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The taste of beef and the land that produces it

Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper Published on 01 May 2011

If you’ve spent any time engaging in a discussion that promotes your beef product, you’ll eventually come to talking about what your cattle eat.

And today, that probably makes you well versed in the debate over grain-fed vs. grass-fed beef.

The modern-day rise of the zealous food enthusiast – also known as a “foodie” in the urban lingo – may sound like this generation’s passing fad.

But it’s a trend that we’d be foolish to ignore. While the adoring affection some people place on food would embarrass our hard-scrapped pioneer ancestors, it’s a big business today.

If you’re not catering to the consumer who wants to know more, you’re cutting into your own paycheck.

For most of us, the premium of beef is about taste – nothing too revolutionary about that. And with the grain vs. grass options, both sides have a valid preference.

While one aficionado may find grass-fed beef captures the way beef “used to be,” another may find it tough, gamy and lacking in tenderness.

Either way, you the producer come out a winner when the discussion stimulates an appetite for beef.

That also leads to matters of health. You can find enough studies written about grass-fed beef and omega 3, vitamins A and E, beta-carotene and reduced calories, to fill the New York City phone book.

Those on the other side of the rail say some of those healthier advantages aren’t as largely evident as some would imply.

Besides, it’s not just about healthy living, it’s also about healthy economics. And grass-fed beef is and will remain a costlier product than the traditional beef product.

Grass-fed beef takes a longer period of time to produce compared to grain-fed beef, which introduces a whole spectrum of cost expenses for the production phase.

At a time when beef supply is thin, demand is high and grocery prices are climbing, it’s worth watching to see how much consumers keep paying for that grass-fed taste.

Collectively, what you’ll gather from “foodie nation” is that raising beef on grass is more natural, healthier and tastier for the consumer.

But what those foodies leave out of the equation is that it takes more forage and vast stretches of more land – both public and private – to raise that kind of beef.

Range and pasture management is the essential factor to beef production, especially for the stocker-grower and cow-calf producer.

And given the way politicians, urban populations and residential developers view our open lands – as playgrounds or future plots for houses and malls – food production on land is usually an afterthought.

Regardless of what side your production values, or your taste preferences, stand on the issue, it’s a healthy and viable discussion.

All beef production, whether with grass or grain feed, widens the consumer base and gives buyers something good to feel about, and to eat.

But my perspective is such that the grass vs. grain conundrum isn’t so much a debate as a two-faceted opportunity.

Critics may attack confined feeding and feedyards that utilize grain feed, but their efficiency steadily improves in shortening the production period, providing solid animal welfare and meeting world demand for beef.

Grass-fed beef, meanwhile, isn’t just a niche but an option that preserves lands for traditional grazing and the ranching lifestyle.

When corn and feed prices go through the roof like they are now, the innovative producer uses range/pasture forages to maximize profits. Within that approach lies wisdom as old as the land itself.

All producers should recognize the sage idea that both production methods do their part to keep the industry alive.  end_mark

David Cooper

 

David Cooper
Editor
(208) 324-7513 or


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