The Benefits of Grass Fed Beef
More and more farmers, meat shops, and restaurants have been advertising their beef as ‘grass fed’ and in turn we’ve been seeing an increase in customer demand for grass fed beef. But, do we really know if there are any benefits? Or is it just the next marketing angle in meat production?
While I’m no scientist, I have done my fair share of reading on the topic of grass fed versus grain fed beef so here’s what I know so far. And, when it comes to the science end of it, I’ll link to the sources below so you can read it for yourselves.
For those who know how our farm operates you’ll likely know by now that Central Park Farms is a farm I started and while I have Jay’s total support, the business decisions for the farm are mine to make… Jay runs his own businesses independent from me so he typically doesn’t have much time for that end of Central Park Farms. But ask that man to build a fence and he’s there! So when he came to me and said he’d like for us to start raising beef I had a lot of research to do as it wasn’t something that was in my plans.
Jay is and always will be flavour driven when it comes to meat production, me on the other hand, I look at how we raise our animals as the primary and feel confident that a good flavour profile comes from well-raised meat. And so started our inter-relationship battle with grass finished vs grain finished beef.
Quick fact: the term ‘grass fed beef’ means very little. All cattle are, for much of their lives, grass fed. The key is looking for 100% grass fed, grass finished, and grain free beef. If it doesn’t say ‘grass finished’ or ‘grain free’ ask.
Jay has never liked the often gamey taste and lack of marbling in typical grass fed, grass finished beef (more on this below) and to be honest since I’ve never been a big red meat eater, I couldn’t remember a time that I had ever had grass finished beef. So you can imagine how my inexperience led to a challenging battle.
So it came down to research on my end for the health benefits of grass finished beef not only for our animals but for our customers, and once I was able to give Jay the facts he was on board.
What are the health benefits of grass fed beef:
In studies spanning 3 decades researchers found:
Grass finished beef has a more desirable saturated fatty acid profile than grain finished beef (more cholesterol neutral fatty acids and less cholesterol elevating fatty acids than gain finished)
Grass finished beef is higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than it’s grain fed counterpart. Again no scientist but them scientists say that’s a good thing ;)
This leads to a better ratio of Omega 3 and 6’s which is preferred by the nutritional community. A healthy diet should consist of approximately one to four times as much Omega 6 versus Omega 3; however, most North American diets currently contains 11-30 times as much Omega 6. This has lead to an increase in the number of inflammation related illnesses we currently face. This off balance ratio also plays into risk of heart disease and arthritis.
Grass fed, grass finished beef is higher in various antioxidants including Vitamin E and glutathione which protects cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are potentially damaging by-products of metabolism that may contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Beef finished on grass tends to have a lower fat content than grain finished beef which is good for those wishing to reduce their overall fat consumption.
And if you prefer not to eat meat that received antibiotics, then best to keep reading for my section on cattle health.
Now that I felt confident that grass fed and grass finished beef is the healthier red meat option in comparison to grain finished beef for my family and community, it was time to look at the health of my animals.
Is grass fed versus grain fed better for cattle?
Cattle are ruminant animals and are therefore biologically built to digest cellulose, converting forage (grass based diets) to beef.
Low-fiber diets (grain based diets) can make cattle sick and allow harmful bacteria to flourish.
Low-fiber rations allow fermentation acids to accumulate within a digestive compartment called the ‘rumen.’
Acid buildup can cause ulcers in animals consuming too much grain.
Cattle lack starch digesting enzymes and therefore grain can accumulate in the animal’s intestines.
Grain-based diets can promote Escherichia coli (E. coli) within the digestive tract of cattle.
Also, in Canada nearly all cattle that go to feedlots for grain finishing get antibiotics — 73% receive injectable antibiotics and and 97% receive in feed antibiotics.
"When cattle are fed grain, productivity is increased, but fiber-deficient rations can disrupt physiological mechanisms," said James B. Russell of the Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture in Ithaca, New York.
How to improve the flavour and fat marbling of grass fed beef:
After a bunch of research, hard work, and let’s be honest a TON of up front costs this is how we went about improving the quality and flavour profile of our grass fed/finished beef.
High-quality Black Angus breeding stock
Originally a British cattle breed, Black Angus were bred to do well on grass and forage based diets
Angus traditionally have superior fat marbling to many other breeds — The finer and more dispersed fat marbling leads to more tender, juicier, and more flavourful beef.
For these reasons they typically grade higher in beef quality
Believe it or not there is a very wide range of qualities of forage and grass. Cheap, low quality forage and hay does nothing to improve fat marbling and is where the gamey flavour comes from that many consumers dislike about grass finished beef. Poor quality forage can also lead to malnourished cattle.
We made the decision to feed high-quality alfalfa which is great for the health of our animals as it’s highly digestible, helps them maintain their body weight through the winter, and improves the digestible nutrients the animals receive.
The flavour benefit is that alfalfa is high in protein which helps us develop the fat marbling that lacks in traditional grass fed and grass finished beef.
I’m proud to say, our butchers Lepp Farm Market let us know we raise the nicest grass finished beef they’ve ever cut… cue awkward happy farmer dance.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing more about what makes our beef a premium choice in the Fraser Valley and Vancouver, as well I’ll be giving you more insight into why we make the choices we make when it comes to our 100% grass fed, grass finished Black Angus beef.
Kendall ~ Boss Chick at Central Park Farms