There’s a lot of confusion about what grain finished beef actually is. Even its name can be confusing since grain finished beef is also known as grain fed beef and conventional beef. Here are the facts so you can be informed about grain finished beef.
What is grain finished beef?
All cattle (and we really do mean all) spend the majority of their lives eating grass on pasture.
But beef can be “finished” in a variety of ways. This is why you see different labels on beef like “grass fed beef”, “grass finished beef”, “natural” and “grain finished beef.”
Grain finished beef spend the majority of their lives eating grass. What makes them different from grass finished beef is that during the last 6-8 months of their lives, grain finished cattle are free to eat a balanced diet of local feed ingredients. The exact grain will differ by farm, but it’s typically things like potato hulls, corn, sugar beets, barley, sorghum or hay.
The terms grain finished beef, grain fed beef and conventional beef are essentially all the same. They refer to cattle that have been raised with the beginning of their life on grass, and then given grain at the end of their lives.
Why is cattle grain finished? Why don’t they just eat grass?
Grains like barley, corn and sorghum are high-protein, high-energy feed options. They result in increased muscle growth and weight gain in the cattle.
For a consumer, this means steaks will be larger and there will be more marbling in the beef.
Do grain finished beef eat grass?
Yes! Grain finished cattle spend the first six months of life drinking their mother’s milk, and then they eat grass in the pasture for the next six-plus months of life. It is only during the last 6-8 months of their lives that grain finished cattle have access to grain.
When did farmers start to give cattle grain to eat? Is it a relatively new thing?
We know there are people that say that cattle didn’t eat grain prior to 1940, but we haven’t been able to find evidence to substantiate that claim.
We have found reports dating back to the 1820’s that indicate that beef was often finished on grain at the end of the fall during harvest time. In fact, grasses, legumes, grains and forage crops were all utilized.
If you’d like to research it more, check out the Elementary Treatise on Stock Feeds and Feeding published in 1911 or The New England Farmer published in 1822.
Are grain finished cattle pasture raised or are they in a feedlot?
It depends on the farm on whether cattle are raised in pasture or a feedlot.
On our farm, we raise grass finished beef and grain finished beef. Both types of cattle spend their entire lives in open, free-range pasture. The only difference is that the grain finished beef are in a field with a freed trough. We put grain in the trough about once a day. It’s up to them on if they eat the grain or not.
On other farms, farmers typically sell their cattle when they’re between 8-12 months old. Then, the beef will eventually go to a feedlot. When they’re in a feedlot, they get a balanced diet that includes grain, like corn, as well as grass and hay.
Can grain finished cattle be organic?
Yes. Cattle can be finished on organic grain.
Does grain finished beef taste different from grass finished beef?
Yes. This is mainly due to the different level of fat and marbling. Grain finished beef has more marbling than grass finished beef.
Researchers have done studies to see if people like grain finished beef or grass finished beef better. Grain finished beef significantly outperforms grass fed beef in palatability panel scores.
What’s the nutritional difference between grain finished beef and grass finished beef?
There have been many studies on this topic. When reviewing the studies, it’s important to look at the actual studies and not the sensational media headlines that are trying to garner clicks.
That said, overall, both grass-fed and grain-fed beef have benefits and drawbacks.
- Based solely on the nutrition profile, grass-fed beef is slightly superior due to its higher vitamin and CLA content. But, research has not determined whether this difference results in a more significant health benefit. Health professionals believe CLA, a polyunsaturated fatty acid, has cancer fighting properties.
- One 3.5-ounce serving of grass-finished beef offers 15 milligrams more omega-3 than other kinds of beef. However, in general, beef is not considered a primary source of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Grass-finished beef provides 4% of the Daily Value for Vitamin E compared to 1.5% for grain-fed beef. Vitamin E-rich foods, like almonds, provide 24% of the Daily Value for Vitamin E.
Is beef healthy to eat?
Yes! All beef is nutrient-rich, with eight times more vitamin B12, six times more zinc, and three times more iron than skinless chicken breast.
There are other foods that offer some of the same positives, but not in the same amount. This makes beef one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the human diet.
We know that red meat sometimes gets a bad rap. You may have seen media reports that says we should cut red meat from our diet and eat more plants and fish.
There have been dozens of studies on red meat. The results of these studies often cause confusion and everyone will have a different take on them since there are discrepancies based on if the studies use evidence from epidemiological studies or randomized trials.
If you want to dive deeper into all of the studies and the different research methods used, the best article we’ve ever read explaining it is “Red Meat: How Much is Too Much?” on the NutritionAdvance.com blog.
Here’s a snippet from the blog’s conclusion,
“In fact, randomized, controlled trials demonstrate that red meat is either neutral or beneficial to our health.
Furthermore, with the impressive range of nutrients red meat provides, it is something that I think we should value in our diet.
Personally speaking, I do not think that red meat has to be carefully restricted. It is a nutrient-dense food that brings much nutritional value to our diet.
Overall, everyone will probably have a different take on the studies on red meat…..
Lastly, remember that media headlines are more about selling papers (or getting clicks) than accurately portraying a study.”https://www.nutritionadvance.com/how-much-red-meat/
Beef contains dozens of health-promoting nutrients that our body needs. There are other foods that offer some of the same positives, but not in the same amount. Beef is one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the human diet.
One more thing!
Do you want to learn more about beef? Below are a few popular beef posts and recipes you may like. In addition, we have an entire ebook about beef that goes through purchasing and preparing beef from a farmers perspective.
- What is Grass Fed Beef?
- Farm Life: How We Feed Cows
- What’s the Difference Between a Steer vs Bull? Cow vs Heifer?
- 27 Amazing Facts About Cows That Will Impress Your Friends
- Do Cows Have Teeth?
- Buying a Cow. How Much Beef Is It?
We have a weekly e-newsletter where we share about farm happenings, beef recipes, and when our next beef will be available to order. When you sign up, you’ll get a cheat sheet with 9-must-ask questions before buying beef directly from a farmer.