What is the difference between grass fed and grain fed beef?

With so many choices, buying beef can be confusing. Grass Fed or Grain Fed?  We're here to help you decode and help you buy the best!

According to Meat & Livestock Australia(MLA), Australian beef are primarily pasture-fed and some may feed on grain-based diets in the last few days depending on climatic conditions and product specifications.

What is Grass Fed Beef? 

Grass-fed meat comes from animals that have only grazed on grass. They feed on a range of different types of grasses, depending on climate and region. In Australia, cattle and sheep are predominantly grass fed and account for, on average, approximately two-thirds of overall beef and sheep meat production.All Australian cattle spend the majority of their lives in a pasture fed environment. For an animal to be classified as grass fed it means that they have spent their entire life grazing pastures.

Grass-fed cattle have a carcass fat which appears more yellow compared to the bright white fat of grain-fed beef. This colour is due to pigments from the grass and is associated with a healthier fatty acid profile and a higher content of antioxidants.

Grain Fed vs Grass Fed by Meat Livestock Australia

What is Grain Fed Beef?

Grain-fed meat comes from animals which are fed grass for most of their lives and then transition to grain-based diets for the remainder of their lives. The number of days during which they are fed a grain-based diet varies.

Cattle that have spent part of their lives being fed a ration of grain in order to achieve a more consistent product. On average, cattle that are grain fed spend between 50 and 120 days on grain after having spent 85-90% of their lives in a grass fed environment.

Grain Fed vs Grass Fed by Meat Livestock Australia

Animals are fed a selection of grains not suitable for human consumption, including feed-grade wheat, barley, sorghum and triticale.

Grains are combined with lupins or field peas, by-products of cottonseed or canola, and silage or hay to deliver the necessary protein, carbohydrate, fat and roughage required to ensure nutritional requirements are met. These ingredients are different to those used in the US, where soy and corn predominate.

 

Why is grain feeding used?

Livestock are fed grain for several reasons, including to maintain a consistent meat supply, improve eating quality, meet specific needs for niche markets (e.g. for highly marbled meat), meet the energy needs of animals when pasture is limited (such as in drought conditions) and increase animal size.

Is there a difference in flavour between grain fed and grass fed?

Grass fed beef is hailed for its delicious flavour and texture. In a pastured environment the cow’s diet will vary according to season, rainfall and access to different types of forage, which will thus impact the flavour of the meat and create more variation. This is embraced by some as a sign of nature at play, however, grain fed beef has grown in popularity, particularly in the hospitality sector, due to its consistency of flavour and quantity.

Grain fed beef often achieves more marbling and a slightly smoother texture.

Sources: 
Good Meat. 2021. Grassfed and grainfed. [online] Available at: <https://www.mlahealthymeals.com.au/faqs/grassfed-and-grainfed/#> 
Sustainable Table Australia. 2021. Beef.. [online] Available at: <https://sustainabletable.org.au/all-things-ethical-eating/beef/> 
 

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