Meat and Eggs · Wholesome Ingredients

Grassfed Beef is Best

Practically everyone eats beef, except vegetarians :-). Most of us have very little idea of how that beef was raised. What I’ve found researching this post is that there is even more confusion than I expected. Keep clearly in mind though that cows are fed and brought to slaughter very differently now than they were in Grandma’s day. Since World War II cattle are generally grain finished, a very unhealthy diet for the cow. And that’s only part of the story.

Most people have the idea that cows live in a pasture for their entire life till they are taken for slaughter. Nope! Some think they are all raised in factory food environments never seeing a blade of grass. Also, no. The truth is a little more complex.

Born on Pasture then Taken to Hell

The life of most cows begins very ideally really. Most are born in the field, stay with their mom drinking her milk, eating grass and living the good cow life. There they stay till they are of a weight to be sold which generally takes around 6 to 12 months.

This is were things take a nasty turn though. From here they are sold at auction and then taken to a feedlot. If you’re imagining some nice fenced small pasture lined with troughs well, think again. Instead imagine miles and miles of cattle packed like sardines. Imagine too the worst stink you can possibly think of. Then multiply by 100 and you’ve got the smell down. If you’ve driven through the west side of El Paso on I-10 you know exactly what I’m talking about. Here our nice healthy grassfed cow is fed tons of genetically modified grains like corn and soy. Packed into this environment our cow gets sick, so the grain is laced with medication to help keep him just well enough for slaughter. He is also also fed hormones to encourage weight gain. Imagine the effect this might have on your waistline! Here he will stay a few months till he is deemed heavy enough for processing.

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Cows are not Made to Eat Grains

There are numerous problems with this scenario but to my mind the most important problem is that cows are not made to eat grains. They are ruminants designed to eat grasses and roughage. In nature they incidentally eat grains and seeds on the grasses they chew on all day. In a modern feedlot that ratio is turned on it’s head. There the cattle eat 90% grain and 10% grass instead of the natural 95% grass and 5% or so incidental seeds. Beef producers do this to produce beef with marbled fat quickly. In nature it takes time for young cow to build up fat reserves. This speeds things up considerably much to the detriment of you and me and the cow. In grandma’s day it took 4-5 years to do bring up a cow … now they do it in about a year.

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Most Cattle Feed is Genetically Modified

If the squalor and illness combined with an inappropriate diet wasn’t bad enough you can add GMO grains to the mix. Most cattle are fed lots of corn which in the US is virtually all GMO at this point. Eating animals that have eaten GMO is roughly the same as eating it yourself. Why you wouldn’t want to eat GMO is too big a topic to cover here, so for now I’ll direct you to video of Dr. Mercola going over the recently released GMO study that found that lab rats developed huge tumors with females being most severely effected.

Then there’s the processing …

We’ve all heard the stories of pink slime, unclean practices, poor inspections, etc. in media. These huge processing plants handle unreal quantities of beef each day. They are concerned with preventing loss so they tend to salvage meats that should be destroyed. Pink slime is great example of that.

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In Grandma’s day Upton Sinclair wrote a book called “The Jungle” that caused a public outcry over conditions in a Chicago slaughterhouse. This led to increased regulation of the business. Those regulations are largely still in place but are unevenly enforced.

But back then she had more options than buying from a butcher who got his meat from one of these big meat packing plants. For instance, in the little town I live in there was once not one but two different butchers. The local ranchers often brought animals to these butchers for processing. So the locals would have been able to buy locally raised meat just by stopping by their storefront. These shops are still in operation, but near as as I can tell they do not except animals for processing anymore. Well, one does but only deer in season. They both operate primarily as restaurants and sausage producers now. Point is, most towns had their own butcher, someone you knew and could be trusted to handle meat safely. No need to buy from the big producers at all.

Now things are different. Most small butcher shops have gone under. Most of us buy from stores that buy from the large processors. So what can we do now? When you buy meat locally you are generally getting meat that has been processed at a small butcher or processor. They are still around, usually in rural areas. Ranchers and farmers must travel pretty far to bring their animals to one. They check them out pretty carefully and know them personally. Find a farmer you trust and trust their choice of processor.

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Grassfed Beef is Best

So what to do? If most beef is GMO grain-fed, packed shoulder-to-shoulder and up to their cow-knees in excrement, shot full of hormones and antibiotics and then finally processed for the store in potentially unsanitary conditions, how do we as consumers of beef avoid all this? The answer is simple, buy grassfed beef. With grassfed you completely avoid the feedlot and all it’s problems and you avoid the large beef processors too! You can find grassfed beef at health food stores, farmers markets and sometimes even at a conventional grocery store. You can also
buy it online
.

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How to buy the best beef possible

  • Excellent ($$$$) – Grassfed beef from an older animal. Cattle need time to add fat so an older animal will be more marbled with tasty, good for you saturated fat. Note though that this is very hard to find. Most grassfed cows go to the processor at the same age as other beef, unfortunately.
  • Excellent ($$$) – Grassfed beef from a farmer you know. This helps ensure the the cow was fed properly,was healthy and taken to a good processor.
  • Very Good ($$$$) – Grassfed beef from a larger distributor like the ones that provide meats to the chain health food stores. Or if you’d prefer grassfed beef can be ordered online at US Wellness Meats.
  • Good ($$$) – Organically fed beef. This is generally found only at the large chain health food stores. While the cattle are fed grains and kept on feedlots, you can be sure that they weren’t fed GMO grains.
  • Minimize ($$) – Beef bought at large grocery stores. You’ll want to reduce this down as much as you can. It will have all the problems listed above.

So ideally, find a local farmer to buy your beef from. It’ll cost a little less than buying from a store, particularly if you have a freezer and buy in bulk. What’s been your experience finding grassfed beef in your area? Is it more or less expensive than the stores?

More info on Grassfed Beef and GMO Feed

36 thoughts on “Grassfed Beef is Best

  1. This past fall I had finally had enough of the feed-lot, tainted beef. I purchased a side of beef from a farmer who lives about 20 minutes from where we camp each summer weekend. To reduce the cost I shared the order with my sister-in-law, but it was still about $1-2 per pound more than what I can find on sale in the large supermarkets.
    No regrets, I will order again next year. I just hope I can make it last!
    Oh, and they have the cattle ‘processed’ at a small butcher where we went to pick up the meat. We loved how we could look around and how clean it was!

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  2. This is an excellent review of the national food supply chain. People want to know, but the information can be so hard to find. For those out there that want to purchase the best tasting meats directly from a farmer, you can go to http://www.homegrowncow.com. They are an on-line farmers’ market for meat, poultry, and cheese farmers. They have farms listed across the country, so you should be able to locate one near you. If not, many of them ship directly to your door. Check ’em out!

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    1. Thanks so much Karen for the great link! I love how the farmers list what they have available in detail on this site … really helpful! So often I check with farms I find online only to find out they are currently out of one of their products. Still good to know they are around for later, but sometimes I need to resupply sooner rather than later :-).

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      1. Kathy, That is such a common problem that farmers are sold out. Using some of the other directories can be frustrating, because they don’t handle the transaction and you have to do a lot of calling around. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, or the farmer is sold out, Home Grown Cow will contact their list of farmers to find one that does have the item in stock, then you can decide if you want to go ahead and order from the other farm. We think it’s a great resource for farm direct meats. Glad to learn you like it too.

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  3. There are only a couple of farms to buy organic, grass-fed beef from here, and both are about an hour’s drive away or more. Both cost way more than a grocery store, and we don’t have a large chain health food store (like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s) here. So factor in the driving time, gas, it adds up. One of them sets up shop once a month at a farmer’s market in the summer time to buy direct from, but it’s still really expensive. Ideally we would make a large bulk purchase, like a side or a quarter, but we don’t have the freezer space. You’d think being smack dab in the middle of an agricultural state like Nebraska, there would be more options! Actually, there are….if I lived on the eastern side of the state. There, I’d be in whole, organic, grass fed heaven, but where I live, it’s a whole food desert.

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    1. It’s frustrating I know. We moved years back partly to be closer to more food choices. The gas can be a real killer. I think in your shoes I’d forget about the grassfed beef for now and work on getting a used freezer somewhere. Use any extra you might have toward that goal. Once you have it save whatever extra you have toward that first bulk meat buy. I talk about getting a little money snowball going for these investment buys here.

      Lately I’ve been looking more at buying lamb much more often. Seems crazy since everyone says lamb is more expensive not less. But right here where I live I can find lamb for crazy cheap prices sometimes. Is there anything like that in Nebraska? Maybe some wild game you could buy from a hunter that’s local? Sometimes here folks are willing to sell a single deer when they have too much or they may only have a few cows so they don’t normally sell beef but may be willing to share the meat when they go to the processor. Here in Texas the tax laws practically require land owners to keep at least a small number of animals. Often the owners don’t know what to do with the meat past a certain point. I can find them here on Craigslist or on a local yahoo group I belong too. Maybe there could be something like this in Nebraska?

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  4. Great post! I agree completely and we ordered our own grass fed beef to fill the freezer 🙂
    I would love to have you join in several hops that I host or co-host! Starting today there is the seasonal Winter on the HomeAcre Hop at:

    http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/2013/01/winter-on-the-homeacre-hop.html

    This gives you a chance to bring out archived posts on winter subjects 🙂
    Tomorrow is Wildcrafting Wednesday, you’ll be able to find it from my homepage at:

    http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/

    And on Thursday I host The HomeAcre Hop, another good place to bring out great posts that you would like to share again. I’d love to see posts on homesteading, farming, cooking, homeschooling…the list goes on 🙂 You can also find that on my homepage. Hope you can join us for all of these fun hops!

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  5. I buy grass-fed beef. Last year I got it from a local rancher, but then he died suddenly of a heart attack. So, now I get grass-fed at Trader Joe’s. I got a bunch at Whole Foods when they were having a big sale, but I ran out. It is way more expensive than the pink slime stuff, but ethically, I just can’t see eating that stuff. I do the same with my eggs. I volunteered to collect chicken eggs for an educational farm last year and saw how they lived. Then I watched one of those documentaries (I can’t remember which one – one of those popular ones) and saw how the $.99 egg chickens live. So, I pay $4+ for my eggs each week. Hate that cost and would love to pay less, but I’m too lazy to look for an alternate. There’s someone about 10 minutes away that sells them from their backyard, but I haven’t called yet. Lazy. TALU

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  6. We are very fortunate to have good friends that only raise 4 grass fed cows at a time and we have been buying a 1/2 every year for 5 years. I just put 325 lbs of grass fed beef in our freezer two weeks ago. It is a big financial hit at the time but at $2.80/lb I can’t complain! We save for it all year and it is well worth it when we can see where and how our beef is raised.

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  7. We have acreage and raise our own beef, we just butchered a cow and split the meat into quarters with friends at church. They are very happy with the flavor and the price. We raised her on our property and know exactly what she ate. We don’t buy grain fed beef. Thank you for your article.

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  8. Good post!! You have covered all the “mass produced” meat issues I try to educate people about.
    I am a beef producer. I raise grass fed beef in Vermont.
    Small herd, fertile fields, crystal clear springs. My cows have names and are better behaved than my hens.
    Come visit the herd when you have a chance: http://www.tailgait.blogspot.com
    Happy New Year!

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  9. Thanks for all the information. It is actually worse than I thought. YIKES! We just brought home a young grass-fed cow. We actually picked it up from the field and it took hours to get loaded since it wasn’t used to human contact. But, it is here and I love the fact that we know EXACTLY what it is being fed so that we know what we will be fed… when that day comes.

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    1. Sounds pretty exciting! I’m always wishing we could have a dairy cow here and we could if we could graze her on the neighbors property. They had some cattle for many years but now the property has changed hands and there are horses over there now. Lovely to see out the kitchen window. One day I’ll have to ask if they would consider some sort of trade. You have a very pretty blog 🙂

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  10. This is a great post! I’ve been wanting to write something similar, but you stated it perfectly! It is so sad how most people have absolutely no idea how the meat they eat is raised. They don’t know how it’s grown, or processed, or where it came from. It’s even scarier when they know, but don’t seem to care. Thanks for sharing!

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  11. Don’t eat ANYTHING BUT!! Grass-fed is BEST hands down!! I actually wrote a blog post/ made a video about Sophia’s Survival Food – Grass-fed Beef Jerky that’s also SUGAR FREE & Additive free (except for herbs & spices)… It has taken YEARS for companies to catch on, that’s why I got very excited when I found this stuff… If you’re curious, you can click my name (to go to my blog) and check it out! Don’t want to “spam” your blog with a link!

    Great Post! I hope hope hope Grass-fed/Grass-finished catches on EVEN MORE!!

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  12. i apologize for the bullet point form of my comments here. you’ve hit something right on the head for me:

    i’ve had this argument with my 71 year old father time and time again – “no dad. cows aren’t raised the same way they were when you were little. grocery store beef is BAD”. frustrating. aye.

    we get our beef from a butcher near our house. Pastured & locally raised. I’d give anything to be able to buy in on a cow share – unfortunately we just don’t have the room to store that much meat. i’m working on that though.

    also, have you noticed in the grocery stores they advertise beef as “grain-fed!” – like it’s a GOOD thing?!!! Crazy!!!!! News flash folks, it ain’t.

    Lastly, you forgot the one best way to get beef…. Grow it yourself! I know that’s probably unrealistic for most peeps, but for those who can, raise some cows! Moooo! Again, something i’d give anything for. ‘Cept my left arm. I’d need that to feed them.

    thank you for sharing your post with us a the Wednesday Fresh Foods Like Up! I hope to see you again this week with more real/whole & seasonal posts. xo, kristy

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    1. Yeah Kristy I remember the stores when I was really small … they had signs just screaming “Grain Fed Beef” all over the meat section. It was still relatively new and people thought that quality beef was grain fed …. yikes!

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  13. I found your blog through Kirsty’s link up, and I wanted to let you know this is a great post and great way to raise awareness of this issue. It’s a real problem, and what scares me most, is the majority of people have no idea what’s in their meat or where it comes from. They eat it without question.
    I’m a vegetarian (partially because of this problem), but my Hubby is a meat eater, and I will only buy him grass fed organic beef. I also buy cheese made from grass fed cows as well.
    Thanks for the post.

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  14. When we first buying the grassfed beef from a local farmer; we thought it was expensive but soon noticed we didn’t eat near as much. We’re thinking that it works out about the same price-wise for us. At least for the way we eat.

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  15. Love this article giving options of which beef is best… It’s hard to get people to understand that grain-fed beef is not a healthy option. There are so many packages that say “grain-fed beef”. The marketing makes it look like you are buying good meat when you are not.

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  16. When buying ground meat in any store that has a butcher shop, you can purchase any other cut of meat and have it ground for you right on the spot. That way you know they haven’t added pink slime, or anything else.

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  17. I loved the article but I was scratching my head at the end when you list the grass fed beef as the best, and organic is next to the bottom of the list. I think you left out Organic grass fed beef. A method of growing out the cattle using no pesticides, chemical weed killers, or chemical fertilizers. To me when I see the term grass fed it means that the cows were fed grass their entire life but it does not exclude the fact that most farms use tons of chemicals on their grass. So my choice for the best choice of beef would be organic grass fed along with the Animal Welfare Approved Seal.

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    1. It’s kinda a glass is half full or half empty kind of thing I guess :-). Though at the bottom I’ve still got it labeled as a good choice. Usually in my posts of this sort I’ve got a handful of kinda-ok, kinda-not choices to list that tends to buffer the good choices from appearing to be at the bottom.

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  18. So does that mean you would not consider organic grass fed beef as the best choice ? Followed by grass fed of course. The chemicals used in most farming operations is crazy. I personally would not eat most grass fed beef, free range poultry and pork unless I had a comfort level with the chemical inputs, or preferably the lack of chemical inputs. I am a little biased, I own and operate the only USDA Certified Organic Grass Fed Beef farm in South Carolina. We also have the Animal Welfare Approved Certification, No chemicals, no growth hormones, we don’t even administer any probiotics, and 100 % grass fed, grass finished. Don’t get me wrong, you provide a lot of great information in your post, I was just disappointed to see organic so far down on the list when I consider it the best option. It really is currently the only program out there that verifies that I do what I say I do.

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    1. I would definitely consider organic grassfed, no chemicals and an older cow to be perfectly ideal. Just don’t see much or any of it around. The vast majority of organic beef in the food supply is feedlot beef. I’m glad to hear that’s changing and that your farm in South Carolina is part of leading the charge! That’s something to be proud of!

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