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Grass-Fed Beef vs Grain-Fed Beef – The difference

A lot depends on what it is that you enjoy most when you eat beef!George Faison, Partner of DeBragga.com

Anyone interested in beef ranching or any meat production for that matter, has had to have seen a lot of press lately about whether grass-fed beef is better than grain-fed beef. The arguments debate the nutritional merits, the environmental aspects and even the ability of a rancher to make a living selling his livestock.

As to the issue of which feeding method is better, a lot depends on what it is you enjoy most when you eat beef. Grass-fed beef for the most part will be very lean; Choice grade or below according to USDA grading standards. This does not mean it is “bad,” only that it will not be as marbled with intramuscular fat. For those who feel they need to rigorously lower their fat intake, yet still desire red meat in their diet, grass-fed beef, venison is the way to go .

All cattle start out on pasture, grass feeding alongside their mother. Prior to weaning, good ranchers start to put out small quantities of grain to get the calves used to eating a richer diet. This continues after the calves are weaned. The animals continue on pasture for at least 10-12 more months. In the case of Naturally Raised animals they may stay on pasture up to 20 months.

Now any animal feeding on pasture for at least a year is naturally exposed to grain, even grass-fed. That is because grain is the seed of grass. In the fall, grasses mature and produce a seed to ensure regermination in the spring. Corn, wheat, barley, rye, etc., are grains that are also grasses. The genius of nature is that these seed heads develop in the grasses at the same time the animals need to create fat reserves to endure the rigors of the coming winter months.

When beef cattle “fatten,” something extraordinary happens that does not happen to other red meat animals - intramuscular marbling, where the fat actually disperses within the muscle itself. Most mammals when building up fat reserves store it under the skin which is call subcutaneous fat. The actual muscle itself has very little fat at all. Whereas beef will continue to marble more and more intensely depending on the quality of the feed and the amount of time on the richer diet.

There are as many methods to grain finishing cattle as there are ranchers. Some do a very short term high energy diet comprised of mostly corn - this is typical of commodity production. The Naturally Raised animals, including the Wagyu, use a longer, slower method. These animals are fed a diet that progressively increases the caloric content with more mixed grains but also keeps a large proportion of silage or hay (dried grass) to keep the cattle’s digestive systems happy. Some of these ranchers, like our Australian producer, use no corn at all in their feed mixes.

When all is said and done, the question of Grass-fed or Grain-fed? The choice is yours.

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