Going to the market is a challenging shopping experience. All the different labels found on the packaging can make buying your steak quite confusing. There is grass-fed, grass-finished, pasture-raised, and many more. But what’s the difference between grass-fed and grass-finished, and which is best?
Grass-fed may refer to cattle given a grain diet during a period of their lives or cattle harvested during immature stages for various reasons.
Grass-finished is for animals that have physically matured in skeletal and muscle structure and are raised purely on grass.
Although all cattle spend a portion of their lives in the fields foraging on grass, there is a difference in the end stage and how the cattle are finished before being harvested. We simplify the pros and cons between grass-fed and grass-finished, making your choice easier when deciding which to buy.
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Grass Fed Vs. Grass Finished Beef: A Comparison?
It’s a common mistake people make, thinking that grass-fed and grass-finished are the same thing, but there is a difference between them.
Before we move on to the pros and cons, let’s take a quick look at the differences between the two.
The Difference Between Grass-Fed And Grass-Finished Beef
Both grass-fed and grass-finished beef have been raised by foraging for grass in open pastures, with the exception of mother’s milk until they are weaned, but that is as far as the similarities go.
Grass-fed beef may refer to cattle that have spent a part of their lives foraging or eating grass. However, the term is loosely regulated, so it is open for abuse.
Grass-fed beef can refer to cattle that;
- They were fed grains for less than three months before being slaughtered at 20-22 months, weighing 1240-1350 pounds. Similar to conventionally raised cows.
- Cattle that have been supplemented with grain feed somewhere during their life cycle.
- Bulls and cows that reach the end of their reproductive lives are culled.
- Underperforming calves or stockers that don’t qualify to go to the feedlots.
- A small percentage of dairy cows may fall into this label that does not qualify for dairy farming.
However, the American Grassfed Association (AGA) is trying to regulate the term grass-fed beef to provide a better quality standard, and labels can read 100% grass-fed beef for cattle that have not been fed grains.
Grass-finished beef refers to cattle raised from birth to harvest, foraging on grass only. The emphasis is on ‘finished,’ meaning that the animals have reached physical skeletal and muscular maturity, with the presence of fatty tissues.
It takes longer for grass-finished beef to reach the desired weight, so they are harvested between 24-28 months and weigh less than grass-fed beef at 1000-1200 pounds.
Pros And Cons Of Grass Fed Beef
Grass-fed beef, as we said, is very vague in its meaning. Unless it states 100% grass-fed, it will generally mean that cattle will have been grain-finished.
Considering that grass-fed beef is typically finished with grain feed, we look at the pros and cons of grass-fed beef.
- More affordable prices
- You can get more fat marbling
- Creates digestive problems
- Cattle need antibiotics and supplements to keep them healthy
- Contains more saturated fat in the meat
Pros And Cons Of Grass-Finished Beef
The way grass-finished cattle are raised provides the end consumer with much better quality meat. Although prices come at a premium, it has many more health benefits that bring us closer to the quality of meat that our parents and grandparent used to enjoy as an occasional treat before the demand for beef rose as it became a daily part of our diets.
- Higher in Omega 3 fatty acids
- Increase beneficial fatty acids such as conjugated linoleic acid
- Contains more antioxidants
- Better for a healthier cardiovascular system
- Better for the environment
- Takes longer to raise
- The price of grass-finished beef is higher
Frequently Asked Questions
Which Is Better, Grass-Fed Or Grass-Finished?
When comparing grass-fed cattle that have at some point been fed grains to supplement their diet with grass-finished beef that has been raised in open pastures grazing on alfalfa, orchard grass bromegrass, bluegrass, and other foraging grass as nature intended, you will find that there are plenty of reasons to ensure that you choose the right label.
Grass-fed beef can pose hygiene issues, confined to cramped feedlots means that the waste from cattle can be a ripe breeding ground for diseases and infections. As a result, these cattle are often given antibiotics to prevent the spread of diseases within the group.
Because cows’ stomachs are not designed to eat grainy foods, this causes an increase in the acid levels in the digestive system, which is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria to grow.
The antibiotic traces found in beef can disrupt healthy bacteria levels in the human body.
Most cattle finished on grain will be injected with hormones such as testosterone and synthetic estrogen for rapid growth. Unfortunately, these hormones can increase the risk of cancer and hormonal imbalances in the human body.
Cattle that are confined to cramped feedlots have an increase in stress levels, increasing cortisol levels. These increased levels cause thicker fat tissues in the cows, increasing the fat content of the meat.
Grass-finished cattle, on the other hand, are raised humanly, which is better for the environment. Cows produce large amounts of greenhouse methane gas which is more potent than carbon dioxide, making pasture-raised cattle better for the environment. In addition, manure is a high-value organic matter that enriches the soil, fertilizing the pastures where the cattle are rotated.
Due to the way they are brought up, roaming free in pastures and eating what cows were intended to eat, they have a healthier fat such as conjugated linoleic fatty acid. This fatty acid helps fight cancer and manage weight loss.
Omega-3 fatty acids improve cognitive function, hormonal health, and cardiovascular health. It also helps with anti-inflammatory and provides healthier-looking skin.
Grass-finished beef contains more nutrients like magnesium and potassium with higher levels of vitamins A, B, and E.
Is Grass-Finished Beef Healthier?
Not only is grass-finished beef healthier, as we previously saw, containing more beneficial fat and nutrients. It’s also a leaner and tastier meat with much more muscle integrity as the cattle exercise more than the confined feedlot cows.
How Do You Know When Beef Is Grass Finished?
Shopping for beef can be overwhelming, to say the least, with all the different labels advocating grass-fed, pasture-raised, natural, USDA approved.
However, as we mentioned earlier, the lack of precise control allows the labels to be misinterpreted and open for loopholes as the meat producers try to take advantage of the increased demand for grass-finished beef that is one hundred percent grass-fed.
So, next time you are shopping for your steak and expecting to walk out of the store with the best quality meat, look out for labels that say 100% grass-fed, Lifetime-grazed, or grass-finished.
Other labels that can mean your beef is natural include stickers saying no GMOs and no distillers grain (DDGs).
Be aware of the organic label, as beef can still be labeled organic even if it was fed grain, as long as it is organic.
One association that has strict standards ensuring you can trust its label for purely grass-fed beef is the American Grassfed Association. If you choose beef with its stamp of approval, you will be getting what you pay for.
Another way to judge, but you can never be totally sure, is by looking at the fat marbling in the beef. Grass-finished beef is lean, it will still have a bit of fat, but on the whole, it will look a lot leaner than conventionally raised cows.
Labels to look for if you want quality assurance,
- Food Animal Welfare Approved level 5 certification
- Food Alliance Certified
- American Grassfed Association
Is Trader Joe’s Grass-Fed Beef Grass Finished?
Most of the meat that Trader Joe’s advertised is grass-fed. Some labels, like ground beef, are labeled 100% grass-fed. However, only some of their beef is grass-finished. The price difference can indicate grass-finished beef vs. grass-fed beef, and keep an eye out for labels that indicate the meat is 100% grass-fed which will be the same as grass-finished.
Cattle raised purely on pastures from birth until harvest time is grass-finished beef. Grass-fed, although it can be ambiguous in its meaning, can include cattle that have grazed on grass but could have been fed grain at some point in their lives (ditto for chickens). If you want healthy natural beef, look for labels that advocate 100% grass-fed beef.