A brown cow grazing in a field of grass with the words "grass fed cattle, grazing their way to better nutrition"

Grass Fed Cattle: Grazing Their Way to Better Nutrition

When strolling the meat department at your local grocery store, you’ll likely spot labels like “grass fed” and “grass-finished” on beef packs. But what do these terms really mean? And is grass-fed beef worth the often higher price tag?

Let’s explore the details and get to the meat of the matter.


  • Grass fed cows eat only grass their whole lives, not grain. Conventional cows eat grass initially but are moved to feedlots for grain finishing.
  • 100% grass fed cows continue grazing on pasture and are never confined or fed grain. Look for “grass-finished” or “100% grass fed” labels.
  • Potential benefits of grass fed beef: more omega-3s, antioxidants, CLA; less overall fat. Plus possible environmental and ethical advantages.
  • Grass fed beef has a stronger, “beefier” flavor. The meat is leaner so requires different cooking methods.
  • The downsides are the higher price, mixed evidence on improved nutrition, and not enough supply currently to meet beef demand.
  • Organic beef follows different standards on feed, antibiotics, and access to outdoors. Not necessarily 100% grass fed.
  • Buy from local farms, specialty butchers, or online stores like ButcherBox that partner with regenerative farms.
  • For cost savings, choose cheaper cuts and buy in bulk to freeze. Properly stored, it lasts 6+ months.
  • 100% grass fed means cows eat only grass and forage, with no grain ever. This is the strictest definition.

What Is Grass Fed Beef?

Cows are natural grazers designed to eat grass. As ruminants, they have four stomach compartments to ferment and digest fibrous grasses. For the first 6-8 months of life, all cattle are raised on a diet of mother’s milk and grazing on grass pastures. This is the only life they know.

Then, most conventional cows are moved from their open pastures to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), also known as feedlots.

In the feedlot, cattle are confined in crowded pens with limited room to move. Here they are fed a grain-based diet of corn, soy, cereal grains, and protein supplements to fatten them up quickly for slaughter.

The 100% Grass Fed Difference

Beef labeled “grass fed” comes from cows that continue grazing on grass pastures their entire lives. They are never confined to feedlots nor fed grain or supplements. These cows live outdoors, able to roam freely and graze on grasses naturally.

For cattle to be certified “grass fed” by the USDA, they need access to pasture during the growing season. However, most grass fed beef labels do not guarantee lifetime, 100% grass feeding. Terms like “grass-finished” or “100% grass fed” indicate the strictest diet standards – grass from birth to slaughter.

Potential Benefits of Choosing Grass-Fed Beef

Supporters of grass-fed beef point to possible health, environmental, ethical, and taste advantages over conventional, grain-fed beef.

Potential Health Benefits

Several studies have found that grass fed beef contains:

  • More omega-3 fatty acids: 2-4 times more than grain-fed. Omega-3s support heart, brain, eye, and joint health.
  • More antioxidants: Especially vitamin E. Antioxidants reduce cellular damage from free radicals.
  • More conjugated linoleic acid (CLA): A type of fat tied to immunity, anti-inflammation, and anti-cancer properties. Grass fed beef provides 3-5 times more CLA.
  • More beta-carotene: The antioxidant found in carrots that promotes healthy skin and eyes.
  • More B vitamins: Like thiamin and riboflavin. B vitamins help convert food into cellular energy.

Potential Environmental Benefits of Grass Fed Cattle

Raising cattle on pasture also offers possible ecological advantages:

  • No need to grow grain: Ruminants thrive eating grass, their natural diet. There is no need for vast grain crops just to feed them.
  • Cow manure fertilizes pastures: When cows graze freely outdoors, their waste returns nutrients to the land as natural fertilizer. Manure becomes a waste issue in feedlots.
  • Reduced emissions: Grass fed cattle raised through regenerative farming produce less methane gas than feedlot cattle.
  • Preservation of family farms: Grazing systems are more feasible for small family farms rather than centralized feedlot models.

Ethical Considerations

To many consumers, knowing their meat comes from cattle that were:

  • Free to roam green pastures their whole lives
  • Not confined to crowded feedlots
  • Never given hormones or routine antibiotics

…is important from an ethical standpoint. Grass fed fits more with the idyllic, old-fashioned image of cows on the family farm.

If you’re like me, then you’ll want to know the animals that your meats have come from have enjoyed their lives – munching on luscious blades with plenty of pasture to roam around. This is one of the most important things to me.

Flavor and Texture Differences

The diet and lifestyle of grass fed cows produces beef with a different flavor, color, and texture:

  • Flavor: Grass fed beef has a richer, “beefier” flavor. The meat is often described as tasting like how beef “used to” taste.
  • Color: The meat tends to be redder in color due to higher levels of nutrients with the fat being notably yellower.
  • Texture: Because it has less fat marbling, grass-fed beef can be slightly drier and chewier. But it’s all about how you cook your steaks – done well (not well-done!), it can still melt in your mouth.

That said, some just prefer the taste of grain-fed over grass fed meat. This is probably because it’s all they’ve known. However, grass-fed is the O.G. and the way it would have been before industrialized agriculture.

How to Cook Grass Fed Meat

Who best to show you how to cook a grass fed ribeye and tenderloin than White Oak Pastures who are the masters of generative farming and producing some of the best 100% grass fed beef in the U.S.

What Are the Downsides of Grass Fed Beef?

Of course, there are also some drawbacks to consider with grass fed beef:

Higher price – Due to the higher land requirements and slower growth rate of grass-fed cows, the beef costs 20-60% more than conventional beef. For some consumers, that price puts it out of reach.

Mixed evidence on nutrition – Some studies have shown no major nutritional differences between grass fed and conventional beef. More extensive research is still needed.

Leaner meat – Less fat marbling requires different cooking techniques to avoid a drier finished product.

Stronger flavor – The grassy taste and texture may be off-putting at first for those accustomed to conventional beef.

Short grass growing season – In cold climates, grass doesn’t grow year-round. Providing grass hay in barns during winter raises costs.

Lower yields – With larger land requirements and slower growth, grass feeding cannot currently produce enough beef to meet U.S. demand.

Time commitment – Pasture management and animal husbandry require significantly more producer time and labor compared to feedlot models.

Grass Fed vs. Organic: How Are They Different?

The terms grass-fed and organic are not interchangeable when it comes to beef. USDA certified Organic refers to how the cattle was raised overall:

  • Fed organic feed (grass or grain)
  • Never given antibiotics or added hormones
  • Free to roam outdoors on pasture

So organic beef may still be grain-finished, not 100% grass fed. Cattle only need to be grass fed at least 30% of their lives to achieve the organic certification – I don’t think this is nearly enough.

For the strictest grass feeding, look for beef certified by the American Grassfed Association, Food Alliance Grassfed or Animal Welfare Approved Grassfed. Their standards require lifetime feeding on grass along with humane animal care.

There are many positive requirements to achieve the organic certification for the welfare of the animals even if the grass-fed requirements are somewhat lax. If you’re interested in finding out more, I’ve done a deep dive into what organic meat is.

Where to Buy Quality Grass Fed Beef

Finding trusted sources is key when buying grass fed beef:

  • Local farmers – Chat with farmers at the market to verify their grass-feeding methods. Many smaller-scale farms sell individual cuts or mixed quarter, half, and whole cows.
  • Butcher shops and co-ops – Many specialty butcher shops work with local farms to offer grass-fed beef. Food co-ops may also have relations with regional grass-fed beef suppliers.
  • Online stores – Companies like ButcherBox deliver 100% grass-fed beef nationwide from verified partners and White Oak Pastures who practice regenerative farming and zero wastage.

    If you’re looking for grass-fed meat delivered to your door, it can be overwhelming with the choices Google presents. I’ve sifted through them all and done a round-up of the best grass-fed meat delivery services.

When possible, look for “grass-finished” or “100% grass fed” seals to guarantee lifetime grass diets. Ask questions and research brands to feel confident you’re getting authentic grass fed beef raised humanely and sustainably.

If cost is an issue, choose more budget-friendly cuts like ground beef, chuck roast, and brisket. Freezing extra allows you to buy in bulk and save. Grass fed beef stays fresh for 6 months or longer with proper freezer storage.


You should now be clued up in the world of grass-fed meats. You’ll understand that if you see meat labeled as “grass fed”, it doesn’t necessarily mean the animal has eaten grass 100% of its life. So you must look for the grass-fed stamps or ask questions.

Grass-fed meat appears to be more nutritious although it tastes different with some preferring the taste of grain-finished meat despite grass-fed being the O.G.

Regenerative farming which is becoming more popular and is essentially how farming used to be before it became industrialized, is more sustainable and friendly to Mother Earth.

You’ll know that certified organic beef does not need to be grass fed and grass-finished. And, if you’ve made the decision to go 100% grass fed or at least give it a try, then you’ll know where to go…

…as a reminder, if you want the convenience of having it delivered to your door, see my round-up of the best grass-fed meat delivery services.

So there you have it. Everything you need to know about grass fed meat.

Have a nutritious day!

Frequently Asked Questions

What does grass-fed mean?

Grass fed means the cattle eat only grass and forage their entire lives without any grain. They live outdoors able to roam and graze freely on pasture.

Is grass-fed beef really better?

Early research shows that grass-fed beef contains more heart-healthy fats and antioxidants. However more studies comparing overall nutritional value are needed between grass-fed and conventional grain-finished beef.

What animals can be grass-fed?

In addition to cattle raised for beef, grass-fed farming methods are also used for bison, lamb, goats, and dairy cows. All ruminants are natural grazers designed to eat grass.

Does grass-fed mean cattle only eat grass?

Yes, a 100% grass-fed label means cattle eat only grass and forage over their whole lives with no grain in their diet. This is the strictest definition of grass-fed beef.

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