Why Grass Fed and Grass Finished?

why grass fed

Our grass fed --- and finished --- beef goes well beyond "Organic" and exceeds the requirements of the USDA "grass-fed label" enacted --- November 15, 2007. Our cattle never eat grain during their lifetime. For this and the following reasons, our system of producing beef is better than that utilized by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO):

GRASS FINISHED is better for the animals because it allows them to roam free on clean grass pastures, which are more sanitary and NATURAL. They graze and live in a setting free of fertilizers, hormones, chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified grains. They are not, standing on concrete in crowded pens. They are not injected with, nor fed, antibiotics. They are never fed artificially supplemented feed stuff(s). Our processing and handling methods are considered more humane than those employed by CAFO's and major packers.

GRASS FINISHED is better for the farmer because it reduces labor and input costs. There is no need for large tractors and implements to: cultivate, plant, spray, harvest, store, grind, deliver feed and clean up the mess from confined animals. Sprays and diesel fuel are expensive. Our animals do the work. They harvest the feed and spread "black gold" --- improving soil fertility. Our managed intensive grazing system (MIG) entails opening gates into grass covered paddocks and ascertaining the water is clean and fresh.

GRASS FINISHED is better for the environment because it is an efficient and ecologically sustainable method of converting solar energy into food. Beef produced in this manner requires less transportation; less fuel consumption equals less air pollution. Because we do not plow, our grass and trees, not only feed and shelter the cattle, but sequester a considerable amount of CO2. Because there is little bare soil, we have less erosion and therefore less water pollution. Lil' Ponderosa is the proud recipient of numerous stewardship awards.

GRASS FINISHED is better for the consumer because it produces REAL FOOD of "unequaled" quality. It is lower in fat than conventionally raised beef. It is higher in many nutrients, including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), vitamin E, beta-carotene, and the essential fatty acid --- omega-3. CLA is credited with helping maintain: normal triglyceride levels, normal cholesterol levels, thyroid function, our immune system and even fighting cancer. The grass based diet, has a positive effect on the pH level in the cattle's stomach by reducing acidity. This creates a hostile environment for E coli bacteria.


I had one of the NY strip steaks for dinner last night and it was delicious! I couldn't believe how flavorful the meat was - even better than the grass-fed beef I used to buy in Pittsburgh. And it was so tender! You have a customer and a fan for life here! I just grilled it with salt, pepper (black and red) and olive oil because I like my steak to taste like steak, and again, it was amazing. So, thank you, and I'll be in touch for more.

- Mary Beth Carlisle, PA


Organic meat, poultry, and dairy products are now available at your supermarket, which is a change for the better. When you see the organic label you know, (You can hope - have you met an organic food policeman?) the food is going to be free of pesticide residues, synthetic hormones, genetically modified organisms, and a long list of questionable additives. You also have the satisfaction of knowing that raising animals organically causes less harm to the environment. But when it comes to animal production, organic is not enough. We need to be raising animals on their species-appropriate diets.

Few consumers realize--- that many producers of "organic" or "naturally raised" animal products, raise their animals in confinement and feed them grain---just like the operators of conventional feedlots. Feeding large amounts of grain to a grazing animal decreases the nutritional value of its products whether the grain is organic or conventionally raised. The reason is simple. Compared with grass, grain has far fewer omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. Therefore, grainfed animals have fewer of these important nutrients in their meat and dairy products. Grainfeeding also interferes with the creation of a cancer-fighting fight called conjugated linoleic acid or CLA. A test by an independent lab determined that milk from one of the largest organic grain-fed dairies had no more omega-3 fatty acids or CLA than milk from ordinary dairies. Similarly, meat from organic grain-fed beef has the same nutritional profile as meat from the largest Kansas feedlot.

The same story holds true for organic but confinement-raised poultry. Their meat and eggs have no more omega-3s or vitamin E than the products you find in the supermarket. (Unless the birds are given special supplements along with the grain.)

For many consumers, food safety is an even bigger concern than nutrition. Once again, grass feeding offers an important advantage. It has been known for decades that grain feeding makes a cow's digestive tract more acid. Now we know that this acidic environment speeds the growth of potentially dangerous E. coli bacteria and, even worse, makes the bugs more acid-resistant. Alarmingly, these acid-resistant bacteria are much more likely to survive the cleansing acidity of our own digestive juices and make us ill.


The Difference



First, what are the animals fed? Forage is the preferred diet of cattle. Their four stomachs enable them to grow to maturity on a natural diet of grass. Grass finished animals never eat corn or grain during their lifetime. Grass, in the vegetative stage, contributes to increased omega 3 and higher amounts of conjugated linoleic acid --- (CLA) in the animals flesh.

Ground corn, soybeans, urea, and rumensin - an antibiotic commonly fed to livestock in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO), are not healthy ingredients ---nor a species specific diet for bovine. Grain contributes to the acid content of the animal's stomach with increased risk of E.coli bacteria. Grain fed animals have lower amounts of omega 3 and CLA.


Then consider the treatment of the animals. Cattle are grazing animals. They take a bite and step forward in search of the next bite, making cuds which they deposit into their rumen. They bed down near sun set and get up at sun rise. They have a comfort zone of -4 to +77 degrees Fahrenheit. They prefer to graze during cool periods of the day and stand in the shade when it is hot. Adult animals drink approximately 30 gallons of water per day. They require good nutrition equal to 3% of their body weight.

They generate approximately 80 pounds of "fertilizer" per day. Interestingly, they exhibit behavior similar to humans.

In CAFO feedlots, cattle are not free to roam. They do not forage on grass. They are fed a diet comprised of many substances foreign to bovine. It might include: news print, chicken litter, urea, antibiotics, genetically modified grain, candy bars replete with the plastic wrappers. Cattle often are forced to stand in full sun --- all day. They have little shelter during inclement weather. One does not have to be a scientist to know ---this is contrary to the animal's natural behavior. Cattle are STRESSED in a CAFO. 100 head of cattle, in a single pen, can generate 8,000 pounds of waste per day. That folks is concentration. And, you wonder why animals are fed antibiotics?


The resources required to graze cattle include: a strong parameter fence, internal temporary fencing, and a thick sward of high brix* grass, plus legumes, herbs and forbs. An abundant supply of clean water is required --- within a short walking distance. Shelter from wind chill is necessary for winter and shade is important during hot spells in summer. Given the freedom to roam on clean pastures, cattle calve and grow to maturity without vaccinations, worming, hormone injections, and the related need for frequent handling. For example: We do not medicate animals in our closed herd of purebred Black Angus cattle on the Lil' Ponderosa.

However, in a CAFO, cattle are routinely medicated --- injected with hormones, fed antibiotics and a diet that is not species specific. A brix chart is not necessary to evaluate their feed---there is no grass. There are large buildings, pens, silos and handling facilities to erect and maintain. Large trucks and machinery are required to grow, store and feed the animals. The feed often must travel great distances, it is stored and handled numerous times. Then the animals travel several times and over great distances to the slaughter facility, then the wholesaler, then the retail supermarket and finally to your home. Imagine the land mass that must be used to spread all the waste from a 100,000 cattle in one CAFO! Simply ask yourself...do you want that operation as a neighbor?

*Brix is a term made popular by Carey Reams. It is used to measure the carbohydrate level in plant juices.


Environmental impact differences between a grass based operation and a CAFO are easily understood. A CAFO concentrates a lot of animals on smaller acreage, but the supporting acres for crops and supporting mechanisms are vast and far reaching. Consider the petroleum consumed by tractors, trucks, trains and tugs for barges. Then the fertilizer cost, the grinding and mixing, the nutrient management headaches and spills.

Grass based cattle finishing operations are surely more sustainable and eco-friendly. Folks comment when visiting our farm...we cannot believe that you are managing over 100 head of cattle on the Lil' Ponderosa. "We cannot smell them."


Finally, what are the risks of consuming food produced in a grass based system versus a concentrated animal feeding operation? In a word--- none. However, the first objection we encounter is --- "Naturally grown beef takes longer and costs more."

We simply counter with, "Are doctor visits cheap?"

We need to consider the life time costs of our diets. Do you believe you are what you eat? Further, do you believe you are what the farmer's cattle eat? It may be your next beef meal! With increased recalls, warnings from medical science and our family doctors about what we consume and the sources of our food, a word to the wise is often sufficient. The old adages ---"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." or "You can pay me now or pay me later!" may apply!


Having considered the above, we can agree there are considerable differences between grass finished beef and that produced by a CAFO. While this simple analysis is not complete, it serves to illustrate how significant beef production is regarding our health, animal welfare, and our environment and resources. To summarize:

Omega 3 and higher levels of CLA delivered by a meal of grass finished beef are preferable over an Omega 6 low CLA diet. Grass finished beef contributes to your general health and well being.

CAFO operations stress the animals with the resultant requirement for more medication---some of which is passed on to the consumer in the meat. Grass based production is more humane and produces tender and flavorful beef.

Considerable resources are required to build and support a CAFO. The total impact of a CAFO needs to be considered in terms of all the crop acreage and investment required. How much spray and fertilizer are required to grow the corn and soybeans? How much petro to harvest, dry and store the grain? How much petro is required to ship the animals and the meat?

Grass based operations sequester CO2 and have a softer footprint on the environment. Grass finishing beef produces less pollution and soil erosion while consuming fewer resources.

CAFO's, in the past, have benefited from vast government subsidies paid to corn and grain farmers/corporations. Ergo, they were able to produce cheap food using our tax $. On the Lil Ponderosa, we graze our cattle at a fraction of a CAFO's cost per head.

And, our final point is regarding economics; when you purchase from a local farm family, your food dollars flow back to your local community---not some corporation on Wall Street or in the Corn Belt. You are voting with your pocketbook! Thank you!


Is beef from your current source --- REAL FOOD?
When all things are considered, is it --- REAL CHEAP?


Congrats on your stewardship award from National Cattlemen's Beef Assoc. You've built an amazing operation up there. From someone who fishes and boats the Chesapeake 100 times a year - Thank you!

- Harry V. Annapolis, MD


It was a pleasure meeting listening, learning, and doing business with you. I am sure we will meet with you again in the near future. Your Farm, Cattle, and Words are an inspiration.

- Don M. Watson Farm RI Grange


We enjoyed our visit and definitely enjoy the steaks! We named the kitty "Queen Ester". She is doing great! The kids are having a blast with her. Paul is excited about the meat; I shared your tips on grilling with him and it was the best he's ever done!

- Cheryl R. Ft. Meade, MD


Wow! The beef you produce is so different from "store bought" in so many ways, all better. So, I want to enter myself onto your list of customers. I've attached an order. Let me know when to pick it up. I'm anxious to show Joan the Ponderosa.

- Henry L. Camp Hill, PA


We had a wonderful afternoon!! The food was top notch! An afternoon with good friends and lots of laughter does the heart and soul a world of good. Cathy and I had NY Strips tonight and they were the best pieces of beef we've ever had --no exaggeration. As Cathy was broiling them, the aroma was delightful.

- Harry and Cathy C, Dillsburg, PA


The meat was wonderful---all the better since we know the care and dedication you and your family take bringing it to our table. We don't have a source for meat nearly as good as yours here in Philly--it's well worth the drive for the quality and peace of mind.

- Alison and Niel McD Philadelphia, PA


As far as comparison points, there is nothing that compares to what you have in the market place--- especially, for the health conscious consumer. I would certainly agree that your product is: TOP CHOICE. Which is the same grade as the CERTIFIED ANGUS PRODUCT we handle @ A.W.I. Note: Only 8 % of the animals inspected reach that grade.

- A butcher from PA


We are half way through the meat supply we bought from you in May. We have enjoyed every bite of it! Without exaggeration ... it is the best beef we both ever tasted! I (Uli) thought that I didn't like steak - well, that was before I tasted Lil' Ponderosa Beef... Your ears must ring often, because we have been telling all our friends about you. Thank you so much for the wonderful product you provide and your loving care.

- Uli and Rod M. Newville, PA