What do we mean by grassfed?
Many producers say the USDA standards for beef marketed as “grass-fed” are very general. They allow cattle to be fed in confinement, and fed silage. So grassfed can mean different things. Sometimes the term is used for animals that are grassfed for a while, then finished on grain and other stuff (like old candy bars). In our case, grassfed means raised on grass from the time the calves are weaned until they are harvested. So, to us, grassfed means “grass finished”, too. Realize that before WW II, all animals were grassfed, as they mostly are today in Europe, South America and New Zealand. And the great English breeds like Angus and Hereford reached their prime development grazing on the rich UK grasses.
Why is grassfed important?
First, a cow was meant to eat grass. The Creator gave cows an organ called a rumen, in order that they could convert the cellulose in grass to carbohydrates, then digest them. When cows are fed primarily grain, the rumen goes stagnant and all sorts of things change, few for the better. Importantly, it has been shown that grassfed cows have more of the healthy, important Omega 3 fatty acid (which is important to our systems, and which we otherwise seek in flaxseed, wild salmon, etc.), and grain finished cows have little Omega 3. Grassfed beef also contains more favorable levels of CLA, and Vitamins A and E. Bottom-line, grass is what was intended for these animals, and it is healthier for them and likely for you.
No hormones, no bulk antibiotics.
Over 99 percent of calves in North America are “fed out” using a growth hormone implant which is banned in the European Union. Why? Because it makes them grow fast and add weight quickly, where weight means dollars to the feeders. Is it good or bad? That’s up to you to decide, but we choose not to use hormones on our calves. Also, calves fed in confined animal feeding operations (or CAFO’s) are typically pre-treated with bulk antibiotics – because they live in a septic environment. We don’t have to do this, because our calves range until harvest.
What does “all natural beef” mean?
There are no government standards, so it can mean about anything. Often it is described as “no hormones, no antibiotics” but the animals are finished on grain. Some marketers say their all natural beef is “vegetarian fed” – well, vegetarian would include grain, and you can’t feed them meat anyway!
What about “organic” beef?
There are government standards for certifying beef to be organic. However, organic beef can be grass-finished or grain-finished. Condalia Farms Brand beef is not certified organic, nor do we intend to seek certification. Our beef is grassfed and grass-finished, though. Some, like Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms worry that the very standards for organic meat create another issue in that these standards can be “gamed” in factory settings that can defeat some of the spirit what most people would think of when they think “organic”. Now, not all organic beef is produced this way. Generally, it’s produced with care and is a good product, if expensive. Just just like with Condalia Farms Brand, the important thing is to know your farmers and know their philosophies.
A grassfed operation doesn’t produce as many pounds of meat as quickly as grain finishing. Sustainability analysis revolves around “where you draw the box”, how you calculate Energy In versus Energy Out. But so long as you strive for optimum rather than maximum production, and can accept the longer production times and lower amount of weight gain with grassfed, then grassfed is more sustainable than grain finished. Coincidentally, in optimizing versus maximizing production, we believe grassfed operations lead to healthier calves, native flora and fauna and healthier people, both short-term and long-term. That’s what sustainability is all about.
Incidentally, Joel Salatin has stated his belief that we need to consume more beef (pasture-based), and little less chicken, to move towards greater overall sustainability.