Grass-Fed Dairy and Beef Cattle | What They Mean to You


March 15, 2018

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Whether raised as beef cattle or dairy cows, the food bovines eat has a major effect on the food they produce.

Conventionally Raised Cattle

At between 6 and 12 months of age, conventionally raised cattle are moved to feedlots, often huge ones, called concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Here the animals are confined—sometimes severely and inhumanely—and quickly fattened up via grains, typically soy or corn.

It gets worse.

The animals are often injected with drugs, including steroids to make them grow faster, and antibiotics to help them survive their filthy living conditions.

And it’s not just the cattle that suffer.

America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concerns about CAFOs because they generate millions of tons of manure that threaten both the environment and public health. Animal waste from CAFOs contains disease-causing organisms and as well as steroids, antibiotics, and pesticides. And when the animal waste seeps into streams, rivers, and lakes, the pollution endangers wildlife, domesticated animals, and humans.

Grain-Fed, Pasture-Raised Cattle

Cattle that are fed grass and similar vegetation in pastures are a healthier alternative to grain-fed CAFO-raised animals

This grass-fed bovine lifestyle offers important benefits to the consumer.

Grass-fed beef has less total fat than meat from grain-fed animals, meaning fewer calories for diet-conscious meat eaters.

Grass-fed beef also contains substantially more omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acids (CLA), both of which have considerable health benefits, as well as higher levels of other nutrients, including vitamins A, B3, B6, B12, and E, plus iron, zinc, and potassium.

For milk cows, grass feeding makes dairy products richer in omega-3 fats, beta-carotene, CLA, calcium, and vitamins B2, B12, D, and E.

The Long-Lived Cow: A Vermont Dairy Farm Case Study

Vermont dairy farmer Steve Judge looked into the issue of grain-feeding versus grass-feeding for dairy cattle.

He found that cows bred for milk production, such as Holsteins, Jerseys, and Guernseys, can thrive on a forage-based diet.

He states without compunction, “What is bad for cows is a diet of all corn or all-corn silage, or diets with very high concentrations of soy or other grains.”

Judge continues, “Unfortunately cows can produce lots of milk on these high concentrate diets, but they often suffer health problems and generally don’t live very long. The life of the average cow on a commercial [CAFO] dairy is approximately 4.5 years. A cow’s digestive system requires long-stemmed dry hay and grasses to remain healthy over the long run.”

On the other hand, he says, “A healthy, happy cow . . . can produce milk for 10 years or longer.”

He concludes, “My oldest dairy cow lived to be 17.”

Green Nature Marketing

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