Grass vs. Grain Finished Beef

Are you confused with all the terminology about beef? Grain finished, grass fed, natural/organic beef and grass finished might be making your head spin as you go shop through the grocery store and your not sure which one is the best for you. Here’s a simple way of explaining the differences.

Grain Finished-The Majority of American Beef :( : Almost all beef in a typical supermarket is finished with grain. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal that a cow be finished on grain, but here are a few things to consider. Cows were not developed to eat grain in the first place, they are ruminant bovines that were designed to digest hay and forage. However, grain is cheap (or used to be cheap) and it is easy to fatten cattle on. Before slaughter most cattle will spend 110-200+ days in a feedlot eating a diet consisting of 50 to 90% grain. By feeding grain to cows it’s easy to get a nice uniform product with consistency over and over again that makes it to the supermarket shelves, but this doesn’t come without a price. The nutritional content of the beef is completely changed when fed on corn making the beef less nutritious. The other risk factor is associated with the way the cattle are held within the last couple months of their lives.  Industrialized feedlots are a breeding ground for disease and sickness. Consequently most cattle are either fed or injected with antibiotics to keep them from contracting sickness due to close and unsanitary conditions. The beef is then sent to major packaging plants that process thousands of cows a day and grind the meat into hamburger from several different cows! “It’s virtually impossible to determine how many cows contribute to a single burger.” (PBS)

Grass Fed- The Tricky, but Deceiving Health Food Spin :( : Marketing experts are not stupid, they know if people are becoming more aware of their food choices that they will make a choice between two different types of beef based on what’s on the title. If you are shopping at the supermarket and you know that most beef is finished on grain and you are trying to avoid it and you see one package that does not explain at all what type of beef it is and the other package right next to it says “Grass Fed” you are more likely to pick up the grass fed one. The problem with that is that most likely (once again) that beef was finished on grain. How is that? Well, grass fed is now a term people use to explain that the cattle were on grass/hay/silage at one point in it’s life. This is not too difficult to then label the beef with, because most beef are at some point on grass! Most ranchers raise the calves with their mothers and wean them at 6 months- a year. Some people sell those calves directly to feedlots and other ranches will keep them on their ranch’s grass until the cattle reach a certain weight and then sell them. The majority of the cattle will then end up in a feedlot to be finished 60-110 days. Once again, causing the same problems as listed above.

Natural Raised Beef- The Step Under Certified Organic :-/ : Natural raised beef is another sticky term, but it’s a little bit of a step up from grass fed. Natural, in the food world, simply means no antibiotics or hormones. The cattle end up in feedlots for the end of their life, but if the steer gets sick while in the feedlot and needs antibiotics he is then separated and cannot be sold as “natural.” It’s a little bit of a safer product to eat since you know the cattle haven’t been given any antibiotics or hormones but they still ended up in a feedlot eating corn.

Certified Organic- The Trick is Finding Out How it was Finished :-/ : Lots of people are into buying organic at this point. It is a great idea, but it is slowly being corrupted to the point that organic doesn’t always mean much. Organic has pretty high standards, but when it comes to beef you need to be careful at what exactly organic means. Organic means that there was no synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers used in the feed given to the animals (wikipedia),  and that no animal can be given antibiotics or hormones as well. Once again, this does not guarantee that the cattle were not finished on grain. If you don’t mind them being finished on grain then organic would be the best for you, but if it bothers you that these animals were finished on grain 60-110+ days then the only beef out there for you is grass finished beef.

Grass Finished Beef- No Tricks, Just Beef :) : Grass finished beef is the way beef has been raised for thousands of years, before cheap grains and the industrialized system. It’s almost ridiculous that grass finished beef is so much more expensive than the industrialized meat, but the fact is, that there are not many ranchers that know how to finish cattle on grass anymore! For almost 100 years people have been genetically changing their cows through selection to finish on corn, have high birth weights and not to be finished on grass. It has become difficult to finish cattle on grass and it takes proper management and holding a steer for 2-3 years instead of selling it when it’s 6 months to a year old. Also, the product changes based on the quality of the grass, their genetics and a list of other factors, making it difficult to produce the same product consistently every time. When you put a steer in a feedlot to 60-110 days on grain it will taste exactly the same as every other steer in that feedlot, whereas a grass fed steer from one ranch might finish out differently from a steer at another ranch, making it an art for the rancher to find that consistency and learn more about the land and the grass. Grass finished does not guarantee that the animal has been given antibiotics or hormones or that the rancher doesn’t use pesticides or fertilizers. However, on our ranch (and a trend we see with other ranchers that grass finish beef) is that the ranches have more respect for the land and animals and treat them correctly. Grass finished animals don’t often get sick because they are not in confinement operations, so antibiotics are not necessary. When you are raising grass finished animals you have to manage your land properly so that you have enough good quality feed to finish cattle on. Pesticides and fertilizers can cause major ecological problems on a ranch, which is why we do not use either on our ranch.

With more people becoming aware of where their food is coming from probably the most important thing to do is get to know your farmer or rancher. We are more than willing and eager to talk to you about our beef and how we raise our cattle. We are proud of what we produce and are happy you are aware of where your beef is coming from. Here at Cunningham Ranch we hope anyone who is interested in our beef will contact us and consider coming to see the ranch and how we raise our beef.

A new documentary about meat: American Meat

If you have any questions, post below! If you are interested in our beef contact us today! Buy today!

phone: 541-339-3404


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.