Farm Animals

Beef cattle

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Sarah Sebastian

Grass-fed or grain-fed

You may have heard or seen the terms “grass-fed” and “grain-fed” beef. These terms are related to what beef cattle eat before going to market. Grass-fed means that the cattle are raised on pasture, and supplemented with hay or silage in the winter, for their entire life. Grain-fed cattle are raised on pasture before being transitioned to a diet consisting primarily of corn or barley during the later period of their life—this change is what helps give the meat its marbling. Both methods are used in Canada to raise beef cattle in a sustainable, environmentally responsible manner. About 80 per cent of the feed that all beef cattle eat during their life is based on grass.

So, which is better for you?

Both! Beef from both grass-fed and grain-finished cattle contributes a wide variety of nutrients important to our health. Most studies agree that the nutritional differences between these two types of beef are small.

Specific breeds of cattle that are raised for meat are called beef cattle.

Canada’s major beef cattle breeds include Aberdeen Angus, Charolais, Hereford, Simmental, Limousin, Maine-Anjou, Salers, Gelbvieh, and Shorthorn, and farmers choose which breed or breeds to raise based on the characteristics of each breed.

Beef cows and their calves typically live on pasture during spring, summer, and fall, eating mostly a grass diet. Their thick coat of fur means that, with adequate shelter and a steady supply of feed and water, they can live outdoors comfortably all year long.

When beef cattle reach a weight of approximately 400 to 460 kilograms (about 900 to 1,000 pounds), they usually move from fields and ranges to open-air yards or barns called feedlots, where they can be managed more closely.

In feedlots, cattle are slowly switched from a diet of mainly forages (grasses and other plants) to a higher energy diet of grains (like barley or corn), hay silage (chopped and naturally fermented plants), minerals, and hay. This process helps make marbled, high-quality grades of beef. Marbling is the existence of small white flecks of fat that run through lean meat, which contributes to its flavour and tenderness.

Beef Feedlot
Farm Boy Productions
Beef Feedlot