When I began eating grassfed meat, the market was just starting to develop, and almost all the producers were small farmers, or groups of small farmers. These folks knew the art of raising tender grassfed meat, full of nutrition and flavor, on grass alone (with hay in the winter), and how to finish their cattle on rich grass.
Back then, if a farmer was selling meat labeled “grassfed,” you could be almost certain that the animals were raised on grass, and finished on green living grass, the perfect natural food for them.
Ten years later, things have changed. Grassfed meat is much more popular now, and the demand has greatly increased, largely due to the paleo and primal movements. And more and more people are aware of the health and nutritional benefits of grassfed meats, raised on the foods of nature, eating what they were meant to eat.
However, the increased demand has brought other entities into the supply chain, and the very meaning of the word “grassfed” has changed.
What Grassfed Means Today
Most people, when they think of grassfed meat, think of meat from animals who have been fed only grass, with hay and silage during seasons where grass is not available, and finished on green living grass.
That is what I think of.
But a number of suppliers and retailors do not necessarily agree. They have adopted the idea that feeding, covers only the time before an animal is fattened for processing, and fattening an animal for processing is called finishing.
I have run into a number of retailors, butchers, and suppliers, who state that all their meat is grassfed. And it is true that nearly all beef cattle in the U.S. are fed grass before they go to the feedlot.
But most of these cattle are finished on grains, soy, and many other things which are not the natural food of cattle. But since this occurs in the finishing period, it is considered to be different.
In other words, these suppliers feel that they are being perfectly honest in saying that their meat is grassfed, even if it is finished the conventional way in a feedlot, with grains, soy, etc.
So it is not enough to just ask if meat is grassfed. The second question must be if it is also grass-finished. Most of the time, the answer I get is, “No, they are finished on feed that includes corn, but it is all vegetarian feed.”
What Does Grass-Finished Mean?
Grass-finished used to always mean that the cattle were finished on green living grass, the best possible food for them. Many producers would only harvest their beef at a particular time of year, when their cattle had been grazing for months on the greenest, richest, most nutritious grass of the year. This magnificent feed, created by nature, is what gives grassfed cattle its many nutritional benefits and wonderful taste and tenderness. Fat put on by cattle during this period is very flavorful and incredibly nutritious.
However, companies have entered the market that are not made up of farmers, though they often include the word “farm” or “farms” in their name. These companies do not raise any cattle, but buy cattle from farmers and ranchers. Since they are all about profit, they have developed new technologies to finish grassfed meat. One such technology is the grass pellet. Grass pellets include hay, and other ingredients. According to articles published by the industry, the hay is combined with materials described as “concentrate,” which can include corn, barley, oats, sorghum, and other such grains. “Concentrate” can be as much as 40% of the grass pellet. Vitamins and minerals are often added to the mixture which is industrially processed and turned into a dried pellet.
These pellets are simply not the same as green living grass.
So now a third question is necessary, which is to ask if the cattle have been finished on green living grass in the pasture.
My Definition of Grassfed Meat
My definition of grassfed meat is based on the traditional way that humans have raised and finished meat animals for most of our history. The animals must be raised on grass, in pasture, except for the winter when grazing is not possible, when they were traditionally fed hay, which is dried grass. The animals should be finished on green living grass eaten right in the pasture.
This is the old way, the traditional way, and is what I think of when I use the words grassfed meat.
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