Grass Fed Vs. Corn Fed
It once took four years to raise beef cattle. Now it’s down to sixteen months. Cattle are raised on grass, then finished on corn—plus a mix of antibiotics, hormones, and protein supplements—on industrial- sized feedlots. Supplemental grain has always been part of a domesticated cow’s diet, but cattle feed primarily based on corn is a relatively new phenomenon.
The main difference between GRASS-FED and CORN- FED BEEF has to do with physiology, or how a cow’s gut works. Cattle are ruminants. Their stomachs have multiple chambers. With grass-fed cattle, each chamber plays a role in allowing cows to digest the cellulose in grass. Grass-fed beef is lower in saturated fats, and higher in omega 3s and vitamin E.
The delicate chemistry in a cow’s rumen was never designed for a corn-based diet. It creates too much acidity and leads these animals to suffer from acidosis, bloat, ulcers, diarrhea, and a weakened immune system.
Cattle are grazing range dwellers. They eat grass. Rangelands cover nearly 40 percent of the United States and are the single largest ecotype on earth. The amount of available forage on these lands depends on a variety of factors, including climate and geography, but proper rotation grazing practices actually help these rangelands regrow by triggering photosynthesis, which pulls carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and captures carbon in the soil. CARBON SEQUESTRATION is a major weapon in the battle against climate change. That’s why some consumers buy grass-fed beef; it makes for healthier cattle and may even be better for the environment.
After unsuccessfully battling the industrial beef industry for twenty-five years growing conventially raised beef for the commodity market in St. Francis, Kansas, Mike Callicrate set off in the opposite direction. “We legislated. We litigated. Everything failed,” he recalls. “The only thing I could think thatmight work was the alternative food system; producing healthy food from a sustainable production model.”
Callicrate rebuilt his business, starting with his own regional distribution system, bypassing middlemen and the entire beef industry’s centralized processing and distribution apparatus by selling direct to consumers.
His neighbors weren’t so lucky.
“The problem with these guys is that they believed in the industrial model,” Callicrate observes. “They were told by universities and big corporations that they had to get big or get out. Now, they’ve got too much debt and too many animals. These aren’t real cattle producers who believe in STEWARDSHIP and HUSBANDRY. They’re businessmen feeding cattle, margin operators who bought into the industrial model because their paycheck depends on it, but, boy, are they having less and less fun each year, as these cattle continue to lose money and their equity disappears. They know they’re on their way to CHICKENIZATION.”