Sunday, February 20, 2011

What are grass fed meats?

Grass fed meats come from animals that eat nothing but grass.  Sounds pretty simple, but it can become extremely complex in our society of hype, advertising, media blitz, and farming.  Now how does farming fit in with hype, advertising and the media, you might ask?  That part is really simple.

You see it is very common knowledge now days that most of us are informed to the level of understanding that we know how grass fed meats are higher in CLA's, omega 3's, have more vitamins A, D, E, K in the fat etc.  And typically higher quality foods are in demand and therefore receive a small premium at the check out.  So many farmer folks have jumped on the band wagon and are now using hype, advertising and media to push their grass fed products.  And this is all well and done if the product actually meets this very high level of criteria of belonging in a class of grass finished meats.  Big problem is, most meats or most animals do not meet this high level of quality.  You see you can  not simply take an animal that has been bred genetically for several generations to perform on grain and expect him to magically become a grass finished animal.  That would be comparable to taking an NFL team and placing them on stage to perform a ballet.  Again, only with hype, advertising and with a well paid media could you get that accomplished.  And most people would leave long before intermission.  Unless you expected to see a comedy.  Putting a grain fed genetic cow in with a grass genetic finished cow and expecting similar results would also bring about a comedy situation.  That is if you had a really good sense of humor. 

Most of the general public and even a great majority of farmers do not understand this conundrum.  You see we have been breeding livestock to produce larger and larger quantities of milk and meat on very large quantities of government subsidized grain, no matter the cost or quality of product.  More and bigger has always been promoted as better.  Well, we as a nation have gotten more and bigger right around the middle and also less healthy.  And the poor economic condition of our farmers have gotten to a point where most of us are no longer even capable of determining a viable alternative to making all things bigger.

I speak to many farmers as I travel across this country and I believe that as farmers we will be the ones that will get left holding the bag.  After all we all have the ability to change our farming operations and quit feeding cattle on pesticide laced, hormone injected, antibiotic feeds, living out their lives in knee deep animal feces before slaughter.  This system promotes massive loss of top soil, water pollution from chemical run off, a gigantically growing dead zone in the gulf, all from unsustainable production of grains primarily across the Midwest to feed these confined animals.  And in the end it produces a product of less quality than grass finished, and helps farmers go broke faster.  The only people that win in this system are agricultural input salesmen and Washington lobbyists.

As a breeder of grass finished livestock we know that it takes at least three cattle generations, which is about 10 years, to make even the smallest of significant improvements in a cow herd from a grain based type cow into a cow that will perform well on grass or forages only.  This is if our new grass genetic bull is all he is supposed to be.  Selecting for grass based genetics will be a new part of the farmers education that is seldom seen even by today's most experienced livestock producers.  And because grass finishing or milking cows only on grass is so new to the US, that locating quality grass genetics to begin with almost requires magic.  However, once we get on the right track genetically we begin a whole new livestock enterprise not seen here by most standards for well over 60 years or more.  This type of cow requires absolutely nothing in the form of inputs.  Once the entire system of forages, genetics, and management to put it altogether arrive, our primary costs of production are the initial purchases of livestock and land.  That's it.  For the livestock producer this is monumental.  And for the consumer, its meat that can build health instead of deteriorate life and the earth we all live in.     

1 comment:

  1. The article you've referenced on "Bovine Engineering" is very interesting. I'm assuming that similar genetic traits would be for goats as well.

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