Grain fed, Grass fed, Natural & Organic: Take a look at what they all mean

Very big blog to read! Don't miss this one! Couple things to start off...May is Beef Month! Awesome month to celebrate what we do for a living. Second, I've been meaning to do a blog like this, but I'm being prompted by Matt's sister, Melissa. It fits in great with this month being Beef Month. This blog is going to be devoted to beef and how it gets from our farm to your plate and a few of the differences between natural, organic, grass fed, etc.

Cattle are ruminant animals. They have four stomach compartments. There are only a few ruminant animals. They include cattle, sheep, goats, buffalo, deer, elk, giraffes and camels. We are able to utilize a lot of our Earth because of ruminant animals. We, as monogastrics, are unable to utilize a lot of the Earth's vegetation. Ruminant animals, such as cattle, are able to convert this unusable land into high quality protein and milk products.

Moe (Melissa is called this because Matt couldn't say her name when he was little, so he started calling her Moe and it stuck) asked me to address cattle's natural diets. When told that most cattle are finished on a ration including corn, people balk saying corn isn't something cattle would naturally eat. I think the following picture does a fairly good job of dispelling that fact. Those cows in the background you can see came over as soon as they saw this cow was getting a treat. It's like candy to them. Cattle can eat too much of it and get sick just like humans do when they eat too much stuff.

Producers spend a lot of time and money figuring out the best ration for their cattle. As I've explained before, producers have to figure out an economical solution (so they can stay in business), but since it is their life they figure out a solution that is healthy for their cattle. Our source of income is from these cattle. Sick cattle don't pay. That's why we spend so much time and money ensuring that the cattle are healthy, being fed a balanced diet and have proper shelter and water. It's getting close to summer in northeast Kansas. We've had a few days over 90 degrees. It's important for our livestock to have shade to stand under and an adequate water supply.

Now to discuss natural, grass-fed and organic beef. Okay to be very honest with you I know very little about the guidelines for the different types. So to the internet I went.

This is the website I primarily used. It had a lot of good information on it and would encourage you to visit it.It's structured the same way I'm going to structure my explanation. I'm just going to give a summary of what they explained in detail on their website.

The most common type of beef raised and harvested. These cattle finished on a grain based ration. They spend approximately 4-6 months in a feedyard being fed (normally twice a day) a ration including either corn, soybeans, milo, distillers, wheat. This is usually mixed with some hay or silage. Many people prefer their meat is fed a grain based diet shortly before harvest. When this is done, the meat is much more tender and juicy giving the consumer greater satisfaction.

There's a couple different pieces to this. USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service will allow beef to be labeled natural if the meat doesn't have any

  • artificial flavor or flavoring
  • coloring ingredient
  • chemical preservative
  • any other artificial or synthetic ingredient or 
  • the product and its ingredients aren't more than minimally processed.

What you have to keep in mind is that these guidelines are ONLY for AFTER harvest. It has nothing to do with the way the animal was raised which means the producer has no control over this labeling of natural. It's simply how the meat is processed. Most meats are considered natural by government standards.

The other piece to this is a newer piece. It's the piece that the producer has control over. The naturally raised portion. USDA published a voluntary standard for naturally raised livestock in January of 2009. This allows for third-party verification. So what does naturally raised mean? Well, by the definition that USDA Agricultural Marketing Service certifies it means that the cattle have never received 

  • growth promotants 
  • supplemental hormones
  • have never been administered antibiotics and 
  • were not fed animal by-products. 

A lot fewer animals can meet this certification. If cattle get sick, they are normally given antibiotics. If they aren't given these they normally die. A lot of producers use growth promotants and hormones.

This refers to how the cattle were raised. As is pretty obvious in the title, these cattle are fed grass only. Most cattle spend a large majority of their lives in pastures eating grass.The difference is in the finishing stage. To be certified grass fed beef the animal remains on the grass and forage diet their entire lives rather than being moved into a feedlot operation. USDA published certain standards and guidelines that must be followed to have their cattle considered to be grass fed beef. They must be fed a grass and forage diet for the animal's entire life. This is in exception of the milk consumed prior to the calf's weaning. It is very, very, very difficult to produce a lot quantity of grass fed beef. This is due to the seasonality of grasses. Grass-finished beef is normally more expensive and some of the grass-fed beef sold in the U.S. may be imported from countries with more temperate climates. Remember, whenever you push for more regulation or want more of this type of beef, it may have to be imported. When products are imported, consumers have little to no say about how that animal is raised. Some countries have different standards for their certification program we have. That could be better in some cases, but a lot worse in others.

The meat that is labeled certified organic must be from cattle that meet USDA National Organic Program livestock requirements. Any of the previously explained types of meat can qualify for the organic program. The standards for organic beef include...

  • cattle must be fed certified organic feed, but may be given certain vitamins and minerals
  • Cattle may not be given growth promotants or receive any antibiotics. Any animal that is treated with antibiotics to ensure its health is removed from the National Organic Program.
  • Organically raised cattle must have access to pasture. They may be temporarily confined for specific reasons. (Most cattle in the US meet this requirement. Most of the cattle raised in this country are in pastures for a majority of their lives.)

So that gives you a little about each type of beef. I had to do research because I was unsure of the different guidelines and criteria to be considered for the different types. The following website has some more information about beef and a lot more statistics if you would like more information.

I was reading on one website (don't remember which one), but it was saying that there is room for all the different types and ways of raising and processing beef. The meat raised in the US is safe and healthy for us to consume. However, I encourage you to research thoroughly with several different websites, books and actual live human beings before believing anything you read about any of the different methods. If you want to eat just grass-fed, that's your choice. BUT, make sure you understand what you are supporting, know why you are supporting it, and don't believe, just because you read it on one website that cows don't naturally eat corn. If you want to see that that is a plain lie, come visit us any time! We'll show you just how crazy those cows go for something that's like candy to them. Research what you're supporting and if you still want to only eat grass-fed beef, great! Just know the facts not just one website's version so they can push whatever it is they are selling.