How cows are fed affects the quality and composition of the meat and milk they produce. It also has an impact on the environment. And, while eating grass-fed meat and dairy has become somewhat of a fad as of late, there are some key reasons why you should consider making the switch.
But first, what does ‘grass-fed’ really mean? While the use of this label should mean that the cows are raised solely on a grass diet and never fed any grains, the enforcement process is somewhat lax and some grass-fed cows are finished with grains. In general, though, grass-fed cows:
- Have a diet of 100 percent grass
- Have daily access to outdoor space, sunlight, and fresh air, except in extreme weather
- Are fed stored hay during the winter months
Here are 3 compelling reasons why you should seek out grass-fed products.
- Cows that eat grass are healthier
The bottom line is that cows are meant to eat grass and to roam freely on pasture as much as possible. Cows raised on conventional farms live in dirty, overcrowded feedlots and exist on a diet of corn and soy products, since they’re cheap to grow and harvest and fatten the animals up quickly. But cows aren’t meant to digest this type of food and the high starch content negatively affects their microbiome.
Cows fed corn and soy-based diets are likely to develop digestive problems, including bloating, excess gas, liver abscesses. They’re also more susceptible to E.coli infections, which can infect those who consume the meat. You wouldn’t eat vegetables that are rotting, so why consume meat (or dairy) from an animal with potentially serious health issues?
- Grass-fed cows produce more nutrient dense food
The corn and soy-based feed given to cows in conventional, feedlot operations often contain genetically modified ingredients and may contain traces of synthetic pesticides and herbicides. To maximize growth and prevent illness, these cows may also be given growth hormone and antibiotics – both of which make their way into the beef and dairy products that you consume.
In contrast, grass-fed cows do not receive hormones, antibiotics, or any GMO feed (since, of course, they only eat grass). Studies show that the food produced from these cows contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), and antioxidants like beta-carotene, vitamin D, and vitamin E. In fact, a study released by Organic Valley found that their grass-fed milk had 147 percent more omega-3 and 125 percent more CLA than conventional milk. If you’ve ever compared grass-fed and grain-fed steaks side-by-side, you probably noticed that the grass-fed beef is richer in color, texture, and flavor. This is due, at least in part, to its higher nutritional value.
- It doesn’t contribute to water pollution
Whether it’s grain-fed or grass-fed, there’s no question that raising cattle takes a heavy environmental toll. But while both methods of raising cows consume significant amounts of water, industrial cattle farming has a much higher grey water footprint. It pollutes the groundwater and surface with farm field runoff of fertilizers and pesticides, which can have a major negative impact on freshwater and marine systems. With grass-fed cattle, there is little to no risk of contamination from things like fertilizers, pesticides, and growth hormones, as these substances aren’t generally used in this method of raising cows.