Guide to Grass-Fed vs. Grain-Fed Beef: How do I choose?

Nearly 50% of Canadian consumers eat red meat on a daily basis. That’s a lotta beef! Between grass-fed and grain-fed, what’s best for you and your household? Here’s our guide to grain-fed vs. grass-fed, so you know exactly what you’re buying.

You’ve heard the saying before: you are what you eat. What about the food your food consumes. Cattle are what they eat, too, people! So you should probably know what the terms “grass-fed” and “grain-fed” really mean to you, the end consumer. 

Since expanding The Butcher Shoppe meat counter to include online ordering, we realize that our expert butchers aren’t always there to answer questions like these on the spot. And we’ve received plenty of inquiries about grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef. To help clear the air and help you buy the right cut, we’ve put together our own expert guide.


Enjoy. 


SPOILER ALERT: One is not inherently superior to the other. Both grass-fed and grain-fed beef have their pros, cons, and quirky caveats.

Table of Contents

  1. What is Grass-Fed Beef?
  2. What is Grain-Fed Beef?
  3. Local No-Hormone Beef vs. Grain-Fed Beef
  4. Which Type of Beef Should You Choose?

What is Grass-Fed Beef?

As the name suggests, the diet for grass-fed cattle mainly consists of grass. But here’s a little known fact: some of the best grass-fed beef comes from Australia, as it is one of the few places on earth where grass is growing year-round. In most other countries, Canada included, cattle will also feed on hay, baleage, and plants when there’s snow on the ground.

By and large, grazing on grass is a far more natural way for cows to eat. It tends to keep them healthier and more comfortable as a result. Because of this, grass-fed beef tends to be a more natural choice, among a few other advantages.


Pros of Grass-Fed Beef

Cons of Grass-Fed Beef

Produces healthy fats, omega-3 acids, and vitamins


✅ Beneficial for the cattle’s diet, health, and wellbeing


✅ Our grass fed beef is raised without additives, antibiotics, and growth hormones

🚫 More expensive due to availability (fewer cattle on a farm)


🚫 Less flavour due to lack of marbling


🚫 Harder to find in grocery stores and marketplaces


🚫 Environmental considerations (importing) 

What is Grain-Fed Beef?

Most grain-fed cattle eat a combination of grain, corn, soy, corn byproducts, and additional supplements. The amounts have been fine-tuned over many years in order to promote faster and healthier growth in beef cattle. Grain-feeding systems are the most commonly used throughout the world as it makes them bigger and increases the amount of marbling.


Pros of Grain-Fed Beef

Cons of Grain-Fed Beef

✅ More value and readily available


✅ More variety and options


✅Juicy and marbleized (increased flavour)


✅ Potentially less carbon footprint related to transportation (Local Canadian farms)

🚫 Higher fat content  may not be desirable


🚫 May not be as healthy or ethical for the animal


🚫 Less natural than grass grazing

“No-Hormone & Antibiotics” Beef vs. Grain-Fed Beef

What “no-hormone” or “hormone-free” beef really means is that no hormones were given to the cow during its lifetime. This is an important distinction, as all cattle consume and receive natural hormones through the food they eat. That goes for grass-fed and grain-fed cows. 

Since grass-fed cattle stick to a more natural diet of 100% grass and don’t end up being fed, they don’t typically need any antibiotics nor do they benefit from hormones throughout their lives, which some grain-fed cattle do receive. While this might be viewed as healthier for both the cattle and the consumer, it does cause the cattle to be a bit smaller than their grain-fed relatives (hormones increase hunger), and it makes the raising process a bit lengthier, too.


*If you’re looking for grain fed without the use of hormones and antibiotics, choose our Local Natural option*

  • The average grass-fed cow on a strictly no-hormone diet will be approximately 450 Kg to 545 Kg, once full-grown at 20 to 26 months old.

  • Grain-fed cows that are given additional hormones will be between 545 Kg to 635 Kg by the time they reach 15 to 22 months old.

 

Questions to Ask When Deciding Which Type of Beef to Buy

At the end of the day, the grass-fed and grain-fed beef you order from Butcher Shoppe is highly regulated, from the farm to your plate. No exceptions! Both are great options that you and your family ought to feel very comfortable with. 

Overall, which meat you decide to buy depends on your personal wants and needs. The rest, frankly, is marketing and labelling tricks. It’s really about what you want out of this particular part of your diet. Are you all about flavor? Environmental impact? Cost? Here are some common buyer preferences through the lens of grass-fed vs. grain-fed. 

Is it All About Flavour and Quality?

Due to the diet of grain-fed cattle, their meat usually has higher levels of marbling and is sweeter in taste. Grass-fed beef, on the other hand, is known for having a more mineral-heavy taste. This is because a diet composed strictly of grass makes the meat produce less marbling. Still, plenty of our customers comment on how delicious our grass-fed selection is. 


TIP

If you want the “best flavour”, choose grain-fed Prime grade beef

If you want the most “natural”, choose grass-fed beef


Are You Concerned About Environmental Impact?

Now more than ever, sustainability is at the top of the minds of many consumers and producers. As we pointed out above, and as we always remind our environmentally inclined customers, grass-fed doesn’t always mean more environmentally friendly. That’s because most 100% grass-fed beef comes from Australia which, the last time we checked, is a couple of worlds away (and at least one big ocean).


Though the grain-fed beef system makes up a large portion of beef production, there’s research to support that it can produce a comparatively small carbon footprint. 

 

Why? 

 

Grain-fed cows can gain weight in a smaller amount of time and are therefore able to cycle into the meat market much quicker. Plus, they are kept in containment rather than left to roam, so they use about 35% less water and 30% less land. That said, grass-fed beef isn’t unsustainable by any means. By utilizing proper grazing management, this process can keep soil carbon levels healthy without ever running out of the primary resource needed to make this system work—grass.

Do You Prefer to Buy Local?

Did you know Canada is one of the largest exporters of red meat in the entire world? Our country’s beef sector produces about 1.55 million tonnes of beef annually and generates an estimated 228,000 jobs. Plenty of our own beef at The Butcher Shoppe comes from Canada. So buying local beef ought to be more than possible, wherever you’re located in Canada. 


It just won’t be 100% grass-fed.

Are You Focused on Affordability?

As much as we’d like to eat A5 Wagyu Beef every night, it’s not exactly cost effective—especially for people with large families. On average, grass-fed beef is about $2 to $3 more expensive per pound than grain-fed. This is mostly due to the time it takes to fully raise cows on a grass diet alone. Generally, it takes a whole year longer to raise grass-fed cattle, which in turn increases costs of food and labor for the farmers. 

 

Even with all that extra time, fully grown grass-fed cows tend to be a bit smaller than their grain-fed counterparts. That means each cow will produce less meat and therefore, less money for the producers. To make up for this lost profit, farmers will typically raise their prices when selling grass-fed beef to grocery stores, restaurants, and restaurants. 

What About Health Concerns?

Okay, which is healthier: grass-fed or grain-fed beef? You’re going to be hard-pressed to find any definitive claims—at least any backed by hard data. Though you might find both in grass-fed and grain-fed beef, the level of hormones and antibiotics allowed in beef products is highly regulated. Of course, you can avoid the presence of added hormones and antibiotics by buying our grass fed beef, but note that not all grass fed beef is free of these substances.

In Conclusion, Who You Buy Beef From Might Matter Most

There are plenty of factors to consider when it comes to choosing between grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Both options offer their own unique advantages and disadvantages pertaining to cost, flavor, quality, environmental impact, and more. In the end, it all boils down to your personal wants, needs, and preferences.

And where you decide to buy your beef.

Since 1984, The Butcher Shoppe has been committed to providing the highest-quality beef products for our local Toronto customers and all those in Ontario.  Whether you’re shopping locally or buying online, it’s important to really know about what you put in your body. When it comes to your beef, that’s information that our customer care team can provide outright, no matter which beef cut you choose to buy.


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