The benefits of grass fed beef have been widely known for some time now, but how can a non farmer be sure they’re getting the real deal? It really pains me that this is so, but there are unethical producers out there and we all run the risk of being taken in by them. Hopefully I can help you reduce that risk. My name is Gabriel New and I’ve been farming for five years and using rotational grazing with animals for four of those years. We currently raise beef and dairy cattle, dairy goats and chickens.
First, get your potential supplier talking about their farm/ranch. They will probably be happy to do so and will volunteer most of the information for which you’re looking. They should invite you out to see their farm, but if not, don’t be afraid to ask if you can visit. Make sure you ask about what they feed and what they use for medication when needed.
I don’t want this to be a negative article, but since that’s what the media hype focuses on, let’s get those things out of the way. Here’s a few things I don’t like in my beef: hormones and steroids (usually in the form of implants in the animal’s ear), synthetic wormers, vaccinations and of course the big one – grain. Why would I even mention grain, after all, didn’t I start by talking about grass fed? Surprising as it is, many ranchers think that “some” grain doesn’t disqualify their animals from being called “grass fed”, after all, grain fed beef comes from feedlots and their cattle are out on pasture! So it’s good to double check and make sure that they feed no grain at all. Now for the good stuff: are the cattle on pasture? Not just the typical pasture that you see from the highway that looks like a mangy dog with overgrown weeds next to bald spots, but consistently tall and diverse forage. Ideally they’ll be using portable electric fence rather than just permanent fencing. It should look something like this:
If the pasture they’ll be moving onto is short, you’ll probably be disappointed in the quality of the meat. Taller grass gives them a better selection and prevents the need to graze closely to the manure that was left on the last rotation. Consistently high quality forage is necessary for the health of the animal and this is achieved by giving them a new buffet every day, or even more often than that. The animals should not be spread out over a huge pasture, but “mobbed up” densely on a small piece mimicking the behavior of large herds that existed before mankind came along and put up lots of fences. That might look something like this:
Or it might look a lot less dense, depending on the time of year.
The key thing you’re looking for is that they’re on good forage and consistently being rotated to fresh pasture. The other big thing is soil life. Look for worm castings and dung beetle activity. If there aren’t any, or many, that tells you something is very wrong.
I hope this has helped you. If you’d like to ask some more questions, feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/New-Eden-Farm/546688835347559
My farm, New Eden Farm is Stop #15 on the 2013 Arts & Ag Tour this Memorial Day Weekend. You’ll be able to tour the farm, learn about what we do, and sample some of my naturally raised, grass fed beef.