Seven years ago, if you would have told me you prefer to eat grass-fed beef over grain-fed, I probably would have wondered about you a little.

That’s because at that time, and through most of the 1990s, I was set in my ways on raising and marketing “grain-fed” beef. I raised about seven head of grain-fed beef a year and sold them to family and friends for freezer beef. I believed it to be some of the better quality beef you could buy, and my customers seemed to agree, too, because they continued coming back year after year, and many told me it was the best beef they had ever eaten.

All about grass

Well, on Sept. 29, I toured a farm in Ohio’s Wayne County where it’s all about the “grass-fed model,” and the customers there are coming back time and time again, and calling it superior beef, as well.

The farm is called Green Vista Farm and is owned and operated by the Berger family. They started in the grass-fed business just a few years ago and have seen demand nearly double each year. This year, they intend to finish and market more than 90 head of grass-fed beef.

When I was in the business, I built my customer base around the fact I “did not feed grass,” other than when the calf was young and also some grass hay. I thought people wanted meat with some marbling and flavor, of a high grade and tenderness.

No doubt, consumers do want those things, but with the right amount of effort and knowledge, you can achieve much of the same with grass. I saw that last week in person and I got to taste some when the tour was complete.

Lots to like

There is a real demand for the grass-fed beef and the health benefits are certainly there. I’m not sure about all the nutritional details, but I do know grass-fed beef has a lot less fat. That’s a pretty good place to start.

And, there are many other benefits, like not having to bother planting corn, oats and beans, nor having to harvest those things. There is some hay baling and storage involved, because the grass won’t grow through the winter, and you need something to feed during the offseason. But the field work is considerably less as a whole.

And, when you figure the high cost of grains these days, whether its growing your own grain or buying from someone else — you’re saving a lot of money right there.

If I was going back into raising beef, I think there’s a pretty good chance I’d use this grass-based concept to my advantage. It’s a long time before grass-based beef outpaces grain-fed, if it ever does, but I like what I see.

And it was interesting to meet other Ohio producers who also want to raise beef, using the grass that’s available on their acreages.

Worth considering

I’m not yet ready to cast grain-fed beef aside, especially on farms where grain is abundantly available, and especially when it’s used as a finishing feed. I’ve eaten grain-fed beef all my life and so has all my family, and we’re getting along just fine.

But, the benefits of grass-fed beef are very real. And if producers like the Bergers can maintain and expand their market for this type of product, I think it’s worth pursuing.

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Chris Kick
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