There has been a new food revolution in the past two decades which has changed the way we eat forever. Health-conscious farmers have begun to turn away from traditional corn- and grain-based diets for cows and let them eat grass in pastures, just as nature originally intended.
The result is healthier, more nutritious beef with healthy levels of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins. With a taste that rivals any cut of grain-fed beef, pastured cows are becoming increasingly popular around the country.
The Truth About Feedlot Cows
Feeding cows a steady diet of grain and antibiotics is a relatively new phenomenon. Not so long ago, raising cows on pasture from beginning to end of life was the norm. It wasn’t until farmers and scientists discovered they could raise a cow more quickly with antibiotics and fatten them with a grain-based diet that cattle farms went from pasture to feedlot. Cows that normally took four or five years to reach an appropriate size and weight for slaughter are now raised in 14 to 16 months. They are able to gain a tremendous amount of weight by consuming corn and grains, which is not a native diet for the cows. Cows belong to a group of animals called ruminants, which means their delicate two-stomach digestive system is meant to process grass in a way that most mammals cannot. They are also pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones in order for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to produce as many fat cows as they could in the shortest amount of time.
Feedlots often house less-than-favorable conditions for cows. Since many cows are often raised at once, it’s not unusual for their waste to be left untended and diseases to fester unnoticed. Since they are not fed a natural diet, cows on grains often have problems with the pH balance in their rumens and can develop ruminitis, liver abscesses, or acidosis. Quick cattle processing can often mean less humane slaughtering methods, as well.
- EatWild: Grass-Fed Basics
- USDA’s Farm Animal Welfare Information Center
- Antibiotic Resistance: Playing Chicken with Essential Drugs
- Why Farmers Use Hormones
Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef
Aside from deplorable living conditions and unnatural diets, grain-fed cows also lack the health benefits of cows raised on grass. One of the most notable benefits of grass-fed beef is that it has an ideal ratio of omega; grass-fed beef has an omega 6:3 ratio of 0.16 to 1, while grain-fed beef can often have an omega 6:3 ratio higher than 20:1. The ratio of fats in grass-fed beef is perfect for our bodies and lower in saturated fat than grain-fed beef.
Another benefit of grass-fed beef is something called conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA. Ruminants that are raised on grass have three to five times more CLA than animals that are raised on grain. Studies have shown that CLA has antioxidant properties, and has even been known to prevent some forms of cancer. This powerful information is just another reason to introduce grass-fed beef into everyday diets.
Grass-fed beef also has higher levels of beta carotene and vitamin E.
- Scientific Literature that Supports the Health Benefits Of Grass Fed Beef
- Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Products
- Grass-Fed Beef: Health Benefits
- Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) Studies
- Health Benefits of Grass-fed Beef
- A Consumer’s Guide to Grass-fed Beef
- Splendor from the Grass
- Grass Fed or Grain Fed
- Grass-Fed Beef Health Attribute Literature
- The Grass-Fed Revolution
Environmental Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef
In addition to the health benefits of grass-fed meat, it’s also better for the environment. First and foremost, cows raised on pastures use far less fossil fuels since they harvest and fertilize the grass. Feedlot cows are fed corn and grains which are fertilized with precious fossil fuels, and are often sprayed with pesticides. Rain runoff from the manure of feedlot cows can spread pesticides and antibiotics to other farms, crops, and public water sources.
Studies have also shown that pastured animals can help reduce soil erosion and even reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. While grass-fed cattle produce more methane than grain-fed cattle, pastures and paddocks create a phenomenon called “carbon sequestration” which offsets the amount of methane released by cows in the fields. Pastured cows also release less ammonia in their waste, which further protects the atmosphere.