Farm | Grass-fed vs. Grass-Finished vs. Pasture-Raised What the Label Really Means

grass-fed beef and lamb madison wisconsin

Grass-fed vs. Grass-Finished vs. Pasture-Raised

What the Label Really Means

I think most people would agree knowledge is power. Our food system has done a really good job of disguising itself and today I want to take some time to give you a little more insight into what popular beef and lamb labels actually mean, it might surprise you how little information they actually give.

Grass-Fed

Grass-fed is probably the most over-used and deceiving label in the beef and lamb industry. This label essentially means that the beef or lamb you’re eating was fed grass or hay during SOME point of it’s life, often the beginning. This does not mean the animal was fed 100% grass and/or hay for it’s entire life. This label also doesn’t mean it spent any time eating pasture grasses. It could simply be ‘feed-lot’ beef that were raised on hay and later ‘finished’ on grain.

Grass-Finished

This label is your best confirmation that your beef was raised on 100% grass. This label can only be used when the beef or lamb was raised on grass and then ‘finished’ (brought up to final weight) on grass and/or hay. Grass-finished, like grass-fed, does not mean the animal spent time grazing pastures but at least you can be certain it was raised on grass alone. If you’re interested in the health benefits of grass-fed beef you’ll want to look for a label that says grass-fed and grass-finished beef, or ask your farmer.

Pasture-Raised

This label means that the beef or lamb you’re eating was raised on grass fields. It again does not mean it spent it’s whole life grazing lush fields (many pasture raised animals are still supplemented with grain) and it also doesn’t mean it was only fed grass and/or hay for it’s entire life. It simply means it spent some of it’s life on ‘pastures’ which is defined rather loosely. ‘Pastures’ can be overgrown fields or over-grazed fields so buying pasture-raised doesn’t mean that the animal got it’s nutrition from them, but it didn’t live it’s life in confinement so that’s a plus if you’re looking for a more humane burger.

Free-Range

Very few livestock are truly ‘free range’, meaning they can wander wherever there heart’s desire, at least that’s what you’d assume by this label right? This label is probably most common in the chicken or egg industry but I’ve been asked in the past if my cattle are ‘free range’ as well.

Let me assure you that the chicken or eggs on your grocery shelf didn’t come from chickens who were running around and laying eggs anywhere they please or pecking around an old farmhouse for grubs. It simply means (in most cases) that they had larger cages and were able to ‘move’ instead of spending their life confined to a cage the size of their bodies. So I guess the label is an upgrade but it’s likely not what you first assumed.

In my opinion it is not ‘best practice’ to let animals ‘free range’ due to predators and other hazards found on commercial or small scale farms. And this label in my opinion is as vague as the term ‘grass-fed’ or ‘sustainable’.

What Are You Actually Buying?

What’s the best way to know what you’re actually buying? Knowing your farmer of course, do I preach that enough?. If 100% grass-fed and finished is important to you, ask. If a humane life growing on green pastures is what’s important to you, ask. If knowing the animal was harvested in a humane manner is important to you, ask. The beauty of getting to know your farmer is that you’ll be confident that the product you feed yourself and your family fits the criteria you’re searching for.

Here at Homestead we raised grass-fed, grass-finished, pasture-raised beef. We harvest our animals on these pastures and my promise to you is to always be open to any questions about our practices.

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breaking down beef and lamb labels