Many people wonder if what an animal is fed will have any effect on the meat from the animal. Does their diet affect your own health? In fact, what an animal eats will have a direct impact on the meat obtained from their slaughter. This includes fat content, nutrient content, and more. The statement “you are what you eat” also applies to what the animals you consume have eaten.
What exactly does grass-fed mean?
A grass-fed animal is one whose diet includes grasses, clovers, flowers, herbs, and legumes found naturally in pastures as opposed to plants they would not normally find there, such as corn and soy.
What exactly does grain-fed mean?
A grain-fed animal is one who is fed almost entirely grains grown specifically to feed them, such as soy and corn. Occasionally they will receive a small amount of dried grass to eat. They are also usually treated with antibiotics, growth hormones, or other drugs to maximize their growth prior to slaughter. Keep in mind that grain is not a cow’s natural diet and can be difficult for them to get used to eating. It can take three months or more to transition a cow from eating grasses to grains in order for their digestive system to adjust.
A note on antibiotics and growth hormones
Thankfully back in January of 2017, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) passed new legislation, known as the Veterinary Feed Directive, which changed the way meat producers were allowed to use antibiotics and hormones on their livestock. According to this legislation, antibiotics that are considered important in human medicine need to be administered under the oversight of a licensed veterinarian and cannot be used simply for unnatural growth promotion.
How are cows raised for slaughter?
Basically, cattle that are raised for slaughter, particularly in the United States, are (more often than not) almost exclusively fed grain. All of the baby cows start life on a cattle farm in roughly the same way. Calves are born early in the spring, drink milk from their mothers, and roam freely grazing on plants and whatever else they can find and decide to eat. Once they are between 7 and 9 months of age they are usually moved to feedlots where they are kept in more confined spaces with limited access to the outdoors. At this point they are rapidly fattened with grain-based diets that may include small amounts of dried grass. They will stay in the feedlot for a few months while they grow before heading to the slaughterhouse.
For beef labeled as “grass-fed” the process is slightly different once they reach 7 to 9 months of age. They are still moved to a feedlot but there they will be fed a more natural diet of grasses, clovers, flowers, herbs, and legumes that are found naturally in pastures.
Both grass-fed and grain-fed beef contain high concentrations of beneficial nutrients, they are both loaded with protein, vitamins, and minerals your body needs. The main difference between the two is the concentrations of those nutrients and their overall fat content. The table below gives an overview of the differences between the two.
|Definition||Fed a diet comprised of grasses, clovers, flowers, herbs, and legumes found naturally in pastures.||Fed a diet almost entirely comprised of grains such as soy and corn.|
|Nutrients||Loaded with B12, B6, and B3. Rich in protein, bioavailable iron, selenium, zinc, creatine, and carnosine. High in vitamin A, E, and antioxidants.||Loaded with B12, B6, and B3. Rich in protein, bioavailable iron, selenium, zinc, creatine, and carnosine. Low in vitamin A, E, and other antioxidants.|
|Fats||Leaner. Typically contains less overall fat than grain-fed. More omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acids (CLA). Contains less monounsaturated fat.||Fattier. Higher in overall fat content. Less omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acids (CLA). Contains more monounsaturated fat.|
As climate change continues to transform our planet beef production has emerged as a huge contributor to our rising temperatures globally. Consuming grass-fed animals can actually help. How? Well, grass-fed cows are typically allowed to graze more naturally in pastures and fields that are not maintained with fertilizers or pesticides. The cows are led from pasture to pasture which actually helps fertilize the soil. It can also help reduce carbon emissions since there is no equipment needed to plow/plant/harvest anything. In contrast, the grains needed to feed grain-fed cows are specifically farmed to feed cattle. These farms require the typical maintenance and care of any crop, add air pollution to the environment through the use of tractors and other equipment needed to plow/plant/harvest the crops, as well as the use of needed fertilizers and pesticides to grow bigger and better crops for the animals to eat.
What are your thoughts on grass-fed beef? Let us know in the comments!