The Grass Behind Grass-Fed Cattle
Not all grass-fed beef is created equally. But to understand why, you must first understand what “grass-fed” beef really means.
It’s not as simple as steering a few cows toward a pasture and that’s that. A lack of attention to the grass that cattle are fed is part of the reason why, years ago, some people found the taste of grass-fed beef off-putting. It seemed earthier and less tender than cattle finished on grain.
However, that’s not the case with Acabonac Farms and other farmers who pay attention to the type of grass their cattle are fed. If we truly are “what we eat eats,” then the subject of grass is as important as any other part of cattle ranching.
The Importance of Grass-Finished
Next time you shop at the grocery store, look at the packaging on beef. Some will say “grass-fed.” That might be technically true, but almost all industrial-finished cattle are fed grass first before being shipped to a feedlot. From there on, it’s a grain-intensive diet.
On the other hand, “grass-finished” or “100% grass-fed” means just that - the cattle ate grass their entire lives. And in the case of Acabonac Farms, the cattle are allowed to graze freely, rotated through pastures on our properties.
While you can read more about this issue, the main focus with grass-fed beef is that it not only has a rich flavor, but it is simply healthier. Compared to industrial grain finished beef, it has higher levels of:
- Conjugated linoleic acid
Grass also contains many health benefits for both the cattle and person who buys beef. But not all grass is the same.
Starts With The Soil
Most people might look at grass and think, well, “grass.” Grass doesn’t strike most people as something filled with nutrients, nor do they think about the nutritional differences between grasses. That’s understandable, but farmers who know grass-fed beef know better.
The truth is, the better the grass, the better the beef.
As noted by chef Dan Barber in the Wall Street Journal, the standards for grass-finished beef have grown as more farmers have come to understand the importance of high-quality grass. That’s led to a richer, more delicious taste for grass-finished beef that is superior to that of industrial grain finished beef.
It starts with the soil. The cattle on the Eastern End of Long Island, where Acabonac Farms is located, eat grass grown in rich, healthy soil. Much like the soil defines the taste of wine, so also can it define the taste of beef.
The loamy soil on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, where Acabonac Farms cattle graze, produces excellent cabernet franc and merlot. The same influence is apparent in the taste of the beef.
During the winter, the cattle eat high-quality hay. They are never fed grain or given any type of growth hormone or antibiotic. The farm provides a good example of how leaders in the grass-fed cattle industry now know cattle ranching should be done.
Another important aspect in raising grass-fed cattle is providing the herd with diverse forage. This can be accomplished, in part, by rotational grazing, which involves rotating the herd through different pasture lands.
Variety is important. So is providing high-energy grass that bulks up the cattle as they are being finished. One of the reasons that industrial cattle operations began using grain was to include more sugars and non-fiber carbohydrates. In other words, it bulks up the cattle quickly.
Grass-fed cattle ranchers don’t go this route. Instead, the best pastures have a mixture of forage with these high-energy characteristics, as well as legumes because the digestibility is greater.
This type of attention to detail in the areas of forage quality, healthy soil and high-quality grass is what makes the best grass-finished beef have a unique, rich flavor. It’s not just the grass-finished beef that is important, but the grass (and other forage) as well.