Buyer’s Guide to Choosing Better Beef

Grass Fed Beef – Buyer’s Guide to Choosing Better Beef
By []Sandra Matheson

Grass fed beef has become more popular as health and environmental awareness increase. Not long ago, the only way to have it was to buy a half or whole beef and put it in the freezer. Now, grass fed products may be found in restaurants, online, and in some grocery stores.

It is important to understand that grass fed differs from the traditional grain finished beef found in the store. Grass fed animals have been finished on a forage diet – primarily grass and sometimes supplemented with hay or silage in the non-growing season. Grain finished animals are fed large quantities of grain products and are often housed in confinement or feedlots. Some producers advertise that their animals are fed “natural grains”. Grain is still grain and not grass! Consuming large amounts of grain will make them grow and put on fat, but it can be harmful to the cattle. It is not a natural diet for them. The environmental factors are also of concern. When managed properly, an animal grazing in a field will help the environment while a feedlot may create a myriad of environmental problems.

Grass fed animals are not as fat compared to grain finished beef cattle. This is great for the consumer from a health standpoint, but less fat also means less tenderness. Therefore, grass fed beef will need to hang (age) longer. It has a slightly different (but good) flavor and should be prepared in a way to maximize tenderness. Grass fed beef is also juicier. When you empty the fry pan, you will see water, not grease. Once you’ve eaten properly prepared grass fed beef, you may have trouble going back to the traditional fatty kind.

Unless you are fortunate to have a grocery store or CSA that carries grass fed beef, you will need to buy in bulk. A half or even a quarter is a large amount of beef. The small self-defrosting freezer attached to your fridge won’t work for this purpose. That means investing in an appropriately sized freezer and laying out a fair amount of cash at once. You will also need to estimate how much your family might consume over the year ahead. If you have questions on that, the beef producer can help you decide. Also, bear in mind that the beef may only be available at certain times of the year and you may need to get on the reservation list early.

Grass fed beef is not all alike. There’s a huge difference between an 18-24 month old beef steer/heifer versus the thin old dairy cow down the road. In addition to age and breed, what they eat and how they are raised makes a difference. Animals moved to new pasture every couple days or so are going to be healthier and fleshier than ones turned loose in a single pasture for a long period of time. The problem with the latter is that the animals can pick and choose in the beginning, but eventually the good grasses are gone and the over-ripe plants, weeds, or very little will be left. Consequently, the animals’ condition suffers by the end of their stay.

How do you find what you are looking for? A search online may reveal some sources in your local area. Check out the farm websites and see what kind of practices are used on their farm. Word of mouth is a good way to hear about good producers or bad ones! Classified ads are an excellent place to look, but be sure to ask questions before you buy. Here are some points to clarify:

Are they grass fed?
Have they or will they be fed grain?
Do you feed antibiotics or give them hormones?
Is the beef USDA inspected? (It may not have to be if purchased in bulk, but some people prefer the added safety factor.)
Where will it be processed?
What weight is the price based on?
Is processing – slaughter, cutting, and wrapping included in the price?
How long does the beef hang? Grass fed beef should age for 2-3 weeks.
Can I choose the cuts or do you?
How is it wrapped?
When will it be available?
Do I need to make a deposit to be on the list?

Once you’ve made your decision to buy grass fed beef, be assured that you’ve made a healthy choice in choosing better beef.

Sandra M. Matheson, DVM is a rancher, holistic management educator, and retired veterinarian. Learn more about []grass fed beef and find []innovative resources
to help ranchers and farmers take a holistic approach to sustainable agriculture.

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