The difference between grass-finished, grass-fed, and grain-finished.

And why it's SO important to you!

Grass-Finished

The animal grazed exclusively on grasses, legumes, and forbs. No grains, ever!

Grass-Fed

The animal grazed for a period of time, but may or may not have been on a grain ration while being finished.

Grain-Finished

The animal was finished on grain rations.


What does "finishing" mean?


Finishing an animal refers to the process of feeding an animal with the intention of developing intramuscular fat, and/or reaching a target weight.


There are so many differing opinions regarding the right way to finish an animal. People consider health benefits, taste, environmental impacts, and quality of life for the animals as important factors when deciding which option is right for them. Lets walk through the differences.



Grain-Finishing:

Grain-finished animals in a conventional setting are finished in AFOs (Animal Feeding Operations) or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). Large CAFOs produce between 80% and 85% of beef in the United States (USDA cattle and beef sector at a glance: see link here)

Animal Welfare:

Once they enter a feedlot, their rations increase in grain and protein concentrates until they make up 70%-90% of the animals diet. Over a period of 14-21+ days, the animals are slowly transitioned from their former diets to feedlot rations, and then the amount of feed is increased. The change must be done over a period of time to prevent acidosis (Grain overload, acidosis, or grain poisoning in stock: see link here).

During the transition, the grain-digestion changes the microbe makeup in the animals rumen, and their stomach becomes up to ten times more acidic.

This process is tough on the animal, and the toxins from digesting grain would eventually cause liver failure if the animal was not slaughtered between 18 and 24 months of age.

The USDA liver grading system:

  • 0: no abscesses.
  • A-: One or two abscesses or abscess scars.
  • A: Two to four abscesses that are generally less than an inch in diameter.
  • A+: One or more large active abscesses along with associated inflammation of the liver.

21% of livers from CAFO cattle in 2010-11 were condemned and deemed unfit for human consumption (Liver abscesses still significant challenge for cattle industry:

see link here). 9.9% of livers graded A+.

Environmental Impact:

CAFOs have been known to pollute ground and surface water. They also contribute to air quality reduction in areas surrounding industrial farms. (Understanding CAFOs and their impact on communities: see link here)


Grass-Fed.

The term "grass-fed" was used with good intentions, I believe, when it first started becoming popular. But "grass-fed" finds itself in the company of other labels like "natural" and "free range." That is, essentially, in a group of feel-good buzzwords with little federal regulation. January 2016, the USDA released a statement saying that it "did not have the authority to define or determine whether the specific grass-fed claims companies made on their packaging are truthful and not misleading." (see USDA statement here)

The AMS (Agricultural Marketing Service) does still evaluate and approve grass-fed claims, but the USDA no longer has an official definition of the term, which leaves it open to interpretation.

What does this mean to you?

Look very closely at the labels on grass-fed beef you can find in the supermarket. All animals technically grazed at one point in their life, so under some definitions can be claimed as grass-fed. Marketing companies are after the truly grass-finished premium prices, and have been given room to be deceptive in their advertising.

Human health differences:

As stated above, a grain-based diet changes the microbes in an animals stomach. The different microbes and change in diet means that the beneficial nutrient profile of a grass-fed animal begins to change as well. Drastic differences in Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratios, CLA levels, Vitamin A and Vitamin E are seen in as little as 30 days. See our writeup on the nutritional differences of grass-finished vs grain-finished here.


In conclusion, your "grass-fed" animal might be nutritionally similar to a grain-finished animal, with a grass-finished animal price tag!


Grass-Finished.


We believe the health benefits of grass-finished beef speak for themselves. (see them here)


The really cool thing about buying from small, local ranches is you don't have to rely on terminology used in advertising material to learn how the animals you're eating are raised. You can go visit the ranches, see the animals, and talk to the ranchers themselves about how the animals live their lives.

While you're at their ranch or speaking with them; ask about their grazing practices. They do matter. Regenerative grazing management results in healthier soils, which makes for healthier forage, which leads to healthier animals, which ends with a healthier you!

This doesn't take into account the profound environmental impacts of reducing topsoil erosion, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, supporting the quality of life for farm animals, restoring water cycles, increasing wildlife habitat, and supporting your local economy.


So, here's our top 3 reasons to choose grass-finished.

1 It's good for...everything!

It's good for you, the animals, the environment, and the community.

2 You know what you're getting!

Don't worry about label claims, go talk to the owners and learn about their operation directly from them.

3 It's delicious!

Properly grass-finished animals are the tastiest! Once you try it, you'll never want conventional meat again.


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