The Truth about Grass vs. Grain Fed Beef

First a disclaimer: A lot of people say grass or grain fed beef, but that does not mean that the cow was fed grain its entire life. Most cattle live off grass for the majority of their life and then switch to grain once in the feed lot. We’ll get to the specifics of how that happens later.

As consumers, we are all worried about what we eat and the health benefits/risks associated with that. One of these worries is surrounding grass-fed vs grain-fed cattle, whether it be health concerns or animal welfare concerns.

The Grain-Finished Life Cycle

All cattle start out living similar lives; they are born, drink milk from their mothers and then eat grass after being weaned. This continues for about 6-12 months, after that, grain-finished cattle are moved to feedlots.

Feedlot penFeedlots are depicted as horrible, disgusting and cramped places (but that’s a topic for another blog post).
There is actually more room in feedlot pens than most people think. At feedlots the cattle are rapidly fattened up with grain, usually made with corn or soy. When the cattle are first brought to the feed lot they are given feed with high forage/silage content and low grain content to help their bodies adjust to the new diet. The grain portion of the diet steadily increases until the cattle are primarily eating grain. This process occurs over a 3-6 month period. If you are curious about finding out more about feedlots before my next post visit this site.

The Grass-Finished Lifecycle

Just like grain-finished cattle grass-finished cattle spend the first ~12 months of their lives in the same way. The only difference is that instead of being sent off to a feedlot they are “finished” or “grown out” in a grass pasture. This means that they eat grass for the remainder of their life, until slaughter. This entire process can take upwards of a year and a lot of land.

Nutritional Differences

Texas A&M University did a study on the nutritional differences on ground beef grass-fed grain-fed beef cattlegrass-fed grain-fed beef cattlefrom grass-fed and grain-fed cattle. As you can see from the table, grain-fed cattle have a higher omega-3 fatty acid concentration and a higher total saturated and trans-fat content, while grass-fed cattle have a higher oleic acid concentration and lower saturated and trans-fat content. The study continued on to say that the effect of the ground beef on cholesterol was minimal, and Grass vs Grain Finished Beefneither type increased risk for CVD or type II diabetes. “So, at this point, there is no scientific evidence to support the claims that ground beef from grass-fed cattle is a healthier alternative to ground beef from conventional raised, grain-fed cattle” said Stephen Smith, Regents Professor at the TAMU Department of Animal Science.

So as of the research we have right now, there is no health benefits to choosing grass-fed beef. It is solely a choice of preference. If you prefer the taste of grass-fed beef, then by all means eat it. But do not feel like you have to because of health benefits or animal welfare.

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The Truth About Beef Byproducts

What exactly is a byproduct? A byproduct is an incidental or secondary product made in the manufacturing or synthesis of something else.
So what does that mean for the beef industry? It means that once we have the meat (which is the main reason we raise cattle) the “leftover parts” can be made into other products.

If you have a beef animal that weighs 1,000 pounds, 640 pounds of the animal will be used for meat products, such as steaks, roasts and hamburgers. This means 64% of the animal is used for meat. However, 99% of the cow is utilized for meat and other products. This makes the beef industry more sustainable because it uses as much of each cow as possible.

There are three categories of animal by-products: edible, inedible, and medicinal.

EDIBLE

beef, byproducts, cattle

Photo via Alabama Cattlemen’s Association

Gelatin, what makes Jello, is also a beef byproduct. It is made from the connective tissue of the animal. Other products that contain gelatin might also include gum, fruit snacks, and even marshmallows! Fat from the animal create oleo stock and oleo oil for margarine and shortening.

INEDIBLE

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Photo via Alabama Cattlemen’s Association

You probably use at least one item containing inedible beef by-products every day. Leather is a good example of an inedible beef byproduct. It is made from the cow hide and is used to make other byproducts. A lot can be made from 1 cow hide, 12 basketballs or 144 baseballs
or 20 footballs or 18 volleyballs or 18 soccer balls or 12 baseball gloves. Industrial oils and lubricants, soaps, lipsticks, deodorant, and many other items are produced from the inedible fats from beef.

MEDICINAL

More than 100 individual drugs include beef byproducts. The medicines can help make childbirth safer, can settle an upset stomach, can prevent blood clots, control anemia, and help relieve asthma symptoms. Antirejection drugs, which are used when a person has a transplant to help the body accept the new organ, come from animal byproducts. Insulin, which is used 1.25 million people daily in the United States, can come from livestock or be synthetically produced. It takes the pancreases from 26 cattle to provide enough insulin to keep one diabetic person alive for a year.

So “Where’s the Beef?”

So when people ask you where’s the beef, you will know the truth, it is in more places than just your fridge or on your plate. It is in hospitals, drug stores, helping your car run better, sporting goods, art supply shops, soap, and many other things.

The Truth About a Farmer’s Fight

Todays blog post is going to be a little different from my others. Today I’m going to share why I am thankful for the fight of a farmer.

I am thankful for the work ethic and fight instilled into me by agriculture and my father. I recently found a “pledge” from Mike Rowe that, in my opinion, accurately sums up the agricultural industry’s view on work ethic. Here are some of my favorite points from the pledge, for which I am most grateful.

“THE S.W.E.A.T. PLEDGE”
(Skill & Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo)

3. I believe there is no such thing as a “bad job.” I believe that all jobs are opportunities, and it’s up to me to make the best of them.

7. I believe the best way to distinguish myself at work is to show up early, stay late, and cheerfully volunteer for every crappy task there is.

11. I understand the world is not fair, and I’m OK with that. I do not resent the success of others.

12. I believe that all people are created equal. I also believe that all people make choices. Some choose to be lazy. Some choose to sleep in. I choose to work my butt off.

A picture from Gilmer Dairy Farm's Facebook page.

A picture from Gilmer Dairy Farm’s Facebook page.

I love these points from the pledge because I find them applicable to myself and the agriculture industry; The 1st point I listed is one thing I am extremely grateful for, people that step up and do the “dirty jobs” that others do not want. Most people like drinking milk, but most do not want to dedicate the amount of time it takes to produce the milk. Dairy farmers essentially donate their entire life, give up vacations, and hours of sleep so that we can have that delicious drink that we love. If you are ever curious about what the life of a dairy farmer looks like check out, Will Gilmer on Twitter or Facebook.

I am grateful for the people that go above and beyond for our food production (I am not saying that other people do not show up early, work late and work their butt off, I am sure people of other professions do this as well.) But I am especially grateful for the agriculture workers that do this so that we can eat delicious meals, like the Thanksgiving Dinner we will have soon.

My father and I at an Ag in the Classroom Event recently teaching elementary kids about beef cattle.

My father and I at an Ag in the Classroom Event recently teaching elementary kids about beef cattle.

I am also grateful for the fight that is instilled in every farmer, no matter the circumstance. I have rarely known farmers to give up, they will keep working until they find a solution and solve the problem at hand. This can be anything from loading 12 foot panels in the 8 foot bed of a truck (personal experience), working to solve the world’s hunger problem, or fighting leukemia. My father recently got diagnosed with leukemia and he is already on chemo to fight it. I am extremely grateful because as a farmer he had strong work ethic and fight instilled into him from day one. I am so grateful for his work ethic and fight because without he might give up, but with it I know how strong he is and how hard he can and will work to fight this circumstance. Just as strong and as hard as the farmers and scientists that are working to solve world hunger, and feeding a growing population. Both of these are wars that are only going to be won by people with high work ethic and fight.

The Truth About Antibiotics and Hormones in Beef

The use of hormones and antibiotics in the beef we eat is being questioned individually and on a large scale. An example of this is Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder, chairman, and co-CEO, who stated the chain was going to import beef from over 8,000 miles away in Australia, because the supply of antibiotic and hormone free beef has dwindled recently. That is his opinion, and he is entitled to it, but I just wanted to help spread awareness about how antibiotics and hormones are used in the beef industry.

The different antibiotics used in humans and beef cattle

Top antibiotics in humans vs. animals

Most people do not realize that the main antibiotics used in production agriculture are different from the main antibiotics used for human treatment, so the formation of “superbugs” from agricultural use of antibiotics is unlikely. This is helped by farmers following the prescription regiment better than human patients do (mostly because the cattle can’t tell us they “feel fine, they don’t need anymore medicine.”)

People that do not take/finish their antibiotic prescriptions from the doctor are more likely to contribute to the formation of “superbugs” than farmers who administer antibiotics to their sick cattle to prevent a loss.

Another protection protocol is that all antibiotics come with specific labels about the length of time (between 14-22 days) from the final administration of the antibiotic and harvest of the animal. The time span provided depends on the antibiotic, the dosage, and the length of the prescription; this time frame allows for enough time for the antibiotic to leave the animal’s system.

Now for the next thing Steve Ells said that US beef couldn’t provide, hormone free beef. The US can’t provide it because it is impossible, all living things have hormones so there is no such thing as “hormone free” beef. But we’ll just assume he meant no added hormones. It is true, some farms use added hormones to aid in raising their cattle, this is perfectly legal unlike in the poultry and pork industries. Hormones in cattle are administered through an implant under the skin on the back of the ear and are released slowly over time. Since the ear is one of the few parts of the beef carcass that we discard the implant never enters the food industry.

Now for the part everyone is worried about, the amount of hormones that actually end up in our food. Research has shown that a 3 oz natural, non-implanted steak has 1.39 nano grams of estrogen. A 3 oz hormone implanted steak has 1.89 nano grams of estrogen. In comparison 3 oz of cabbage has 2,017 nano grams, one birth control pill has 34,000 nano grams, and a normal adult male has 136,000 nano grams of estrogen. All of these numbers are well and good, but how much is a nano gram? It is one-billionth of a gram, in other words not a lot! To put that in a visual perspective if you took a paper clip and then tore it into 1 billion pieces, one of those pieces would be about equal to a nano gram.

While Steve Ells and Chipotle choose to source beef from over 8,000 miles away, I am perfectly satisfied with my American raised beef, because I know the truth about antibiotics and hormones in beef.