Eating Better: Grass-Fed Beef

This post is the first in a series about our attempts to eat better.

I first learned about grass-fed beef when I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Prior to reading that book, I was ignorant about the way beef (and poultry and pork) production works in this country. I’d like to say the enlightening was a delightful experience, but it wasn’t. I was disgusted and depressed about what I learned. One of the most important themes of Kingsolver’s book, though, is to learn what you need to know and then do what you can with that knowledge.

Why grass-fed beef? There are lots of reasons that are really beyond the scope of this post. The most important ones for my family are these:

Grass-fed beef is healthier. Cows were meant to eat grass, not grain. Therefore, the cows are healthier (and have no need for antibiotics and growth hormones) and their beef is better for you.

Grass-fed beef is more humane. These cows are allowed to roam in the pasture and are not squished into feed lots left to spend their lives standing in the their own feces, consumed by disease.

Grass-fed beef is better for the environment.

The Search. I’ve been on a search for grass-fed beef for my family. [Note: We are not vegetarians. While I applaud those who are and have respect for their convictions, at this time, that choice is not one we are making.] In addition to seeking out grass-fed beef, I wanted to find it as close to where I live as possible. As I started doing some research, beginning with the Local Harvest site, I found there are a number of farms within my state — some only a 30 minute drive from my house. However, some of the farms use a method called grain-finishing. They feed the cows a diet of grass until the last 6 months or so, and then load them up on grain to fatten them up faster for harvesting. This is not the approach I’m after. With a little more research, I found 3 farms within 2 hours of where I live who all raise their animals in pasture, and feed their cows only grass, all the way to the end. This process is called “grass-finishing.” Once I found the farms, we were able to sample the beef by ordering just a few cuts from each farm. All were delicious. Then, as always, it came down to price.

Cost. Grass-fed beef costs more than grain-fed, factory farmed beef. Grass-fed cows take longer to fatten up so quick and massive growth and harvesting is not possible as it is at feed-lots. Also, allowing the animals to be raised in pasture, requires, well, a lot of pasture for them to roam. Also, these farms are generally on a much smaller scale than the “Big-Ag” farms and therefore do not deal in the volume that can often create lower prices. After everthing I learned, though, the choice was easy. I’m willing to pay a bit more for grass-fed beef, but I still want the best price on it I can find.

Buying In Bulk. This turned out to be the best option for us. There are several ways to buy beef in bulk, depending on the cuts you want. Many farms allow you to purchase a 1/4, 1/2, or whole cow and charge a flat rate per pound. The benefit is that while you will get some beef that would normally cost a bit less than the flat rate per pound, you’ll get far more cuts that would cost considerably more. The farm we ended up choosing allows you to purchase bulk “packages” of beef. Each package has a different price per pound and contains different types of cuts. The package we chose includes ground beef, roasts and steaks and all of the meat in this package is boneless. For us, the best part about ordering this way (as opposed to buying a quarter cow) is that we don’t end up with a lot of cuts we don’t want (like organ meats). Our order hasn’t arrived yet, but when it does, it will contain approximately 60-80 lbs. of beef which should last us a good, long time.

Freezer Space. Obviously, buying beef in bulk requires a good bit of freezer space. We have a large freezer in addition to our regular refrigerator and freezer, so this shouldn’t be a problem. If you don’t have the extra space, you might consider splitting a bulk order with some friends.

Where to find grass-fed beef. As I mentioned, a good place to start is Local Harvest. You can search for farms in your area and see what they produce. Another excellent source, specifically for grass-fed beef, is Eat Wild. Again, you can search by your location and find farms that only raise beef this way. You can also find links to sources for pastured pork and free-roaming poultry. If you are unable to find a local farm source for your beef, you can easily order online from US Wellness Meats. I trust them as a source for quality.

I recommend that you read more about grass-fed beef, so you can make an informed decision on your own. Below are some resources:

Why Grass Fed Beef is Better For Your Health @ Natural Bias

Eat Wild is an excellent resource for learning more about grass-fed meats and for finding local farms that raise it.

Why Grass-Fed Beef is Better for the Environment @ Best Life magazine

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

Food, Inc. the film

Comments

  1. Hi Beth! As you seem to have encountered, it can be tough to find a good source, but it’s well worth the effort! In addition to grass fed beef being a healthier choice, I think it has much more flavor and I take comfort in knowing that I’m supporting sustainable and conscientious farmers. Thanks for linking to my article. 🙂

  2. Hi Beth, I just wondered if you have ever been out to a cattle ranch that utilizes feedlots and feed grain to understand more about it. If yuo haven’t you may be surprised that there’s more to the story than what you read in a book. If you would like, I would love to help you set up a tour some day. Let me know.