Is grain-started, grass-finished, beef OK?

Answered on January 25, 2015
Created January 24, 2015 at 6:22 PM

I have found a company that are at least honest about what they are selling. I inquired whether their beef was 100% grass-fed. They replied that in some cases the young animals *could* have been bought from a milk cow and in that case they might have been fed corn (since they were not able to give it its mother´s milk, they blamed that on milk prices). However, the spokesperson then claimed that they feed them grass-fed all their lives until slaughter. She said that they possibly might have been grain-fed for a maximum of 6 months and that the minimum slaughter age was 24 months, meaning she could guarantee that the animals have been grass-fed for 18 months at they very least. She claimed that research had shown that the impact from grain on the animal vanishes after maximum 6 months and that they have conducted tests that have shown that these animals have very similar ratios of omega 6 and omega 3 as any fully grass-fed animal ("no detectable difference").

What do you say about this? Of course, I would prefer a fully grass-fed animal that preferably has gotten to drink its mother´s milk as well, but do you think there are any essential differences between this approach and a 100% grass-fed animal raised on its mother´s milk? Are there other parameters besides the omega 3 and omega 6 ratio I should be worried about in this context, for example? I get the fact that it is probably better than most industrial meat or grain-FINISHED meat, but how much worse is it from 100% grass-fed beef?

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2 Answers


on January 24, 2015
at 06:54 PM

Raising beef isn't as simple as "grain fed" or "grass fed" there are numerous options as you're finding out.  "Grass fed" isn't even strictly defined and could mean that the animals eat some grass but also eat a bunch of other things.  Another common one is "grass fed with access to grain" which means the farmer feeds them on pasture but they have grain around which they may or may not eat.  Raising cattle on grass is a little more expensive and time consuming and many farmers try to grass feed them enough so that they can say they do it (and sell to markets that ask for it) but don't do it all the way because that'd be too expensive or too much hassle.

Studies show, and Paleo theory states, that the meat is more nutritious if it is grass fed, and intuitively it makes sense that an animal is healthier and more nutritious if it eats a natural diet. One cattle farmer that I talked to compared fattening cattle on grain to fattening teenagers on Twinkies.

So if they are fed grass for a while and then fattened on grain then what?  I am not sure there are any studies that are clear on this. One thing to keep in mind is that the cattle gain most of their weight just before slaughter, so if they eat grass for 18 months and then grain for 6 months, most of their body weight may have been added in the last 6 months so this is probably not the 3/1 ratio that it sounds like but probably more like 1/1.  Basically during that 6 months they are over-eating bad food, getting little exercise, and getting less and less healthy up until the time they're slaughtered.  This is probably not as bad as factory-farmed meat that was raised exclusively on grain but not as good as real free-range grass fed meat.

One other point is that free-range, fully grass-fed meat can be tough and gamey depending on the breed and how it's raised and slaughtered.  It sounds great to eat meat that was 100% grass fed but if it is tough, chewey, and livery, you're going to enjoy it a lot less. If you like relatively mildly flavored, softer meat, that is what grain feeding gives you, which is why so many people like it.  I find that this varies a lot.  I found a farm in Virginia that is very particular about raising their beef grass-fed and it is absolutely delicious.  I've had other meat from Texas that tasted like livery leather, even the nice cuts.



on January 25, 2015
at 10:38 PM

Six months of continuous grass feeding is enough to have a O3/O6 ratio indistinguishable from pure grass feeding. I am guessing the ramping up of minerals, carotenoids, and vitamin E to be even shorter. I have zero problems buying a steer that as fed grains over the winter, and has been on pasture March through October. I have done so in fact. I only require a full growing season on pasture.

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