Let us begin by admitting that when there is a conflict of interest, between multpile things that matter a great deal to us, it can be a predicament. Who wants to be forced to prioritze things like their own health, the health of their environment, and the health of animals?
Well, the good news is when it comes to properly run 100% grass fed and finished beef or lamb operations, you don't have to! Strictly grass fed operations, for certain livestock, CAN BE healthier for us, the animals we raise, and our environment.
For The People: Grass fed beef and lamb is more nutrious and better for you than their conventional grain fed counterparts. Both of these red meats are higher in antioxidants, vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and a beneficial fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) that have been tied to improved immunity and anti-inflammation benefits. Beef and lamb are excellent sources of niacin, zinc, and iron. HOWEVER, even though we produce and promote grass fed animal protein on our farm, we do not want to contribute to a reputation of red meat being healthier for you than it actually is. Overconsumption is a real health problem in our country. But when all other medical advice and recommendations - from portion sizes to frequency of consumption - is being adhered to, we do believe grass fed beef and lamb is the superior option over grain fed.
For The Animals: Cattle and sheep are a specific type of herbivore called "ruminants." These animals and their digestive tracts have evolved to take advantage of forage. Their rumen (the first of their four stomach chambers) is filled with microbes and enzymes specifically designed to break down the tough cellulose structure of grass, allowing them to extract proteins and carbohydrates from available forage. Sheep and cattle did not, however, evolve to live on grain which requires a completely different set of enzymes for digestion and a completely different digestive process to unlock the nutrients. Remarkably, ruminants are able to switch between the grass-digesting microbes and the grain-digesting microbes in their stomachs but at a cost to their own health. A high-grain and concentrate diet is difficult on the ruminant’s digestive system and often causes upsets or metabolic disorders. Ruminants on prolonged high-grain diet have a short natural life expectancy. Their livers will eventually fail because of all the toxins produced during the acidic grain-digestion process. We, as humans, have introduced and required our ruminant livestock to eat grains and other concentrates (e.g., corn, soy, byproducts) because these ingredients are inexpensive (still more costly than grass) and convenient to use and result in fast growth. The speed of our food supply has become more important than what is best and most natural for the animals themselves.
For The Planet: Livestock production is easily one of the most environmentally destructive processes on the planet. But it does not have to be this way. We do not need to stop producing livestock we just have to change "how" we are producing livestock. The high-volume livestock production system, enabled by feeding grain in concentrated feed lots, is the predominate method used today. It is a source of negative impacts on the planet. Between the deforestation that occurs to grow billions of pounds of soy and corn for livestock feed, and the air and water pollution caused by the enormous amounts of animal waste created on factory farms, why are we suprised that it is unsustainable? The system appears to be the most economically viable option to produce maximum outputs of meat, dairy, and eggs at a low cost, but the true cost is only hidden and delayed. On a grass fed livestock system we cut out all the unneccessary inputs and waste. Did you know that North Americans waste more than 18 million tons of protein by feeding livestock on grain? A steer must eat 21 pounds of grain protein in order to produce one pound of beef protein . . . so 20 pounds of the valuable nutrient is lost in the process. That's not even mentioning all the fossil fuels being used to run heavy machinery for the growing, harvesting, and processing those grains. Of course there are challenges to grass fed livestock production, namely volume and higher retail prices but that is another conversation for another time (perhaps a blog?) but that does not negate the fact that grass fed production methods are healthier for the planet.
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