Why Grass Fed?
Grass-Fed vs. Traditional Grain-Fed
Why choose Valley Ridge Farm’s grass-fed beef over the traditional grain-fed variety? Grass-fed beef is generally leaner with more beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids and more vitamin E precursors as well.
Most cattle start life in the same way. Calves are born in the early spring, drink milk from their mothers and many are then allowed to roam free and eat pasture grass. This continues for about seven to nine months. After that, calves are removed (weaned) away from their mothers and typically transported to a livestock sale barn and ultimately in large commercial feedlots.
Large feedlots are referred to by the EPA as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). There, the cattle are kept in confined pens, often made with concrete floors with limited space where the cattle are forced to wallow in their own urine and manure. They are rapidly fattened up with high energy grain-based feeds, usually made from a base of soy or corn and other cereal grains. Often, this type of feed consists of genetically modified seeds (aka: GMO = genetically modified organism) in order to allow the use of herbicides like Round-Up to be used when growing these crops. The process of genetically modifying seed is the product of a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal to achieve a desired result or trait. The controversy in feeding GMO feed to cattle is the lack of the scientific knowledge of the long-term affect the GMO has on the cattle which may ultimately make its way into the meat. Typically, their feed is also supplemented with small amounts of fiber such as hay to help “normalize” their diet because grain-based diets are not natural feedstocks for ruminants like cattle. To accelerate growth for economic purposes and to accommodate this un-natural diet, the cattle are often given drugs, such as antibiotics, and growth hormones, somewhat like a body builder who takes steroids. The cattle live in these feedlots until they are 16 – 18 months old before being taken to a slaughterhouse.
On the other hand, grass-fed and finished cattle are fattened by allowing them to choose what types of grass and legume plants they naturally “want to eat” (not forced to eat) in each pasture they are moved to …. and they are moved to fresh pasture every day or two! This gives them constant access to fresh high-quality nutritious grasses, minimizes exposure to their manure and flies, and allows the grass to recover from the natural “mowing” in a sustainable fashion.
Because the growth of grass-fed cattle is not accelerated by growth hormones, they are not usually ready for processing until around 24 months. This time frame is also highly dependent on the quality of the grass growing season. In Ohio the best time for growing a variety of lush grasses and legumes (clover, alfalfa, etc.) is in the spring and early summer, and then typically again in fall (which is again dependent on the weather). This means that our cattle are usually ready to be processed for butchering near the end of spring/early summer which is late June early July for our spring offering, and then again at the end of September early October for our fall offering.
What a cow eats can have an impact on the nutrient composition of their beef. This is particularly evident when it comes to the fatty acid composition.
Grass-fed beef is loaded with vitamin B12, B3 and B6. It’s also rich in highly bioavailable iron, selenium and zinc. In fact, meat contains almost every nutrient that people need to survive. It also contains high-quality protein and various lesser known nutrients, such as creatine and carnosine, which are very important for your muscles and brain.
Additionally, research spanning three decades** supports the argument that grass-fed beef (on a g/g fat basis), has a more desirable saturated fatty acid (SFA) lipid profile (more C18:0 cholesterol neutral SFA and less C14:0 & C16:0 cholesterol elevating SFAs) as compared to grain-fed beef. Grass-finished beef is also higher in total conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) (C18:2) isomers, trans-vaccenic acid (TVA) (C18:1 t11) and n-3 fatty acid (FA) on a g/g fat basis. This results in a better n-6:n-3 ratio that is preferred by the nutritional community. Grass-fed beef is also higher in precursors for Vitamin A and E and cancer fighting antioxidants such as glutathione (GT) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity as compared to grain fed contemporaries. Grass-fed beef tends to be lower in overall fat content, an important consideration for those interested in decreasing overall fat consumption. Because of these differences in FA content, grass-fed beef also possesses a distinct grass flavor and unique cooking qualities that should be considered when making the transition from grain-fed beef. To maximize the favorable lipid profile and to guarantee the elevated antioxidant content, animals should be finished on 100% grass or pasture-based diets. Grain-fed beef consumers may achieve similar intakes of both n-3 and CLA through consumption of higher fat portions with higher overall palatability scores. Several clinical studies have shown that today's lean beef, regardless of feeding strategy, can be used interchangeably with fish or skinless chicken to reduce serum cholesterol levels in hypercholesterolemic patients.
Grass-fed beef usually contains less total fat (is leaner) than grain-fed beef, which means that gram for gram, grass-fed beef contains fewer calories. But the composition of fatty acids is also different:
- Grass-fed beef contains less monounsaturated fat than grain-fed beef.
- Grass-fed beef contains up to five times as much Omega-3’s as grain-fed.
- Grass-fed beef contains about twice as much CLA as grain-fed beef.