You may have heard 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, 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, barley or wheat during the later period of their life. Cattle eat “locally”, using the feeds grown in the region. This diet change is what
promotes marbling in the meat. Both methods are used in Canada. Approximately 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 meat are small and make little impact on human health in the context of a whole diet.
Pigs can be raised indoors or outside, but since most breeds don’t have fur or woolly coats to keep them warm in Canada’s cold winter weather, it is difficult for them to live outdoors all year long. That’s why most pigs in Canada live in specially-designed barns with heating and fans—or “curtains” that can be opened—to keep a steady, comfortable climate indoors year-round, and to protect the animals against disease.
Sows and piglets
Sows are female pigs that “farrow” or give birth to a litter of piglets twice a year. Each litter usually includes 12 to 16 piglets. Just before giving birth, most sows go into special enclosures called farrowing pens where they stay until they’ve finished nursing their piglets. They can lean against the bars of the pens as they lie down— that’s to make sure they don’t accidentally lie down on top of their piglets and crush them. The pens allow farmers to monitor the piglets and sows closely during this critical time, and also include a special area next to the sow where the piglets sleep and can be kept warm with a heat lamp or a heating pad. Once they are weaned from their mothers, piglets live in groups with other pigs the same size or age. After 2029, sows will be living in groups too as individual stalls are being phased out in Canada. Farmers, researchers, and other welfare experts work continually to improve how pigs are raised, and research in pig health, behaviour and housing is ongoing in Canada and around the world.
Bison, elk, rabbits, and more
Beyond the traditional farm animals to which we’ve just introduced you, Canadian farmers also raise many other types of animals on their farms, especially for consumers who are looking for more diverse food choices including deer, elk, bison, rabbit, and duck, for meat. Wool from alpacas and llamas is prized for its cashmere-like softness, and some farmers milk water buffalo to produce specialty cheeses like buffalo mozzarella.