughtered at the cow-calf or stocker phase (for example, cull cows or bulls) may have spent their entire lives on pasture, eating
mostly grass. Since these animals do not go through a proper finishing phase, their meat is usually lower-quality and is used to make ground beef or cheap beef cuts. It is usually sold through conventional channels without a grassfed label. The clearest distinction between grassfed and conventional beef occurs at the finishing stage. Grassfed cattle remain on pastures and are finished on a diet of predominantly
grass or other forages. They grow more slowly and are typically slaughtered at 20-28 months of age. Meat from these animals is usually sold with a grassfed label approved
by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and sold into niche grassfed beef markets for a premium. However, the USDA’s allowance of partial grassfed claims
(e.g., “50% grassfed”) and the absence of a requirement for on-farm inspection for grassfed claims mean that not all beef sold with a grassfed label necessarily follows these production standards. Some cattle are kept on pasture through the finishing phase, but their diet is supplemented with grains; these animals are “pasture-raised” but not 100% grassfed. A striking development in recent years has been the emergence of “grass feedlots,” where cattle are fed grass (often in the form of grass pellets) in confinement. Without mandatory inspection, there is concern that grain byproducts could also be used in these production methods to produce beef labeled as grassfed. There are also other production claims that may or may not overlap with a grassfed approach, such as “natural,” “vegetarian fed,” “no artificial hormones,” “antibiotic-free” and “USDA Organic.” This has created a confusing landscape for consumers. The differences matter.
There is a growing body of scientific research pointing to the benefits of grassfed beef over conventional beef. These benefits are most evident in “purer” grassfed systems, especially those using regenerative grazing methods. The benefits include:
Human Health: Grassfed beef is more healthful for people because of its significantly better omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio, higher concentration of conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs), higher levels of antioxidants and lower risk of E. coli infection and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Animal Welfare: Cattle are healthier and require little drug treatment when they are not confined, have constant access to pasture and eat a predominantly grass diet.
Environmental Protection: The concentration of manure in and around feedlots can pollute air and water, whereas well-managed grazing systems can regenerate grasslands, build soil and protect watersheds.
Climate Change Mitigation: Intensive grain farming and feedlot cattle production are major sources of greenhouse gases, whereas grasslands managed with regenerative grazing can sequester carbon and act as net carbon sinks, offsetting methane emitted by cattle.
Better Taste and Flavor: Grassfed cattle of the right breed, produced to high standards, result in beef that is tender, well-marbled and, in the opinion of many connoisseurs, better-tasting than grain-fed beef.
LOCALLY SOURCED GRASSFED BEEF
Lucky for us we live out west and have access to true grassfed beef! We work with many local ranchers and growers that are looking for new outlets for their grassfed beef. If you are interested, just let us know and we will help you learn how to raise your own grassfed beef, or find a quality animal to harvest….and of course help with the processing and packaging to your highest standards. We will even put a fancy grassfed sticker on the labeling for you, if you wish!