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Beef: Grass Fed vs. Grain Fed

B eef from grass fed cattle has recently grown in popularity and “grass fed” is something of a buzz-word in the foodie community. But what exactly does “grass fed” imply, and what can you expect from a “grass fed” cattle?

Beef: Grass Fed vs. Grain Fed - Our Products – Dartagnan.com

Grass fed beef comes from cattle that are allowed to graze in open pastures. Using a system know as rotational grazing, farmers direct their herd using lightweight wire fencing called polywire.The cows are able to amble and eat grass at their content. Allowing cows to eat grass is important since they are ruminants, meaning their digestive systems are designed to process grasses. Cows have a specialized organ called a rumen. The rumen harbors beneficial microbes which convert the cellulose fibers in grass into essential nutrients. In this way, the grass fed process presents a totally natural method to raise cattle.

America is known for producing fatty beef. In addition to the grasses that cattle naturally eat, the majority of beef farmers in the United States use grains like corn and soy to feed the cattle in the last months.Grains are high in protein and starch which fatten up the cow, yielding a more marbled meat than grass feeding alone. This is why the taste and texture of grass fed beef may seem firmer and much leaner to those accustomed to grain fed.

It is not just the amount of fat, but the type of fat that distinguishes grass fed beef from grain fed. Studies suggest that grass feeding may be a way for farmers to optimize the levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in their beef. Scientists believe that Omega-3's may be able to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular illnesses, although more research is needed to corroborate these claims.

An important point to note is that the grains used in conventional beef production often lack important nutrients that grasses provide. The difference is in the root structures of the plants. Grains are annual crops whose roots do not extend deep beneath the surface. On the other hand, the perennial grasses that grass fed cattle graze on establish deep roots, which are able to cycle in minerals like calcium, magnesium and iodine that reside deep beneath the ground. These nutrients are passed on to the cows and then further on to consumers.

But there are other reasons to get excited about the grass feeding process, especially in regard to its potential positive impacts on the environment. Beef production is a substantial contributor to the United States' overall green house gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane. While it is true that grass feeding cattle yields more methane overall than grain feeding, the ability of grasses to sequester green house gasses in the soil results in a net reduction of emissions. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a well managed pasture could reduce the amount of methane produced by 15-30 per cent.

D’Artagnan offers the best of both worlds: 100% grass fed beef, as well as grain finished beef, raised on pasture land. None of our beef has been subjected to antibiotics, hormones and animal by products that are all too common in contemporary meat production, nor have then spent time in tight feed lots.