The Art of Grass Finished Beef
I’ve worked with the Strauss family for many, many years. I assisted our farmers as they transitioned from traditionally raised veal and lamb products to focus on humanely-raised. That experience ultimately lead us to start the grass fed and grass finished beef program. During my time, I’ve seen the deepest skeptics turn into the most passionate fans of what we do here at Strauss.
When breaking the status quo, it is not uncommon to meet skeptics. When it comes to grass fed beef, consumers have been told for many years that only “grain finished” beef can be high-quality. Therefore, folks are often confused, and skeptical, when they see our beautifully marbled steaks. Here’s some answers to some of the most common questions we receive about how our grass farmers can produce such great quality grass fed, grass finished beef.
Is it true that grass fed beef doesn’t taste as good as corn fed beef?
The truth is that most grass fed beef doesn’t taste that great. And, that is what inspired Tim and Randy Strauss to focus on grass fed, grass finished beef. They couldn’t find great tasting grass fed beef that their families actually enjoyed eating, either. But, we knew from our own farming backgrounds that it was possible.
See, most consumers are unaware that up to 75% of all grass fed beef sold in the USA is actually imported from foreign countries1. Some grass fed is produced from older cull cattle, unsuitable breeds, or cattle that were raised on poor quality pastures. If your grass fed beef is dark red, has noticeably yellow fat, is not tender, or has an irony flavor, it means one of three things – poor cattle quality, poor livestock nutrition, or both. Unfortunately, these are common attributes of grass fed beef products that have been imported from overseas.
Being from the Midwest, we are lucky. We have some of the highest quality pastures in the United States under our feet – and a climate that is ideal for growing quality forages. A number of our team members grew up on Midwestern family farms. So, we had a great perspective and knowledge base to work from – we understood ruminant nutrition, and how to produce quality beef without using grains. When we started our grass fed beef program over 10 years ago, we started with one goal in mind – consistently high-quality, great tasting beef.
What does “grass finished” mean?
The truth is that all beef is grass fed. Grass is a major component of every beef animal’s diet from birth until they enter what ranchers call the “finishing” phase. It is during this last phase that cattle are typically moved to the feedlot, usually for three to five months. Here they are fed a diet high in corn/grain ration to promote quick weight gain. Grain finishing is the quickest, cheapest, fastest way to prepare beef for market. But, certainly not the only way. Corn for cattle is like candy, cheesecake, or ice cream for us. Tastes great, but too much will make you unhealthy, fat and sick.
When we say our beef is grass finished, it means our cattle are “finished” or fattened for market on an all-grass diet. Strauss cattle never have to leave the pasture because our producers understand how to grow a high-quality, lush pasture that supplies all the nutrients beef need to grow. This is how beef cattle were raised at the turn of the 20th century – before factory farming. It really is a lost art – and one we are proud to be bringing back. Grass finishing was abandoned primarily due to cost – it takes up to twice as long to finish cattle without grains, and therefore is also expensive. But, the trade off is a great tasting product that is healthy for the animal, healthy for us, and provides critically important sustainability benefits for the earth and the farmer. It really is a win-win.
Why go through the trouble of grass finishing?
The finishing phase is the time that grass fed beef develops marbling – those intramuscular flecks of fat that can be so elusive in grass fed beef. Marbling is the last fat to develop, and is only possible to achieve if a bovines diet provides high levels of nutrition. Why is marbling important? Because it provides all the great flavor, juiciness and tenderness. How do our farmers achieve this? A knowledge of how to raise cattle naturally, combined with bountiful grass pastures rich in many varieties of grasses and legumes and most importantly, time.
What are the benefits of choosing grass fed, grass finished beef?
Strauss producers don’t have to spray their pastures with chemicals to ensure bumper crops. Their pastures grow naturally. Pasture grasses are natures unsung hero. With their deep roots, they capture and absorb rainwater into the ground, help reduce erosion, rebuild lost top soil and most importantly – emerging research is now proving how powerful can be in the fight to sequester carbon from the air. The catch? For grass to do its job it must be green and growing. That requires proper grazing. That is one of the reasons we are so passionate about supporting our American grass fed beef producers. The best part is the end result is a great steak and burger that provides nourishment to us – bringing the process full circle.
About the Author
Ray Krones is a lead team member of livestock procurement for Strauss. For the past 10 years, he has traveled about 100,000 miles a year, traveling the country to find the best grass fed producers. Ray was born and raised on a dairy farm, and farmed most of his adult life. His passion is helping farmers and ranchers who want to farm sustainably by providing a market for their cattle. In his travels Ray has seen many different ways farmers raise beef cattle. He loves meeting with producers and has a passion for finding those that are best at what they do.