100% Grass-Fed Beef at J&L Green FarmAt J & L Green Farm, we are proud to claim that our cattle are grass-fed and grass-finished and raised entirely on pasture. This means that we never feed any supplemental grain to our cattle; they are only fed grass and hay from the moment we receive them on our farm to the day their meat is harvested. We also pasture-raise our cattle using a rotational grazing technique, which means that the cows are moved to graze on patches of fresh, pesticide-free grass every few days. This ensures that the cows are eating a nutrient-dense diet of seasonal forage and grasses, while naturally fertilizing the soil on our farm. Please note for full disclosure that we purchase cattle and can not control what they eat prior to coming to our farm. We do graze purchased animals for roughly a year before harvesting.
Beef Labels: What Do They All Mean?Did you know that all cattle – even ones on massive feedlots that are fed a corn diet – are grass-fed at some point in their lives? On most conventional American farms, before being moved to crowded feedlots, cattle start their lives on grass for a few short months. This loophole, unfamiliar to the general public, has provided a means for some retail brands to claim their meats are grass-fed, even while their cattle are fed a diet that does include grains. Moreover, as of January 12, 2016, the USDA withdrew its definition for grass-fed farm animals, leaving it up to producers to use the label as they see fit (USDA).
Pasture-raised is also another unregulated label because it doesn’t specify what is in the cows’ diet. Cattle may be on pasture for some of the time, but are still fed a diet that includes grain feed. In our research, we found that there is quite a difference in the nutritional profile of meat from 100% grass-fed and grass-finished animals as compared to that of partially grass-fed or primarily grain-fed animals.
The USDA Organic certification on beef indicates that the cattle are fed organic feed, including grains. This means that organic beef that is not 100% grass-fed probably comes from animals that have been fed grain at least supplementary.
So, what should you look for? If meat carries the claim that it is 100% grass-fed, then it needs to be so. Otherwise, this would be false or misleading advertising. The best thing to do is to know the farm from which the meat is sourced and to learn about the specific practices there. This is why at J&L Green Farm, we are fully transparent and invite you to ask us any questions you might have about our farm and our products.
Healthy Animals, Healthy Meat
Based on thousands of years of wisdom as well as our own experience, we believe that grass is the best natural diet for ruminating (grazing) animals. When fed a high-grain diet that is typical in feedlots, the animals get sick more easily, have a hard time digesting their food, and require antibiotics and medications to keep infections at bay. This is because when ruminants are fattened on a grain-based diet, the pH in their gut drops as a result of fermentation acids accumulating, which increases the susceptibility to ulcers and infections (Science Daily). It is no surprise that sick animals with chronic intake of medications produce lower-quality meat. By the same token, healthy animals have healthy meat. In fact, beef cattle that are 100% grass-fed have a much healthier nutritional profile than their grain-fed counterparts.
Benefits of 100% grass-fed beef include:
• Anywhere between two to five times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids than found in grain-fed beef (Source). The omega-3 fatty acids are found in green leaves and grasses. When cattle are taken off diets rich in omega-3, they become deficient. Graph A below illustrates the rapid decline in omega-3 stores in the meat with each day the cows are fed grain. • 100% grass-fed and grass-finished beef will have omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 2:1 or less while beef finished for a few weeks on grain will have omega-6 to omega-3 ratios of somewhere around 8:1. Feedlot beef has omega-6 to omega-3 ratios of over 18:1. This is a huge difference! (Source) Omega-3 fatty acids are used to fight inflammation in the body and are also beneficial for brain health and heart health. • Grass-fed beef also contains high levels of the antioxidant Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). CLA is a potent defense against cancer. It also fights and reduces obesity (Source), heart disease, adult onset diabetes, and many other ailments. • Grass-fed beef also contains more beneficial antioxidants, vitamins and minerals - most notably, vitamin A, vitamin E, and minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium (Source). These vitamins have the essential role of protecting our cells from oxidation, thereby lowering inflammation and reducing incidence of disease.
Data for graph above from G.J. Miller, "Lipids in Wild Ruminant Animals and Steers." J. of Food Quality, 9:331-343, 1986. Graph from EatWild.com
See below how we use rotational grazing methods with our cows:
Holistic Agriculture Needs Grass-Fed Animals
Grazing animals are an essential part of the soil ecosystem on the farm. Rotational grazing, or periodically moving livestock between pastures, benefits the animals as much as it does the soil. The animals consume a wide range of forage varieties, receiving a more well-rounded and nutrient-dense diet. Simultaneously, the grass builds topsoil, captures carbon, and promotes the growth of healthy microbes. Increased soil fertility and organic matter eliminate the need for fertilizers, and result in increased forage production. This beautiful cycle is a win-win for our animals, our farm, our environment, and our health. In contrast, most grains fed to conventionally-raised cattle are grown in monocultures. Monoculture crop farming, or planting vast fields of the same crop, leads to topsoil erosion and loss of nutrients. So, not only are the cows unhealthy because of their corn-based diet; the soil is also starved of nutrients. This is why we have made it our life’s mission to restore the land and our health by investing in sustainable agriculture on our farm.
Data from J. Animal Sci 80(5):1202-11. Graph from EatWild.com Graph B: