Grass Fed vs. Grain Fed; Grass Finished vs. Grain Finished - What’s the difference?
Grass Fed and Grass Finished
You may have noticed that we call some of our beef products “grass fed and grass finished”. It has occurred to us that not everyone knows what this means, and, to complicate matters, the "grass fed" label on your beef is not defined or controlled by the USDA. Rather than being vague or trying to gloss over the details of our work, we feel it is important that our customers know everything there is to know about where their beef comes from, how it was treated and what it was fed during its lifetime. This search for knowledge and transparency is what led our founder to start Prosper Meats and why we introduced the Prosper Meats Promise: so that you know where your food is coming from, "From Seed to Dinner Plate."
Most people who are interested assume that "grass fed" labelled beef comes from cattle that are raised on pastures, and grow to maturity eating, you guessed it, grass. What isn’t apparent from the grass fed label, is that beef cattle can be “finished” with a diet of things other than grass at the end of their journey and may spend much less time on-pasture than our happy cattle do.
This “finishing” is where some farmers choose to cut corners. The definition of grass fed beef is beef that comes from cattle who spend the majority of their lives eating grass. It turns out the word majority is pretty vague in that definition. Often, to fatten up cattle before slaughter, some grass fed beef farmers will “finish” their cattle on a diet of grain and corn. This finishing typically takes place in "feedlots” which do not have to meet the same standards of quality that pastures do. Most feedlots can be small, artificial, and factory-like, to be quite honest. So grass fed beef can spend, let’s say three-quarters of their lives eating grass on open pastures. Unfortunately, for the last quarter of their lives a large number of grass fed beef cattle will be sent to cramped feedlots to be fed grain and corn so that the beef ultimately becomes more similar to grain fed beef.
Why the different finishing?
If you’re someone who is interested in grass fed beef, you have probably heard the argument that “grass fed beef doesn’t taste the same as grain fed beef,” or maybe “grass fed beef is less fatty and therefore less flavorful than grain fed beef.”
There is a bit of truth to this thought, actually. Since humans began commercially raising these animals, and experimenting with different feeds, we have learned that feeding cattle an artificial diet of grain and corn makes their beef taste, well, great. A diet of only grass, especially easy to grow grasses that aren’t native to certain environments, leads to healthier, less fatty cattle. And, as anyone on a weight loss diet could tell you, fat usually equals flavor. While less fatty cows make healthier beef (see our article about the health benefits of grass fed beef “What’s the Big Deal About Grass Fed Beef” for the full story), it’s true that it often doesn’t carry quite the same flavor.
Flavor and quality are the top priorities here at Prosper Meats, so when we decided to offer a selection of beef that is truly grass fed and grass finished we wanted to make it taste just as good if not better than grain fed. So we focused on a driving question: Is it possible to make our healthy, grass fed beef taste as good as grain fed? The answer, it turns out, is yes.
Attaining grain fed flavor
We wanted to take a scientific approach to finding out how to pack more flavor into healthier grass fed beef. We knew that we weren’t going to get flavor from fat if we are only feeding our cattle grass, but maybe there was a way to change the flavor of beef by changing the type of grass the cattle eat. When analyzing the diet of grass fed beef, we discovered that the grasses used in grass fed pastures are typically easy growing grasses that are lacking in certain proteins. When delving into this discovery, we realized that the metabolization of these proteins has a direct effect on the beef’s flavor.
We next realized that these missing proteins are found in heartier grasses that cows often eat in their natural habitats. These hearty grasses are not as efficient at covering pastures, so cattle farmers have been focusing on the species that are easy to grow instead. With this knowledge, we decided to start testing mixtures of conventional grass and heartier grass on our cattle to see if that changed the taste of the beef in the direction we were hoping.
It is worth mentioning here that Prosper Meats also believes in sustainability. As we began experimenting with our grass feeds and finishes, we wanted to try and focus on using only grasses local to our environment, if possible. We are located in beautiful Denver, CO, and if we could keep our pastures full of local, non-invasive species then we could feel even better about the work that we were doing in our home state.
So what’s the result of all of this?
We are proud to say that, after five years of testing different grasses and different grass finishes, we finally figured it out. We have discovered which types of grasses to use in pastures and which types to use in our grass finishing techniques so that our grass fed beef contains all of the flavor without the added fat of grain fed cattle! And, we have the added accomplishment of doing this with 100% local Colorado grasses. Because we don’t want our competition to gain the benefit of our time and effort, we can’t give away too many details. But rest assured, our farms feed our cattle only Colorado grasses for the entirety of their lives and we still deliver the highest quality of flavor.
One of Prosper Meats’ founding principles is to be transparent about where people’s food comes from. We use the line “from seed to plate” to encapsulate the fact that we control every aspect of our beef production so you can be confident in knowing exactly where your food is coming from. When we say “grass fed” we mean just that. Our grass fed, grass finished cattle are fed grass and other natural vegetation found in pastures for their entire lives and they are never exposed to a feedlot. We finish our cows on natural grasses in wide open spaces, and we have gone to great lengths to assure that the diet of finishing grass results in “grain finished” flavor as well as meeting our self-imposed standards of eco-friendliness and sustainability.
We’ve learned a lot throughout our journey to produce the highest quality grass fed beef. In doing this, we discovered better and more humane ways to raise traditional grain fed beef as well. For those who still enjoy traditional grain fed beef, we do offer two tiers of beef cattle. We have our signature Grass Fed & Grass Finished Beef and Prosper Steakhouse Beef, a variety that is raised and fed a mixture of hay, Colorado grass, and spent grain. We hope you have appreciated our spirit of transparency when describing our feeding techniques, and we know that you will taste the difference when selecting from our wide variety of products.
There's more to the Prosper Meats Promise: learn about animal welfare
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Also in Colorado Grown
We at Prosper Meats take great pride in the fact that we have achieved a rating of 4 - “Pasture Raised” from the animal welfare group, the Global Animal Partnership (GAP).