Why Grass-Fed Beef and Lamb - Part 1, Introduction
The first issue we must address when dealing with the subject of grass-fed beef and lamb is "what does grass-fed mean". Before my wife Connie and I started raising grass-fed beef I was curious like some of you might be about what the difference between grass-fed and conventional beef might be or what it tastes like. So I asked her to investigate and she went to our butcher and asked for some grass-fed beef. Our local butcher at the time told her "honey all cows eat grass". So there is the possibility that you might have heard about grass-fed beef and asked about and were told this beef is grass-fed just like Connie was told.
But there is an official definition and protocols for grass-fed beef established by the American Grassfed Association . I will try to net this out for you, to be grass-fed an animal should be first grass-fed to finish. Finish or finished is a beef industry term that describes an animal that has been raised to the adult or mature age and has been fattened to the point it can be harvested. So grass-fed to finish means it has been grass-fed for it's entire life. No non-grass products ever. Some farmers will raise an animal on grass almost its entire life then "finish" them on feed and grain the last few months of their life to "fatten them up". This works for some farmers but this is not grass-fed beef. We will deal with this particular objection more when we discuss the health benefits of grass-fed beef.
So if grass-fed to finish means it eats grass their entire life what counts as grass? The simple answer is no seeds or grains, just leaves. So what can a grass-fed animal eat? First their are perennial grasses like fescue, timothy, orchard grass and rye grass. They can eat legumes like red clover, white clover and alfalfa. They can also eat annuals versions of the same, some annual grasses are sorghum and sudan grasses that can only grow in the summer time here in Ohio. Grass-fed animals can also eat these fresh in pasture or in a stored form. Stored grass is typically called hay. So hay is just grasses and legumes that have been cut, dried and collected up to feed later. They can also be store without drying if they are wrapped in which case it then ferments and is called haylage. So for an animal to be called grass-fed it can eat grasses and/or legumes either directly from a pasture or in a stored for such as hay for it whole life.
As I will detail later there are many benefits to the livestock, consumer, environment and local community to buying and eating grass-fed products. But one of the most important of these is it tastes better. There is a distinct flavor to grass fed beef that is easy to recognize and enjoy. It is all about taste when it comes to food because no matter how healthy or good it is if it doesn't taste good folks just wont buy or eat it. So as a grass-fed producer I taste every head of cattle we produce to help us constantly improve. So it is important to note that you don't have to suffer lower quality or less taste to enjoy all the health benefits of grass-fed beef.