Grain Finished Beef: Separating Fact from Fiction

Do you know what grain finished beef is? There are countless misconceptions surrounding beef and cattle farms. Let’s debunk the myths and distinguish fact from fiction, enabling you to make informed decisions about the food you and your family consume.

Understanding Grain Finished Beef

All cattle, without exception, spend the majority of their lives grazing on pasture and consuming grass. However, how beef is “finished” can vary. This is why you often come across labels such as “grass-fed beef,” “grass-finished beef,” “natural,” and “grain finished beef.”

Grain finished beef, like their grass-finished counterparts, predominantly consume grass throughout their lives. The key difference lies in the last 6-8 months, during which grain finished cattle are allowed to enjoy a balanced diet comprising local feed ingredients. Although the specific grains may differ from farm to farm, they typically include substances like potato hulls, corn, sugar beets, barley, sorghum, or hay.

It’s worth noting that terms like grain finished beef, grain-fed beef, and conventional beef are essentially synonymous. They all refer to cattle that start their lives on grass but are later provided with grain.

The Reasons Behind Grain Finishing

You might be wondering why cattle are grain finished instead of solely consuming grass. Grains such as barley, corn, and sorghum are high in protein and energy, which ultimately leads to increased muscle growth and weight gain in the cattle. As a result, steaks from grain finished beef tend to be larger, and the beef contains more marbling.

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The Life of Grain Finished Cattle

Contrary to common misconceptions, grain finished cattle do consume grass. During the first six months of their lives, they rely on their mother’s milk, followed by grazing on grass in the pasture for the subsequent six-plus months. Only in the final 6-8 months of their lives do grain finished cattle have access to grain.

A Historical Perspective

Some claim that feeding cattle grain only became common after 1940, but there is little evidence to support this assertion. In fact, reports dating back to the 1820s reveal that beef was frequently finished with grain during the autumn harvest season. Grass, legumes, grains, and forage crops were all utilized.

For those interested in conducting further research, consider exploring publications such as the “Elementary Treatise on Stock Feeds and Feeding” published in 1911 or “The New England Farmer” published in 1822.

Pasture Raised or Feedlot?

Whether grain finished cattle are raised in pasture or a feedlot depends on the farm. On some farms, both grass finished and grain finished beef are produced. In such cases, both types of cattle enjoy open, free-range pasture. The only difference is that the grain finished beef have access to a feeding trough, where grain is provided once a day. It’s up to the cattle to decide whether or not to consume the grain.

On other farms, cattle are typically sold between 8-12 months old and eventually enter a feedlot. In the feedlot, they receive a balanced diet consisting of grain, such as corn, along with grass and hay.

The Organic Option

Grain finished beef can also be organic. Cattle can be finished on organic grain, aligning with organic farming practices.

Flavor and Nutrition

Grain finished beef does differ in taste from grass finished beef, primarily due to varying levels of fat and marbling. In fact, studies comparing the two have consistently shown that grain finished beef is preferred in terms of palatability.

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When it comes to nutritional differences between the two, there have been numerous studies. However, it is important to review the studies themselves rather than rely on sensational media headlines seeking clicks.

Overall, both grass-fed and grain-fed beef carry their own benefits and drawbacks. Grass-fed beef tends to be slightly superior in terms of its vitamin and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) content. However, it remains unclear whether this difference results in more significant health benefits. Some health professionals believe that CLA, a polyunsaturated fatty acid, possesses cancer-fighting properties.

While grass-finished beef offers approximately 15 milligrams more omega-3 per 3.5-ounce serving compared to other types of beef, beef is generally not considered a primary source of omega-3 fatty acids. Grass-finished beef also provides 4% of the Daily Value for Vitamin E compared to 1.5% for grain-fed beef. Yet, Vitamin E-rich foods like almonds provide as much as 24% of the Daily Value for Vitamin E.

Beef’s Place in a Healthy Diet

All beef is nutrient-rich, containing eight times more vitamin B12, six times more zinc, and three times more iron than skinless chicken breast. While other foods may offer some similar benefits, none provide them in the same quantity. Thus, beef stands as one of the most nutrient-dense foods one can incorporate into their diet.

It’s worth mentioning that red meat has faced criticism from time to time. Perhaps you’ve come across media reports suggesting we should reduce our consumption of red meat and prioritize plants and fish instead.

Dozens of studies have been conducted on red meat, yielding conflicting results. These variations arise due to discrepancies between evidence from epidemiological studies and randomized trials, leading to different interpretations.

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For those interested in delving deeper and understanding the nuances of these studies and research methods, we highly recommend reading “Red Meat: How Much is Too Much?” on the blog. The author sums it up nicely by stating that randomized controlled trials consistently demonstrate that red meat is either neutral or beneficial to our health. Furthermore, given the impressive range of nutrients it provides, red meat should be valued as part of a balanced diet.

As the author aptly remarks, media headlines are often more focused on selling papers or generating clicks than accurately portraying scientific studies.

Embrace the Goodness of Beef

Beef boasts dozens of health-promoting nutrients that our bodies require. While other foods may offer similar benefits, none match the nutrient density of beef. So, it’s time to discard any unfounded concerns and embrace the goodness that beef brings to the table.

One More Thing!

If you’re eager to learn more about beef, we have a selection of popular beef posts and recipes you might find intriguing. Additionally, we offer an entire ebook from a farmer’s perspective, guiding you through the process of purchasing and preparing beef.

  • What is Grass Fed Beef?
  • Farm Life: How We Feed Cows
  • What’s the Difference Between a Steer vs Bull? Cow vs Heifer?
  • 27 Amazing Facts About Cows That Will Impress Your Friends
  • Do Cows Have Teeth?
  • Buying a Cow. How Much Beef Is It?

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