Grass vs Grain Finished Beef
The burning questions are: What are the differences between grass and grain finished beef? Is grass finished better for you? Which is more sustainable?
"Grass-fed beef" is a common term we hear in the meat marketing world. All cattle are feed a grass based diet through out their entire lifetime. If not, they will suffer major digestive upset that can lead to severe sickness or potential death. "Grass-finished" is a more appropriate term that I personally choose to use because it makes more sense. Using this phrase is more correct because it establishes the diet method that animal was fed in order to get to market weight.
Grass-finished beef that has been fed 100% grass, forage, hay and silage for it's entire life. Grass-finished beef may or may not have been treated with antibiotics or growth hormones. These cattle also may be on a feedlot for 6-10 months continuing eating a balanced diet of grass/hay until they are ready to be processed. Grained cattle spend less time on the feedlot because they finish quicker (4-6 months). There is obviously more time that goes into raising grass-finished cows because it takes longer for the animal to reach optimal slaughter weight. Which, is why grass-finished beef comes with a bigger price tag. Grass-finished is, in fact a healthier way to go. When compared with grain-finished beef, grass-fed have has lower levels of fatty-acids and higher levels of omega 3s. However, these differences are very minimal. If you are concerned about getting enough Omega 3's in your diet, I would consider a fatty fish like salmon before opting to beef as a main resource.
It is commonly noted by some people with picky tastes buds that grass-finished beef has a little more chewy texture and bitter "grassy" flavor. Sometimes this is a matter of being more careful with cooking methods. Shorter cooking times and good marinades are helpful when preparing grass-finished beef for the best end product.
Grain-finished beef also spends the majority of it's life on pasture (about 89% according to Beef It's What's For Dinner's website). the other 11% they are fed a scientifically based diet in a feedlot that consists of grains, corn, inedible plant products (human's can't eat = sustainability) and other local ingredients (apples, corn husks, potato, brewer's grain).
As mentioned above, these cows normally spend 4-6 months in a feedlot setting. If you want to look at it form an environmental conscience standpoint, these cows are not hanging around as long as grass-finished, which leaves a smaller carbon footprint by utilizing less land and water resources.
Similarly to grass-finished, grain-finished beef may or may not have been treated with antibiotic and/or growth hormones. The interesting thing about grain-finished beef, is that it actually contains slightly higher amounts for monounsaturated fats that grass-fed beef. MUSF are the good fats that you would get from avocado or olive oil. Eating this beef could actually lower LDL cholesterol, help prevent cardiac disease as well as type II Diabetes if eaten in correct portions. Pretty cool, huh? And beef has been getting a bad wrap on clogging arteries.
Bottom line, whatever you choose, beef is wholesome, nutritious and safe to consume.
Sustainability is always on the minds of ranchers. Grass or grain finished.