Grass-fed vs Grain-fed

December 23, 2020

We’ve heard the question asked time and time again when we talk about our 100% Grass-Fed Beef: “Don’t all cows eat grass?” We’ll give you a comprehensive answer.

Grass-Fed beef is expected to come from cattle that eat grass (and other green forage) while grazing in open pastures for their entire life. This seems straightforward, but there can be some confusing messages out there that seem to lack transparency.

The fine print – Grain-fed beef

The confusion starts with the use of advertised claims such as “grass-fed, grain finished beef”, which can trick a person into thinking the meat they are eating is something it’s not. In a nutshell, “grass-fed, grain-finished” is conventionally raised beef, the same meat at your local supermarkets.

More than 98% of beef consumed in Canada is grain-fed (typically corn or barley); however, every cow starts the same way. It’s raised the first 6 months on its mother’s milk and continues for about a year, just grazing on grass. It will also feed on hay, silage, or other forage as it is impossible to grow cattle on fresh grass year-round in our country’s climate.

Following that, most beef cattle are transferred to feedlots where they’re fattened on grain diets for the last 60 – 200 days, where the focus is on efficient growth and weight gain.

Despite the benefits, our beef-producing system is structured in a way where grass-feeding isn’t operationally sustainable or financially rewarding enough of an option for cattle ranchers and beef producers. With resources limited, they must focus on making their cattle operations as efficient as possible.

Grass-fed Beef – It’s Not All Equal

We’ve established the difference between grass-fed, grass-finished beef (or just grass-fed beef) and grass-fed, grain-finished beef (or just grain-finished, conventional beef). However, it should be made clear that not all grass-fed beef is necessarily equal. There can be plenty of differences.

Unfortunately, depending on what and where a person buys their grass-fed beef, it’s possible that the consumer could be disappointed. For instance, dairy cows are typically grass-fed and finished, but the beef from dairy cows leaves much to be desired in terms of flavour and tenderness. Also, the type of grass, soils and climate conditions all can play a part in the resulting meat quality that comes from grass-fed beef cattle.

Recently, many of our farmers have started planting wild alfalfa in their fields to increase the calorie intake and bailing grass (for winter use) while its glucose content is at its highest by using refractors. This leads to an overall better marbling and flavour profile but keeping to the grass-fed diet.

Weeding Out The False Claims

Many retailers will slap on every buzzword possible to their meat. Grass-fed is the easiest because the cow probably did eat grass at some point in their life! If you want to reap the benefits of a grass-fed cow, you need to make sure the cow is fed grass throughout its life. A reputable retailer will have a direct connection to the farmer and the processor to make sure the meat they deliver is what they claim. Supplying from local farms makes it easier to have a direct connection and build trust that it will be grass-fed.

Ottawa Valley Meats is proud to have a close working relationship will all the aspects of its meat production. Every step of the way, we carefully vet all aspects of the process to uphold our strict standards, including the sourcing of livestock feed!