Grass Feeding Beef Cattle
Because today’s consumer’s spending habits are slowly but surely being driven
more and more by the nutritional label than the price tag, many ranchers are turning to the grassfed label in an
effort to appeal to the increasingly health conscious American shopper.
Although there is some controversy regarding the current labeling guidelines, grass fed
beef cattle refers, basically, to any cattle that has eaten nothing but grass or grass-type hay from birth to
This definition is applied to both beef and dairy, so dairy products containing milk
from grass-fed cattle would fit the definition, and also have found their place among today’s healthy eaters.
From a nutritional standpoint, the American Grassfed Association points out that
studies have shown that grassfed animal products are higher in beta carotene (Vitamin A), conjugated linoleic acid
(CLA), and Omega-3 fatty acids, which are important in reducing cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure
and other life threatening diseases. Given the current very publicized and highly marketed battles against obesity,
high cholesterol and other similar preventable ailments, its no surprise today’s consumers are increasingly turning
their attention to grass fed beef and dairy products, as they have also shown to be lower in fat, cholesterol and
calories. In addition, due to the nature of the feed ingested, the risk of E. coli is considerably lower.
Effects on the Rancher
For meat producers raising grassfed cattle can have differing effects on your
business. Animals raised entirely on grass mature more slowly, lengthening the production time to market. When time
is money, any delay in bringing product to market can be a setback. But, for the smaller rancher who relies more on
the quality of his or her stock than the quantity of the products they produce, this can instead be a selling
point, and has become a niche market.
While an increasing number of larger retail outlets are beginning to embrace the
grassfed trend, many still prefer to stock their shelves with the cheaper and more abundant supplies of grain-fed
and hormone injected beef. This means the grassfed rancher must go the extra mile to market their products for
their added nutritional—and what many would say is more flavorful—values.
The grassfed rancher must tap into the growing grassfed underground, and actively
promote their products as such and distribute in smaller retail stores, local farmer’s markets, home-based
butcheries and shops, as well as the Internet. Thankfully, an increasing number of larger supermarket and retail
outlets also have embraced the "whole foods" "fresh foods" or "organic" principles. Several larger chains have
flourished by selling these types of products, and more and more large supermarkets at least include a "whole" or
"fresh, organic" foods section among the traditional aisles. It is within this market that the grassfed label has
resonated most with consumers.
Also, the advantage of garnering the grassfed label is a growing number of consumers
who will actively seek it out, especially online directly from the rancher.
Restaurants have shown to be an excellent outlet for grassfed ranchers to approach, as
many will actively promote the quality of their beef products and capitalize on the selling point of having the
"locally grown" label on their dishes.
It’s Still the Wallet not the Waist
Unfortunately, there is currently some debate over what products can tout the
"Grassfed" seal. There is currently a lack of standardization and legal definition as to what types of products can
claim to be grassfed and market their products as such.
While several industry organizations are pushing the United States Department of
Agriculture to establish a legal definition, the debate has led to some confusion among consumers; the majority of
whom still make purchases based on the size of their budget rather than the number on the bathroom scale or a high
cholesterol count. While a growing number are willing to drive the extra mile to their local farmers market or
fresh foods store to pick up a dozen eggs and a pound or two of grassfed ground beef for a slightly higher price,
the majority still make their decision the old fashioned way: convenience and price, which makes it more important
for the grassfed rancher to pay particular attention to marketing and get to know their local retailers.
Hay Versus Ground Feed