This film clip talks about the small but important trend towards grass-finished beef ranching, pasture management, environmental stewardship, and prairie grassland habitat restoration here in Alberta, Canada.
Do you know the difference between grass-fed beef and grass-finished beef? A friend that I consider a real food lover asked me the what the difference is last week and I thought – wow, if he doesn’t know then how many other people don’t understand the difference and what it means for the health of the animal, the land and the humans who enjoy beef? This blog will discuss the difference between grass-fed and grass-finished cattle in more detail. If you are keen to read this I’m sure you’ll enjoy the 12 minute film above. It’s loaded with the beauty of Alberta and her precious grasslands.
All beef are grass-fed at some point in their lives. Calves are born anytime in Alberta from January to late spring and all will spend at least that first spring and summer on grass and their mother’s milk. So, you see, it really is a truthful claim for any rancher to say their cattle are naturally grass-fed. That is, to a point.
Conventional-industrial cattle are hard-weaned at some point in their first year, sent to a CAFO – Centralized Animal Feeding Operation – Feedlot where they are most likely given antibiotics, implanted monthly with a growth hormone, given ionophores (substances to help the fatty grains cross into their blood stream more easily) in their ever-increasing ratio of grain feed and kept in a small penned area with as many as 100 to 10,000 other cattle to fatten as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. They may or may not be put out on grass the following summer before being sold to slaughter at average age 14 – 19 months. They are likely shipped to one of two major slaughter houses in Alberta and mixed with cattle from Ontario or the States and as long as any of those animals undergo a 70% change in that slaughtering facility they can then be labelled as Alberta Beef. This product is then sold at major grocery chains.
Grass-finished beef refers to cattle that are born on a ranch and raised on the grasslands of that ranch until the day comes when they are loaded up and driven to a smaller slaughterhouse, abattoir or butcher to be killed and processed. The rancher then claims their orders and delivers them to individual customers or small organic or natural grocers. It usually takes a full year longer to get a grass-finished cattle to gain enough weight so that they will achieve the Triple A rating for marbling and subsequent taste that consumers desire so these cattle get to live on the ranch they were born until about 24 – 29 months on average.
While conventional beef ranches in Alberta have shrunk from about 39,000 before BSE was found in Alberta in 2003 to half that number now, the number of grass-finished beef ranches are rising by 15% per year.
You can see my list of ranches raising grass-finished cattle here.
Now, I hope you understand the difference between grass-fed and grass-finished beef and I know that the lovely film by the Operation Grassland Community will do the rest of the work in explaining how grass-finished cattle will help us reach a cow-tipping-point where we can return Alberta’s native prairie grasslands to their original habitat of health.
When you start to savour your food, you can’t help but savour life – including cattle and all the wildlife that require native prairie grasslands for survival – right along with it.