3 months ago on the last Friday in May, as I was going to sleep, I prayed a very intentional prayer – I asked God to provide our farmers market with local, grass-fed beef. I was beyond delighted the next morning when I met Jonathan, Kathy and Beverly Watson of Living Water Ranch. (photo courtesy of Living Water Ranch)
Their booth was full of joy and excitement – and grass-fed beef! They like to say it’s “beef the way God intended it,” and I couldn’t agree more. They raise cattle who graze on grass, walk in open pasture and do things that cows do. Can you imagine growing up on pasture like this? (photo courtesy of Living Water Ranch)
If you were as excited as I was, then going home with only 2lbs would be a sign of self-restraint! Over the course of several weeks, I had the opportunity to try many different cuts. I actually wrote a blog about the incredible bone broth that I made from their beef bones. The secret was the beef.
What kind of beef is it?
If you’re not familiar with the different types of beef, let’s lay some quick groundwork. There are basically three main kinds of classifications of beef: grain fed, grass fed and grass finished.
Grain fed is the conventional method of feeding cattle. Approximately 80% of beef is grown this way. The most common grain that cattle are fed is corn. Of note, many cows grown in this manner are raised in feed lots where they have little to no movement, do not generally spend time outdoors, and are frequently in significant amounts of their waste (which may or may not be cleansed before slaughter). Also of note, the grain changes the pH of the cow’s stomach which can have a significant impact on their gut flora (more on that later).
Grass fed is when the cattle forage, and they eat grass. By definition, they are not fed corn. Of note, this means more work for the farmer – it requires harvested forage for the winter, it requires larger acreage (so the cattle can forage and eat), it requires more attention from the farmer (weather, fencing, and watering are all considerations that are not generally part of the conventional method above), and the time until the animal is ready for harvesting can be significantly longer.
Grass finished means a cow has been raised on grain and then given grass prior to slaughter.
Where does organic come in?
Hold on to your hat – did you know that certified organic beef can be either grass or grain fed? Basically the feed and processor must be certified organic.
There are other specific requirements and you can find them nicely laid out in this PennStateExtension article.
So what’s the benefit of grass-fed over grain-fed?
There are actually several key differences. And some of them are a big deal. Aside from the conditions in which the animals are raised, there are major differences in the actual meat.
Grass fed is leaner meat: with everyone watching their calories these days, this means you can eat the same size steak and consume fewer calories! Nope, it’s not a dieting gimmick. Also, grass-fed beef has a better fatty acid composition – a very interesting research article demonstrated the saturated fats in grass-fed were less detrimental to serum cholesterol levels. The article also mentions that grass fed beef is lower in total cholesterol content. If you’re watching your cholesterol, grass-fed may be a better choice!
Grass fed provides better Omega-3’s: While we’re on the topic of heart health, the same article found that grass fed beef is higher in omega-3s when compared to conventional beef. This means a number of positive effects on heart health. (Just a quick note – what’s important is the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 intake. Most Americans get way too much omega-6 and not enough omega 3. So consuming a higher amount of omega-3 restores the ratio. The proper ratio of intake is what allows for the anti-inflammatory impacts of the fatty acids.)
Grass fed beef has a potent anti-cancer component that grain fed doesn’t: One component of the fatty acids in grass fed beef is called conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA. Remember how corn changes the pH of grain fed cattle? That means it also changes the ability for certain bacteria to inhabit the stomach. This is important to know because CLA needs to have a specific bacteria present to be generated. As a cow eats more grain, the CLA production drops dramatically.
- CLA has been found to have some incredible health benefits like reducing cancer, reducing atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaques in your arteries), and even diabetes onset. It has been even shown to help reduce fat buildup (adipose tissue) in the body at higher doses. The article mentioned that the American diet has significantly less CLA compared to German and Australian diets (by 2-5times less!).
Grass fed beef has a higher vitamin content: Grass contains the precursors for carotene, which is passed onto the meat of grass fed cattle. Would you believe that grass fed beef has a 7-fold higher content of beta-carotene compared to conventional beef?
- While we’re on the topic of vitamins, let’s talk about vitamin E. It’s an incredibly important vitamin that has powerful antioxidant activity. The most potent antioxidant form of vitamin E is called alpha-tocopherol. Grass fed beef has a significantly higher amount of alpha tocopherol (vitamin E), which is great for our diets, but it also has another interesting effect. The high content of vitamin E in the grass fed beef actually plays a role in the beef maintaining its color and acts as a natural preservation mechanism.
Grass fed beef has a super-power protein called glutathione, or GT for short. GT is a powerful antioxidant that keeps lipids stable and prevents DNA damage. This, like the vitamin E, means the meat is naturally fresher and also provides you with the antioxidant benefits when you consume the meat.
I was delighted to know it wasn’t just my taste buds that were happy – there are some pretty incredible benefits to eating grass fed beef. If you’re motivated to eat more, let me tell you how to get a great deal on it.
It’s called a share. A share is when you go in with other people and split the meat of one animal.
Why a share?
There are a few reasons that I prefer to get a share rather than making weekly purchases.
- it’s cheaper: by the pound, the overall total spent on the same amount of meat is less.
- it’s respectful: Some cuts are by far more popular than other cuts. This respects the entire meat of the animal.
- It’s convenient: I prefer to just pull the cut I want from the freezer rather than having to make an extra trip or plan ahead.
- It helps the farmer: just like a CSA (community supported agriculture), making a purchase ahead of time helps the farmers. They get their entire return on the animal they have spent the last year investing in, and they get that return at one time, rather than in weekly increments.
My experience getting a share
It wasn’t long after making that bone broth that I was ready for a share. Truth be told, I had been looking for the right farm for quite some time. It’s not a spontaneous decision or process. I see it more like an investment – in my health and in my community and in the farm.
My friends at Living Water Ranch made it easy – I told them I was interested in a share, and as it turned out, they were actually taking requests for shares! Instead of me finding 3 other people to go in with me, the farm took care of organizing it. That was quite a relief for me! All I had to do was wait until a cow was ready for processing.
Along the way, there are several decisions that need to be made. First, I had to decide what size share. I chose a quarter, which would feed my family for quite a long time. (There are a few things you’ll need to know – let’s say a cow weighs 1000lbs when it’s ready for processing. Approximately 60% of that will be meat. For example, our cow weighed in around 800lbs, and our quarter share yielded around 130lbs of meat.)
Next, I had to decide if I wanted the front or the back. I consulted a diagram that the farm showed me and chose the back because it had the cuts of meat that I was looking for. I wanted a nice balance of quick cooking and longer cooking cuts as well as some steak cuts.
From there, the farm put me in touch with our local butcher. He went through every single cut in very specific detail: from the packaging materials to the size of the packages to the thickness of the cuts, types of cuts and everything in between.
You should also know that the processing takes somewhere between a week to 10 days. I honestly felt like a kid waiting for Christmas – I could hardly stand it!
Once the meat was ready for pickup, I went directly to the butcher and received an entire trunk full of incredible meat. It was like Christmas morning – I had the biggest smile on my face! As they were loading up the boxes, I couldn’t help but notice how beautifully dark the meat was. It was almost the color of liver. I now know that’s because of all the powerful antioxidants that are in it.
One thing I loved about the butcher was when they froze the meat, they laid it all flat. This made storage very compact. Even though this was over 100lbs of meat, I arranged it like book ends and it only took up 2 full shelves in my freezer. (The photo shows just part of the order.)
Overall, as I reflect on the entire experience, I’m delighted. To me, it’s an intentional purchase, not a spontaneous one. But it’s an investment in my body and in my family’s health. It’s also an investment in my community. That cow grew up in Kentucky, it walked and grazed and enjoyed the outdoors in a very humane environment. My investment supported a local farmer’s family and the labor of a local butcher. That’s about as local as it gets – the only money I spent outside Kentucky was for the gas to get me to and from the butcher.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering about waste, I asked the butcher for everything – he even cut up the long bones into “dog bones,” that I will be adding to stock later this winter. As for the dog, he didn’t get the bones, but please don’t worry - he does eat very well. As for my family, we're toasting to a delectable dinner tonight.
Dorathy for Hyssop Tree
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