Part I: Grass Fed, Grain Finished, and Grass Finished Defined
First, let’s define the common beef labels… Some labels you may have seen on your beef at the store are:
And a bonus “Certified Angus”
Today, let’s keep it simple. Let’s just de-mystify these words, shall we?
The fact is that all beef at some point in it’s life is grass-fed. In many operations, the cow has a calf, and the calf lives for around 9-12 months of its life in the pasture, eating grass, and chasing the other calves around, and napping, and just living the good life.
But then one day the truck shows up – and that all changes…
Finishing is the term used for completing the growth chart on a cow.
For people, this usually happens in your late 20’s, early 30’s. You know, it’s when your hips get a little wider and you start to understand why your parents rocked the “dad bod” or that pair of “mom jeans” instead of something trendier.
For cows this happens somewhere around 21 months of age. From that point on, they just get a bit fatter, and instead of growing, things start sagging (if you’re my age, this probably sounds familiar).
In our industrial food system, cattle are equated to widgets in a factory. You want factories to run at peak efficiency right?
There is a point in the growth of the cow that their frame is about as large as it will be. That’s when the trucks come. Everything from that point on is about getting the cow to be as large as possible, as fast as possible. But how do you do that?
It’s really very simple. The industrial beef feed lot system accomplishes this by keeping beef cattle in confinement pens, and feeding the cows grain… LOTS and LOTS of grain.
What would happen to you if we locked you in a small room, and shoveled Snickers bars down your throat? To put it as simply as I can, grain (corn and the like) is Snickers bars for cattle.
And using this system, we’ve managed to get finished cattle ready for processing by 13-15 months of age instead of 21 to 24.
When cattle are grass finished, instead of speeding this process up, cattle eat normally.
You are far less inclined to become a glut of consumption if all you have to choose from is a salad bar every day. They are finished when they’re finished, and we can physically see when they get to that point, because they start getting fat rolls in places that were typically skinny before.
But this isn’t an efficient way of producing cattle…
One, because it takes 7 months or more LONGER than producing beef that is finished on grain. And two, because the farmer is at the mercy of the cow… the weather… the grass… and the seasons.
Bonus Info: What is Certified Angus Beef?
There are different breeds of cattle just like there are different breeds of dog. Angus is one of those breeds. Many breeds of beef cattle have some Angus in their bloodlines, and have been crossed with other breeds to enhance different characteristics.
In order to boost the sales and desirability of their product back in the late 70’s, the Angus beef breeders created the “Certified Angus Beef Brand”. That’s it…it’s nothing more than a brand. Just like Dr. Pepper is a brand of soda, and Quilted Northern is a brand of toilet paper.
These are almost, if not 100%, grain finished animals, and I’m not saying that it’s not good beef (if grain finished is what you’re into), but there are other non-Angus options that are equally good.
This label should serve only as some assurance that the beef you’re buying meets the standards of that brand. Whether that is “better” or not is an entirely subjective matter.