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Grass Fed Blog from Indian Creek Angus

Why local grass-fed beef costs more.

Why local grass-fed beef costs more.

When you think about farmers who raise cattle solely on the grass in their pastures, you would think that they would have less overhead than the ranchers who fatten their cattle on grain in massive feedlots. Getting cattle to the feedlots requires fuel because a great many cattle are moved long distances, fattened, and then slaughtered miles from where they were born. And the grain too is an expense.  This all has to cost a lot of money.

Why, then, would grass-fed, local beef cost more than grain-finished feedlot beef shipped miles to your grocery store? The answer lies in two important factors that the industrial beef industry demands: speed and weight. Speed means that the time it takes to grow a calf from birth to the age at slaughter needs to be reduced as much as possible in order to make maximum profits. And weight is the basis for pricing the beef, from the quarter pounder at McDonalds to the 8 oz. New York Strip at the local restaurant. Beef is almost always sold by weight. Therefore the primary goal of cattle ranchers is to increase the weight of the cattle as rapidly as possible.

The quickest way to increase a cow’s weight is to feed it grain and growth hormones. After weaning, cattle are sold to back-grounding pastures where they will reach about 600 pounds. Then they are moved to feedlots where they are fed grain until they gain another 400 pounds. Feedlot grain is often a combination of genetically-modified grains such as corn, as well as soy and food by-products. The grain is highly subsidized by the government. In addition, both feedlot cattle and dairy cows receive hormone injections to increase their weight and milk production. Basically feedlots quickly turn an average healthy cow into an obese sick cow. Then they are transported to the slaughterhouse where up to 250 animals are slaughtered an hour. 

On the other hand, increasing the size of cattle grazing on pasture takes a long time. The cattle are not artificially fattened, but instead retain their natural weights based on a diet of grass—the diet their bodies are meant to eat. They also receive no hormones or antibiotics (except to save their lives if they become sick). Although these injections and additives are an expense to the feedlot owner, they still make it possible to increase the cow’s weight sufficiently to make feedlot meat very cheap. Over 90% of America’s meat is processed this way.

When consumers see rock-bottom prices for meat at grocery stores or fast-food restaurants, they are seeing the end-product of an industrial system designed to alter the natural biology of a cow. In other words, cattle are molded into a product that meets the requirements of an industrial food system that is focused on profits and feeds many people very cheaply.

The downside of the cheap meat is that it is not very healthy. Loading the cattle with grains and hormones makes them sick, and they require antibiotics to stay alive. All of these additives end up in the food system and in humans. There is direct evidence that America’s epidemic of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer is linked to the foods we eat.

It costs your local farmer more to grow cattle to the ideal weight for slaughter because it takes at least twice as long (2-3 years) to grow a beef to the necessary weight. It costs your local farmer more to take several cattle to the local butcher whose treatment is humane and who pays the workers adequately than it does to transport hundreds of cattle to slaughter. Your local farmer receives little subsidization. And there is not a large network of marketing experts and outlets helping the small farmer sell his or her beef.

Yet, consumers who are aware of the health benefits of grass-fed beef and who recognize the environmental and societal impact of buying locally and getting to know where your food comes from are spending the extra money to improve their health and the health of the planet. Doing the right things isn’t cheap. But it is the right thing.

The Eat Wild website states:

When you choose to eat meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals raised on pasture, you are improving the welfare of the animals, helping to put an end to environmental degradation, helping small-scale ranchers and farmers make a living from the land, helping to sustain rural communities, and giving your family the healthiest possible food. It’s a win-win-win-win situation.

6 Comments
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  • Pingback: Should You Eat CAFO Beef or Grass Fed Beef? | Keep Going Green()

  • mrm.cattle

    Having grown up in agriculture, I decided that college was the right
    choice for me. So, I took remedial courses until I met the deficiencies,
    and then took other coursework at Gainesville College until I was
    fortunate enough to get into UGA. I finished 2 BS degrees there, one in
    animal science and the other in dairy science. I left there and went to
    Kansas State to do a MS (also in animal science, with my particular area
    of interest being ruminant nutrition, especially as it pertains to
    feedlot cattle). I am currently working on finishing up my PhD in the
    same area. So, before I begin my argument, please be advised that you
    have chosen a debate with someone who is very aware of the REAL goings
    on here.

    First of all, have you ever been to a feedlot? This
    does not include pictures you’ve seen on the internet which had one
    purpose in nature: to capture the hearts of those who are gullible
    enough to believe what certain special interest groups use as propaganda
    in their lackluster efforts to get into the pockets of those who
    believe them.

    Cattle do eat corn in feedlots, but
    this does not mean that they eat corn all of their lives. In fact, most
    of their life is spent by their mother’s side eating grass. Which by the
    way, did you know that corn (zea mays) is a grass?

    Corn-fed cattle are not the leading cause of E. coli 0157:H7! This
    organism is naturally present in all cattle! In fact, it is a ubiquitous
    organism that is even present in the gastrointestinal tracts of humans.
    People get sick from the toxins that are produced by the E. coli called
    shigatoxin. Meat is actually very sterile in an unadultered state.
    However, during the process grinding, sometimes the meat becomes
    contaminated. I have spent many hours in a packing plant, and I am well
    aware of the efforts that are made to reduce the incidence of
    contamination and subsequent outbreaks. They spent millions of dollars
    in efforts to prevent such happenings. The sad thing is, if we in the
    beef industry could use irradiation, there would be no problem at all.
    The same type of radiation that is used to sterilize common medical
    supplies would be the same type I speak of here. I suspect that if you
    read outside of popular press that you would discover the cases of
    food-borne pathogens is much higher in vegetables.

    Cattle are not allowed to be slaughtered prior to an antemortem
    inspection, period! This is under the direction of a veterinarian that
    does NOT work for the packers. The instance you speak of is very
    disturbing, and I assure you not the norm! It’s amazing how one case of
    wrong-doings by a single company can change the perspective of the
    entire population of people in this country. I assure you, not one
    person in the entire livestock industry (from the producer to the
    packer) condones such heinous acts!

    The incidence of
    bovine spongiform encephalopathy that has occurred in the US was from an
    animal of Canadian origin. The “cow that stole Christmas” as it was
    labelled, if you remember happened in December 2003, and it resulted in
    huge detriments to the beef industry in this country. Another instance
    blown completely out of proportion by the media, and used as propaganda
    to make us look bad. Packers are required to remove any and all brain
    and spinal cord tissue in animals as a result of this. Furthermore, down
    animals are not legally allowed to enter the food chain for human
    consumption, ever!

    The myth about farms becoming
    industrialized is just that, a myth. With a little perusing the
    internet, you can find this by looking into statistics from the National
    Agricultural Statistics Service. We respect our animals, and take care
    of them using the most modern technology available (at least those
    producers who remain in business do). Those who chose to use old,
    outdated methods to manage their animals will become victim to the
    “Technology Treadmill” and be forced to sell the back 40, and move to
    the city for a job.

    Cattle finished on grass take up way more land, they use way more resources, and they produce way more methane than grain-fed animals. The microbial ecosystem that exists between this two types of production are completely different, and corn-fed is certainly way more efficient, and does not produce anywhere near the “greenhouse gases” that grass-fed does.

    In conclusion, I can in all honesty tell
    you that these animals are being cared for. Do you even know what the
    profit margin is to raise cattle. It is very narrow. Feedlots operate on
    percents of a penny, and often still do not turn a profit. I don’t
    think you are browbeating me into coming to congruency with your
    thoughts on the topic, solely because I know the truth! With that being
    said, I challenge you to find one reputable source from a peer-reviewed
    journal article that are either: 1) not in agreement with everything I
    have said; 2) in agreement with everything you have said.

    But
    I  fear not, I have no worries because this is not the first time I’ve had
    this opportunity to clarify the situation at hand, and I am sure it is
    far from the last.

    Now, excuse me while I go back to work on
    my term paper about the use of implants in beef cattle and its effects
    on the somatotropic axis, growth hormone, insulin like growth factor-I,
    and the environment (which by the way do not have any impact on human
    health, or the environment). Just a little food for thought: soybean oil
    and cabbage are higher in estrogen than any serving beef from an animal
    which has been implanted with a steroidal growth promotant; and the
    number one environmental contamination source for synthetic hormones is
    oral contraception.

    • Indiancreekangus

      Dear Grad Student in Animal Sciences,
      We commend you for pursuing several degrees in an important field, and we appreciate the opportunity you have offered to engage in a debate about the merits of grain-finished vs. grass-fed beef.  The debate is larger than that of course, because it encompasses chemical farming vs. organic farming as well. And while we welcome your opinions, it is doubtful that any of us know the “REAL goings on here,” as you imply that you do. In fact, your blog entry seems to be cut and pasted from something else you wrote, because many of your examples do not refer to our website or blog at all.
      While it is true that the CAFO (feedlot) system has made beef accessible and inexpensive for the American public, it has also changed the nutritional content of grass-finished beef and has had significant environmental impact. This is not simply popular cultural wisdom; this is supported by scientists in peer-reviewed journals. The “Eat Wild” website contains many good articles for you to consider.
      In addition, we are aware that cattle do not eat corn their whole lives, since before offering grass-fed beef our farm was a cow/calf operation. And yes, corn is a grass, except when the grain is harvested—then it is a grain. Second, you are absolutely correct that CAFO beef is not the leading cause of E. coli, but there is a much greater incidence of E coli in industrial beef processing than in smaller processors like we use.
      You are also correct that cattle finished on grass take up more land, and pasture land that is well managed and rotationally grazed becomes richer and denser with foliage and nutrients. It is not a bad thing to keep land in pasture. It sure beats land used for a feedlot or a parking lot. Explain to us how CAFO cattle produce less methane than pastured cattle.
      You are also correct that farmers care for their animals and that the profit margin for a cattle ranch is very narrow. We completely agree with you; but the profit margin is even narrower if you are farming organically and keeping your product local like we are.  
      You might take a look at the funding that Ag programs in the U.S. receive from chemical companies to train students like yourself in the best application of their chemicals. Only a handful of universities offer programs that teach organic farming and sustainable practices. You are quick to chastise farmers who do not operate in the area of beef production that you are studying, but we suggest that a well-rounded education would allow you to understand alternative approaches and why some farmers are moving away from dependence on fossil fuels and toward a more sustainable, locally-based beef industry.
       
       

      • mrm.cattle

        The main sources of energy in ruminants comes from the volatile fatty acids produced during microbial fermentation processes in the rumen. The microbial population inhabiting the rumens of grass-fed cattle produce more acetate. Along with an increased production of acetate, comes an increased production of methane. This increased production of methane represents an inefficiency of production. because: 1) lost in eructation 2) loss of carbon that could be going elsewhere

        Cattle which consume grain diets have more propionate, less acetate, and less methane = more efficient animal and less environmental impact.

        The Union for Concerned Scientists (UCS) is a joke, and I assure you their “research” is biased. No ethical scientist would benefit from saying what he/she was paid to say, or altering their data to show the desired results. It is what it is!

        Ofcourse a larger operation would be expected to have more incidences related to food safety.

        I don’t have any issues with niche markets like yours. What I do have an issue with is using false statements, and half-truths to sell a product that is no better or no more inferior than commodity beef. In the end, it hurts everyone in the beef industry.

        Case in point, read this journal article and see how the “Eat Wild” uses it as propaganda. You will also find proof of what I’ve said above.

        https://www.agronomy.org/publications/jeq/articles/32/1/269?highlight=JmFydGljbGVfdm9sdW1lPTMyJmFydGljbGVfZmlyc3RwYWdlPTI2OSZxPShqb3VybmFsOmplcSkmbGVuPTEwJnN0YXJ0PTEmc3RlbT1mYWxzZSZzb3J0PQ%3D%3D

        The Seirra Club? Come on, are they serious?

        Chicken manure fed in feedlots? Chickens are produced in the southeast. Cattle are fed in the midwest. There’s no relation. In fact, chicken manure used to be utilized on pastured cattle because it is an excellent source of non-protein nitrogen.

        I could go on for hours here debunking the “Eat Wild” people.

        I didn’t mean to offend you, but I cannot apologize for stating the truth.

        I suggest to you that if you want to build your business, do it in a way that does not make other producers look like the enemy.

        There’s a lot of the grass-fed people who have joined together to promote their products in a way  that even someone like myself supports.