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Grass fed, Grain Fed, what is Best?

Hey all! I am checking in to chat about grass fed, grain fed & what is best! Let's dig deep and explore the pros and cons to both.


I just want to begin by saying fed is best, and as a family, it is important to choose what is right for you based on your own personal beliefs, preferences and values. I like to sprinkle in posts about beef on the blog to help answer any questions you might have about nutrition, animal care, etc.

To begin, I want to chat about a cow's digestive system. Now, don't exit this tab or scroll past this part. I promise to be brief and not too technical haha, but I think understanding the why behind our feed choices are important. A cow is a ruminant animal. It is also a misconception that a cow has 4 stomachs, when really, they have one stomach but 4 chambers (or departments). It is pretty amazing that a cow can turn something as simple as grass into delicious milk and/or meat.


As a ruminant, a cow must consume some sort of roughage. This can be in the form of grass, hay, corn stalks, haylage, silage, etc. The rumen acts as the storage for chewed vegetation and forms balls of cud. The cud is regurgitated and chewed again. The cud then travels through the rest of the digestive system and nutrients are absorbed by the body. The biggest take away is that cows need roughage, we can feed them corn but corn will travel to fast through their body on its own without roughage to slow it down. This can cause bloat and founder.


***I would also like to note that corn is in in the grass family and that is why the corn stalks are considered a type of roughage.


Okay back to the pros and cons. Grass fed means the market calves have only been fed grass. They have consumed an all grass/hay diet from the time they were born until the time they went to market.

Pros:

- Lean beef

-Heart healthy

-Taste preference

-Use of pastures or hay fields that are not suitable for crops

-Premium price for the farmer

Cons:

-Takes longer to feed to market size

-Might not have the pasture/hay ground available

-Cost per calf increases due to the fact that it takes twice as long to feed to market size

-Taste preference

-Less marbling means you have to be careful to not over cook

-Price of beef is more at the store


Grain fed means the calves are fed a ration mixed with roughage and grain (corn). These calves are still fed grass, hay, silage, etc. but they are also supplemented with grain.

Pros:

-Taste preference

-More marbling

-Less time to feed to market size which means less greenhouse gases (a more efficient animal)

-Use of feed source in our state (feeding what is available)

-The calves really enjoy a grain fed diet

-Opens up opportunities for other grains (some farmers add in cotton seeds, etc)

-Price of beef is lower at the store

Cons:

-Cost of grain can be high especially if you are not a crop farmer

-Taste preference

-The cow may not be able to fully absorb the nutrients unless the corn is cracked into smaller pieces

-Higher fat percentage

-Aids in not a whole lot of crop diversity in our state


Farmers feed their calves either a grass-fed or grain-fed diet for multiple reasons. Many farmers I know feed a grain-fed diet because 1) people tend to enjoy the taste of grain fed beef and 2) the farmer might not have enough hay ground or pastures to feed an all-grass-fed diet, 3) Grass-fed also takes twice as long to feed out compared to a grain-fed calf.


Grass-fed farmers may choose to feed their calves only grass because 1) they don't have corn available, 2) they want to offer a premium product, 3) they want to produce a leaner beef 4) their belief in raising beef on pasture.


What do we do on our farm? Up until recently we sold our calves at weaning, and we haven't been keeping any back to feed out but as we head into 2023, we are keeping back a couple calves. Our plan is to feed our calves a grass-fed and grain-finished diet. Meaning we will feed a grass-fed diet of hay, grass, and corn stalks but we will supplement with corn as the calves begin to finish. This will give them that grain finished taste while decreasing a bit of time it takes to feed the calves to market size. We also don't grow crops and therefore the cost of grain will be too much for our operation if we did an all-grain-fed diet. That is our plan, and we will see how this first year goes!


Overall, we need grass-fed and grain-fed farmers to help support our food system. No matter what you choose for your family, you can be confident in the beef on your plate. Fed is best and beef is a great and nutritious option to include in your weekly meals!


Read our nutrition blog to learn more about the benefits of beef!


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