Why do some farms Grain Feed?

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What do farms grain feed?

Given the growing customer sentiments towards fully grass fed and grass finished livestock, it is a fair to wonder why farms choose to grain feed their cattle. 

Some misconceptions about grain feeding

When I first started the Half A Cow marketplace, I assumed that grain fed cattle were also always feedlot cattle. I had also assumed that feedlot cattle had a very poor quality of life. 

Both of these assumptions turned out to be totally incorrect!

Many cattle which are ‘finished” on grain or other feeds are also totally free range / pasture raised. 

This means that they can wander around eating grass and enjoying the wide open spaces, and if they wish, can also take a snack of grain. My assumption was that all grain fed cattle were held in small pens and not able to move around. Yes, I eat meat, but I would prefer the animals had a happy life!

What does "Finishing" mean?

Many animals on the site will be described as “grass fed, grain finished” or some combination of the two.

Finishing Type refers to what the animal eats in the last 30, 60, 90 or 120 days of its life. The longer the finishing time, the more pronounced the impact of that feed type. Animals which are just finished on grass, don’t have a ‘finishing time’ listed.

A grain fed animal will typically put on more weight, and more fat then a grass fed animal. So the longer the animal is grain fed, the more ‘intramuscular fat” will be present. This is how we achieve the very high marbling scores with Wagyu cows. There simply isn’t enough nutritional content in grass to achieve the same goal.

Reasons for Grain Feeding

Not enough alternative feed

If there’s not enough grass, you gotta feed something! This can be a grain based product, but non grain food supplements to exist and are widely used. Sometimes droughts and other natural disasters can occur, ruining grasses for 12 months. Grain stores for long periods and is a very dense feed type.

Product consistency

If you know exactly how much, and what kind of nutrition an animal is getting on a day to day basis, it is much easier to know exactly how the meat will appear and taste. Grain can be very ‘consistent” in its nutritional profile, unlike grasess which are effected by time of year, soils and temperatures. 

Grains are tested and graded for feed quality, and can be sourced outside of the immedate area. 

Timing of product

Grass can be fickle, if it’s too cold and wet, the grass simply doesn’t carry nutritional value into the cow. It might look green, but it might not be providing enough food for an animal to grow.
This is why some of our “grass fed, grass finished” farmers can have trouble locking in a delivery date. A cold snap, or a week of rain literally makes the grass useles

A well run feedlot will know, down to the day, exactly when their cows will be ready for processing many weeks in advance. 

Not enough nutrition in the grass

Similar to the above, sometimes nature doesn’t play the game. Growing a steer to 500kg or so live weight takes a lot of grass!
Sometimes a supplemental feed will be provided to help animals keep, or even add condition (weight)
Grain feeding allows animals to be ‘finished’ when it is colder, or in areas where there simply wouldn’t be enough grass to support optimal animal condition. 

Flavour Profile

Fat = Flavour as the saying goes! Yes you can get fat marbling through meat with grass, but it’s a heck of a lot easier with grain!
I prefer a slightly fattier cut of meat ( like the scotch fillet ) but if my girlfriend had her way she’d only ever eat Eye Fillet 😃
Having tried a wide variety of different breeds and finishing types over the last year… for research purposes of course! … I can say that I prefer a slightly fattier finish to my steaks!

A summary

We’re lucky enough to have a wide range of farmers who offer different ‘finishes” to their animals whether it’s Pork, Lamb or Beef!
There’s probably no “right” way to farm, but the different approaches taken by the many farms on our platform, give our customers the freedom to choose what works for them.
Hopefully we’ve helped clarify why a farm would choose to grain feed, and demonstrated how it’s a vital part of our livestock puzzle!

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