Pasture-Raised vs. Grass-Fed Beef

by firsthandfoods on March 3, 2014

Just like grass-fed cattle, pasture-raised cattle live outdoors on pasture their entire lives.  And like grass-fed beef farmers, pasture-raised beef farmers focus their attention on their grazing system, optimizing the use of their pastures and the unique ability of cattle to convert grass & forages into high value protein.  However, while grass-fed cattle consume only grass and forages, pasture-raised beef producers have the flexibility, particularly during times of drought, harsh winters and/or poor forage quality, to feed cattle approved supplements.

Just like humans, young & growing animals need a consistent, balanced diet to be healthy, resist disease and grow.  A diet high in grass but with moderate use of approved supplements allows farmers to ensure consistent weight gain.   In addition, beef from cattle raised to gain weight consistently throughout their lives will have greater marbling (fat content within the muscle), which is the key to tenderness and flavor.

Younger animals have been shown to yield more tender beef.  Ensuring consistent and sufficient weight gain to reach harvest weight in less than 2 years on grass alone can be challenging in North Carolina – due to weather, forage quality and other factors.  Some of Firsthand Foods’ producers have the land base and resources necessary to ensure consistent weight gain solely on forages but most pasture-based beef producers rely on additional feed supplements to achieve this goal.

The decision to supplement grazing animals is also an economic issue for farmers.  The more time it takes to raise an animal, the more it costs a farmer in use of land resources and management time.  Conventional tools for speeding and controlling growth include the use of a high grain diet, hormonal implants and growth-promoting antibiotics.  These tools are NOT used by Firsthand Foods’ producers.  When forages are not sufficient, supplements provide farmers, particularly those with small acreages, with a tool to help them earn an acceptable return for their efforts.

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