Grass-fed beef has many benefits over conventional beef, but first and foremost is flavor. If that fact alone is enough to get you to try it, stop here and head to the store! If you need a little more encouragement and a few more facts, read on.
Enteric emissions of the bovine variety (that's right, cow burps) are loaded with methane gas. Methane gas is a greenhouse gas, which means it's bad for the environment and potentially dangerous to human health and welfare. Many good citizens are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, but is the real culprit of climate change out munching on hay?
Therein lies the problem. Cows aren't eating hay. Cows do not easily digest grain and yet in feed lots they are being fed corn and soy. Cows are not carnivores and yet they are being fed animal byproducts. They withstand this alien diet by receiving regular doses of antibiotics to counteract their stomach disorders. (And stomach disorders are a real bummer when you have four stomachs.) They also burp a lot to relieve the gas that builds up as a result of their poor diet (and yes, most of the gases are emitted through the front end versus the back end.)
Cows are ruminants which means they are able to extract nourishment from grasses and hay through a fermentation and digestion process that for cows requires four stomach chambers to accomplish. Let a cow eat pasture grass and she doesn't get stomach disorders. Veterinarian bills go down, the meat is healthier (due to the beneficial Omega 3s in the grasses) and the cow burps diminish.
With pasture raised cattle there is also an overall reduction in the energy required to put a steak on the table. Rather than growing corn and soy and then processing the grains to feed the cattle, pasture cattle find their own food. Even better, there's no need for synthetic fertilizer (which is created from fossil fuels) because cattle that are eating grass produce the best fertilizer there is - manure. (Manure from feedlot cattle cannot be used as fertilizer because it's loaded with toxins.)
To fatten a cow on grass takes 9 to 12 months longer then it does to fatten a cow in a feedlot since feedlot cattle get a lot of help from science. Time is money, which means grass-fed beef is more expensive than the conventional (feed lot) beef you see in your grocery store. However, considering the health, environmental, and taste benefits a few extra bucks is worth it.
If your local grocery story doesn’t carry grass-fed beef, try your farmers market. It's likely that a grass-fed beef rancher will be there, but if not, ask the other growers if they know of any ranchers who sell grass-fed beef. You can usually get a price cut if you buy in quantity, such as a half or quarter of a cow cut into serving sizes.
For more information about grass-fed producers, go to the website for the American Grassfed Association. They can help you find a producer near you and even give you tips on cooking this lean, earthy meat.