What Does Grass-finished Mean? Meet Brutus.
Meet Brutus. He's a 23 month old steer and one of our only cows with horns. He's also the leader of the herd. This is his second season grazing, and he remembers the pastures from last year and recognizes that he (and the herd) needs to go through gates to get to the next paddock. He helps train and lead new and young cattle on our farm, and makes our jobs so much easier. He's also 100% grassfed and grass finished. He's a gem! Why? Read on.
We've been getting the question "what does grassfed and grass finished mean?" a lot lately. We love this question because it gives us the opportunity to explain why what we are doing at Green Fire Farm is so special. All beef, whether at the farmers market or the store is technically "grassfed" because all cattle are fed hay (dried grass) or grazed in the early parts of their life. "Grass-fed" as a label description is no longer meaningful, since the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) withdrew it as a regulated and enforced claim back in 2016. This means that all cattle are pretty much allowed to be marketed and labeled as grass-fed, despite if they have eaten things other than grass. Most, but not all, beef cattle are taken from pasture or range and put on a feedlot for the "finishing" phase which usually takes a couple or more months, before they are butchered, where they are fed a diet high in grains-high in concentrated energy. The excess calories help the animal "finish" by storing extra fat around their body and in their muscles (marbling which is used for grading for select, choice, prime). This fat is great for juicy, tender beef and flavor.
The finishing phase of cattle is very important for a tasty and satisfying eating experience. It is also important for the nutritional content of the meat. Conventional, grain finished beef is low in Omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs) which have anti inflammatory and anti cancer properties.
Grass finished, not just grassfed, beef is harder to come by, but its meat and fat is high in Omega-3s, CLAs and antioxidants! Fat can be good!
Grass finished is harder to come by because it's harder to feed and finish cattle on grass, forage or hay because these foods are less concentrated in energy than grains. The lower energy means it takes longer to raise and can even prevent finish since there are few surplus calories to go towards fat.
This is where we come in. There's a few things that we can do to increase the energy and nutrient levels in our pasture and hay so that we are able to successfully finish our cattle on 100% grass and capture those amazing Omega-3s and CLAs and deliver them to our own bodies. First, we manage for healthy soil. Soil feeds plants and keeps them healthy. Healthier soil means healthier plants. Healthier plants means healthier animals! Second, we can move our cattle to new pastures for fresh grass. The more frequently, the better. We move our herds of cattle every day. This takes a lot of extra work but it allows the cows to only eat the top part of the plant, which is where most of the plant's energy is. If we didn't move them to fresh, new pasture they would continue eating lower and lower on the plant, resulting in less and less energy and nutrients.
Finally, we can feed high quality hay in the non grazing season. Hay high in protein and energy gives the cattle what they need to grow and finish. My father, Jim, was a great dairyman for nearly four decades and knows how to make high quality hay for cows that need lots of energy and nutrients to produce milk. We don't have dairy cows anymore, but my dad still makes awesome hay! We feed this hay in the winter to all of our cows, but we actually hold off of butchering our steers until the summer months when the herds have been able to return to their pastures where they pick up the flavor and those nutrients from the pasture again.
Brutus, here, is finished. He is plump and happy. He even has a bit of a jiggle to him, which is endearing. A sure sign of successful finish and great tasting and healthy meat that we look for is a full brisket and fat deposits by the head of the tail. You can see in this picture that Brutus has what looks like grapefruits or softballs under his tail. That's good! That means he has had sufficient energy, nutrients and time to be healthy and finished. Our cattle typically grow and finish in 18-24 months, which is longer than the 15-18 months of conventional, feed lot beef, but that's not a bad thing. Brutus has a date with our butcher at the end of the month, so he'll spend his last few weeks with his friends grazing in the fresh air, sunshine and among the birds, bees and butterflies.
If you want, you can get a custom quarter, half or all of Brutus, or one of his friends by ordering in our store. I have to say, it would be an honor to be nourished from this wonderful animal!
Thanks for reading!