Why Grass-fed Meats?

Not too many years ago, labels on beef in the grocery store proudly proclaimed that the animals were “Grain Fed!” You will not find that label today, anywhere. It has been replaced, in some cases, with a new label: “Grass Fed” or “Pastured.” For the most part, this is a good thing, though it is not an entirely unmixed blessing.

Farmers Market

The problems with feeding grains to cattle have become fairly well known. Cattle were meant to graze, period, and the introduction of grains to bovine diets occurred simply for economic reasons: to produce unnaturally fast growth and to allow for ever larger confinement operations.

Beef became unnaturally fatty, diseases, including E Coli appeared on a large scale, and the quality and flavor of the meat declined markedly.

Cattle Lot
Cattle were not meant for this!

Raising cattle on pasture is more labor intensive and requires far less dense stocking on the rancher’s land. In a true grass-based operation, no confinement facilities should EVER be used. Pastures should be raised with organic practices, and cattle should be rotated over the pasture frequently. The land will be rejuvenated, cattle will be healthier and happier, and the final product will be more flavorful and better for you.

The raising of pigs on pasture is a more recent development but has occurred for exactly the same reasons. Pigs, unlike cattle, are omnivores, meaning they eat pretty much any organic material. As they say, they eat like pigs!

Pig Lot
Pigs were not meant for this!

But this means they were never meant to eat a strictly corn-based diet in a factory. Like cattle, they were meant to be on pasture or in the woods eating roots, nuts, seeds, bugs, and grass. They were meant to be in the sunshine.

Raising pigs in this kind of natural environment is even more labor intensive than raising cattle, but the final product is absolutely worth it! The meat looks and tastes nothing like its factory-produced counterpart. The meat is firmer, though still tender. It has flavor independent of injections and sauces.

As with any trend in American marketing, be wary of the labels “grass fed” and “pastured” in the grocery store! There are no federal or state guidelines for such labels, so where there is a buck to be made, you can be sure that large producers will call something grass-fed or pastured even though the practices look pretty similar to the grain-based operations of the past 50 years.

Always buy from local farmers and ranchers who are willing to show you their operation! Ask questions. Don’t settle for a marketing campaign.

And finally, don’t be afraid to eat beef and pork! There is absolutely nothing wrong with pasture-raised red meats in a balanced diet, and if raised responsibly, a beef or pork operation can be good for the land and good for rural America!