by Myra Nissen
Cows naturally eat grasses. The term “grass-fed” generally refers to meat obtained from cows that were raised after weaning on a diet of grass and other forage (like clover) situated in pasture. When fresh grass is unavailable, they are fed hay.
The University of Illinois conducted a study of the fatty acids (fat molecules) in grain-fed and grass-fed beef tallow.1 The most notable differences between the two samples were the total concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids and the balance between the alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) and linoleic acid (omega-6) forms of these fatty acids. Grass-fed tallow had 45 percent less polyunsaturated fatty acids, 66 percent less omega-6, and four times more omega-3. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids was over sixteen for the grain-fed tallow, but only 1.4 for the grass-fed tallow, a significantly healthier ratio.
How cattle is finished makes a difference. Most cattle spend the majority of their lives in pastures eating grass before moving to a feedlot for grain-finishing before slaughter. Grass-finished beef cattle remain on a pasture and forage diet or fed hay at the feed-lot.
Never-frozen, grass-fed beef has to be purchased from the source. It cannot be shipped because it is highly perishable. Never-frozen, grass-fed beef must be refrigerated and will last approximately one week. Usually, small boutique farmers do not butcher an animal unless there is a demand for the entire steer, which is about 600lbs, based on the principle of waste not, want not; imagine the times when the American buffalo lay slaughtered on the plains.
Wet-aged is beef has been butchered, cut, and wrapped in plastic. The meat ages as it sits in the package and is allowed to age in its own blood. Most commercial meat is wet-aged.
Dry-aged meat is allowed to hang at refrigerated temperature for up to 30 days. Dry aging reduces the weight due to evaporation. It allows the natural enzymes and bacteria to break down the tissues, which enhances the texture and flavor of the meat.
The grass-fed labeling standard was originally published in the Federal Register on May 12, 2006. Unfortunately, in January 2016, this standard was rescinded by the Ument of Agriculture.2 With this labeling standard unavailable, it is more important than ever to know your farmer and how they tend their animals.
Flying Cow Farm has 100% grass-fed, 100% grass-finished, dry-aged beef. Their cows are raised on organic and sometimes conventional grasses (when organic seed is not available) grown in a year-round irrigated pasture. No GMOs, antibiotics, or steroids are ever used. Ewa has been a member of our chapter, WAPF Chapter Serving Concord/Walnut Creek/Pleasant Hill Area, since its inception. She and Rick, her husband, also own Moose Metal in Concord.
Sobilo, Ewa, Owner, Flying Cow Farm, Exparto, CA. Interview, http://flyingcow.farm. (Meat is available in Concord, CA by appointment and at several local farmers’ markets.)
1Masterjohn, Christopher, Fatty Acid Analysis of Grass-fed and Grain-fed Beef Tallow, 01/21/2014, https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/know-your-fats/fatty-acid-analysis-of-grass-fed-and-grain-fed-beef-tallow/
2National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, USDA Revokes Grass Fed Label Standard, press release, 01/12/2016, http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/release-usda-revokes-grass-fed-label-standard/