Grass-fed is Not What You Assume

Natural means nothing.

They want you to think natural means what you would think natural implies. They like to paint a pretty picture but in reality, it’s far from the actual truth. (Hint: so called “free-range” chickens)

So naturally, grass-fed may not imply what you think it means. What picture is painted when you envision meat that is labeled “grass-fed?” To me, I envision the cows eating grass all throughout their life, on open pasture– even right before they get processed into meat. You probably envision that as well right?

Well, just like free-range does not necessarily promise the chickens are living the lives they are supposed to live, grass-fed does not promise that you are getting the highest quality meat you assume you are getting.

Grass-fed is a loose term. If you think about it, at one point, all animals are raised on grass. One important factor we need to take into consideration is the quality of the grass. Unfortunately just because it is labeled grass-fed it does not determine if the cow has been feeding on lush green grass (where all the nutrients and vitamins are). The cow could be feeding on dry, old, moldy grass that is completely devoid of nutrients. No nutrients = unhealthy cow.

I know… you are probably feeling like nothing comes easy when trying to determine if what you are purchasing is at the highest quality. In this day and age, we have to be savvy when navigating through labels, descriptions, ingredients, etc. A term to look for when purchasing meat is grass-finished and pasture-raised.

The term “finished” means that the animal has grown to the point where the growth has slowed so it can put on fat. This happens about 90-160 days before slaughter.

Proper finishing of beef is one of the most important elements in keeping the nutritional quality so prized of grass-fed animals. When done properly, the meat will maintain healthy levels of omega-6 to omega-3 ratios, have high levels of CLA, vitamin E and A, and beta carotene. CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) is an extremely beneficial fatty acid and has been shown to help protect and fight against cancer. Naturally, if the animal is not consuming the highest quality of forage for it to finish then the animal will not grow properly nor will it gain any of the fat that makes it tender and flavorful.

Hanging out with the cows at Tara Firma Farms

Many companies who claim their beef is grass-fed may have started their cattle on grass but during the last few months of their lives transport their cows to a feed lot where they consume grains such as corn, soy, and/or corn by products to fatten them up. Often times, the cattle may not even live on pastures and live out their lives on CAFO’s and eat alfalfa or hay (hence, grass-fed). Once they transition to an unnatural diet the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 can sky rocket and the high levels of CLA can drop to dramatically low levels (sometimes to even nothing).

As a side note: Cows are ruminants (aka, grass-eaters), so corn and grain raise acidity levels in their bodies, making them more susceptible to illness, including E. coli and other bacterial infections. When an animal is raised on pasture and fed grass their whole lives, E. coli is dramatically reduced.

The term “pasture-raised” simply means the animal lives it’s complete life grazing on open, green pastures. From birth to death the animal eats what it was meant to and lives a happy, cruel-free life. Often local farmers will not have an organic certification for their meat. Because the term organic is so lax, pasture-raised animals without any organic certification are far beyond superior quality.

When choosing your meat it is ideal to have pasture-raised, grass-finished. So when you can determine the cattle has been raised on pastures it’s whole life and finished on grass, you know you are getting the highest quality meat you can get.

Until next time,
Loriel – Healthy Roots, Happy Soul

This post is part of: Mix it Up Mondays, Make Your Own MondaysThank Goodness It’s Monday, Melt in Your Mouth Mondays, Clever Chicks HopNatural Living Mondays, Healthy Tuesday Hop, Fat Tuesdays, Tasteful Tuesdays, Traditional Tuesdays, Teach Me Tuesdays,
Healthy Tuesdays, The Gathering Spot,

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  1. I’m going to share this with my readers, as it is a great reminder for our kindred spirits, new and old.
    This is a very well written article…excellent!


  2. We were purchasing Publix Greenwise steaks thinking they were grass fed, I did some research and found that they are fed a vegetarian diet. After further research I found that they feed them all kinds of vegetables, like corn. Since then we found a local farmer who offers grass fed and finished cows.

    Rob C

  3. This is really interesting thank you. Although I don’t eat meat myself my husband does and it’s great to know what he should be looking for for a healthy meat. I’m not sure we’d have that available in the UK but good to be on the look out!

  4. A few notes on your well-intentioned article:

    First, grassfed is a term regulated by the USDA. When you see that term used on a label, it means the animal was fed nothing but grass or forage from weaning to harvest and spent a good amount of its life on pasture. It does not, however, say anything about antibiotic or hormone use or where the meat comes from. It could be from Australia, Argentina, Uruguay or other places on the planet. Also, alfalfa and hay are acceptable as part of a grass feeding program.

    Second, the terms pasture-raised and grass-finished have no legal meaning whatsoever, so they mean whatever the person selling you the meat wants them to mean. The only way to know is to ask the person who raised the meat. Buying meat with those terms on the label is no assurance of quality or safety.

    Finally, a farmer who feeds his animals on nothing but dry old moldy grass isn’t going to have healthy animals and isn’t going to be in business for long. The animals wouldn’t gain enough weight to make it to a slaughter house.

    There are two ways to make sure the meat you’re buying comes from truly grassfed animals. The first is to talk to the person who raises the animals and ask how they do it. Visit the farm. Most farmers are happy to have you. The second is to look for certification from the American Grassfed Association. AGA has strict standards — the animals must be fed nothing but grass and forage from weaning to harvest, must be raised on pasture and never confined, must never receive antibiotics or growth hormones, and must be born and raised in the US. Producers who use the logo are audited once a year by a third party. If you want to know more, visit the AGA web site.

  5. I believe that something really needs to be done to make it easier for everyone to understand what they are eating! It will never happen though because everyone could complain that it is too costly. Thanks for the great information and thank you for linking up to our Healthy Tuesdays Blog hop!

    Kerry from Country Living On A Hill

  6. Good Post. Know where your food comes from, develop a good relationship with a local farmer OR raise some of your food yourself.
    Don’t buy big box store beef.
    You might want to explain what a CAFO is.
    Come visit my Vermont herd when you have a chance;
    We just survived a few very intense snowstorms. The cows have gone skiing!

  7. I love to read your articles on my iPad, however the share buttons on the left side get in the way. Is there anything you can do about this?
    Thank you!

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