Grass-Fed Beef: 5 Advantages for Producers

Grass-fed beef livestock grazing in a field of grass.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines grass-fed beef as cattle that eat grass as the only “feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal.” The USDA guidelines go on to say that the animals “cannot be fed grain or grain by-products.” 

While grass-fed cattle pose concerns regarding cost-effectiveness and sustainabilitythe overall benefits of grass-fed beef are undeniable. What are some of these advantages? Are there drawbacks to consider? It might be better for consumers, but are there any benefits to beef producers? Let’s examine the top five advantages grass-fed beef offers producers.

Key Takeaways:

  • When it comes to grass-fed beef versus grain-fed beef, grass-fed is better for the environment has a better diet than grain-fed, and is hormone and drug-free.
  • Grass-fed beef is healthier for consumers, and with shoppers looking for healthier alternatives in the foods they eat, healthier meat means more profits for producers.
  • Grass-fed beef tastes better than grain-fed beef. It gives the meat a grassy flavor. It’s also better for the animal because it gets all the health benefits of a more natural diet.

Grass-Fed Vs. Grain-Fed: Not All Beef Is Created Equal

You may have heard the term “grass-fed beef.” But what does it mean? Typically, it means the farmers and ranchers that raise livestock in a pasture, allowing them to roam freely and eat natural grass instead of factory farming practices of grain-feeding while living and eating in confinement. 

However, even labels that say the beef was grass-fed can be misleading. That’s because some cows get to feed on grass freely when younger, but beef producers will “finish” the process using grain and a factory farm setting. Don’t just rely on labels. Make sure your beef was pasture-raised and finished, having spent their entire lives eating grass and roaming freely.

Infographic about the differences between grass-fed and grain-fed beef

Image Courtesy of Kitchen Stewardship

5 Advantages of Grass-Fed Beef for Producers    

Throughout evolution, the animals people ate consumed grass and roamed freely. It was more sustainable for the people and the livestock, but those are just a few benefits. Let’s review the top five advantages producers get from raising grass-fed livestock:

1. Healthier for Consumers  

Grass-fed beef contains as much as six times more Omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef. Omega-3 fatty acids prevent diseases such as stroke, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, eczema, and some form of arthritis, along with other health conditions. 

With grass-fed beef offering additional health benefits to consumers, producers also experience the financial benefits of consumer demands as their eating habits evolve

It’s also healthier for the producer, who eats the meat. The abundance of antioxidants in the meat helps them potentially fight off illness and maintain optimal health and wellness. 

2. Better Tasting Meat  

The most significant difference nearly every consumer will notice about grass-fed beef is that it tastes slightly different than the regular beef they buy. Grass-fed cattle yield a grass-like flavor. Many prefer the taste, while others do not care for it at all. It is all subjective, but one thing is certain, there’s a distinct difference in the taste.

This beef also cooks differently. The difference in fat content between grass-fed and grain-fed livestock is significant, meaning grass-fed beef is leaner, cooks faster, and dries out more easily. To avoid overcooking your beef, use a reliable instant-read meat thermometer when searing your fillets. 

Some people describe grass-fed beef as “chewier.” However, chefs will tell you that cooking any meat too long will make it have a chewy texture. That’s why you want a meat thermometer to ensure you don’t overcook your beef. 

An easy way to tell the difference between grass and grain-fed cattle is the look of the fat in the beef. Grass-fed fat will appear more yellow in color. Some feel that the color is “off-putting.” However, the yellow coloring of the fat comes from the antioxidant beta-carotene – one of the meat’s most significant health benefits.

3. Reduces Environmental Impact 

Well-managed feeding practices that incorporate grain-fed cattle animals and rotational grazing reduce the lifetime greenhouse gases by 24%. Also, you may lessen the environmental footprint compared to grain-fed cattle when you raise livestock out of confinement. Cattle that graze on grass reduce the overgrowth of foliage that makes grasslands inhospitable to grass. 

4. Better for the Livestock 

Feeding grain to livestock creates a lot of gastric and intestinal issues for the animal. Imagine how uncomfortable it is to walk around with stomach discomfort. Animals experience the same pain and discomfort. Only they lack the cognitive reasoning to know what is happening or what caused it. 

Providing a healthier diet of grass while also allowing them to roam freely as they eat is better for the overall health and well-being of the animal. It’s even better for the mental wellness of the cattle – you get happier cows. The difference impacts the quality of the beef those cows produce. 

5. Hormone and Antibiotic-Free 

Grass-fed beef is not only better for you, the cows, and the environment, it’s kinder to producers’ operational budget. Since the livestock is hormone and antibiotic-free, producers save money on these costly treatments. Also, there is no need to fortify the cattle with additional supplements because the grass-fed diet is adequate for the livestock and is better for them. Check out the chart below to see other benefits not listed here.

Infographic of the benefits of grass-fed beef

Image Courtesy of Integración Agropecuaria

Learn More About Sustainable Meat Production Best Practices at the Next SIAL America Show

Sustainability in the food supply chain will affect long-term changes in how consumers eat meat and other foods. While grass-fed beef is nothing new, more customers are looking for more sustainable food choices driving growth in feeding livestock a healthier diet. And some meat producers are looking for cost-effective reasons to make the change. 

If you raise livestock for meat production and aren’t feeding your cattle grass as their only food source, consider what it would take to produce happier, healthier cows. Talk to industry experts who raise grass-fed cattle and see if it’s something to consider. At a SIAL America show, you can meet some of the leading beef producers in the world and discuss their meat production best practices regarding grass-fed versus grain-fed cattle.

If you want to learn more about sustainable food production, attend our next show. Do you have food production best practices you want to showcase? Become an exhibitor at SIAL America.