Health Benefits of Grass Fed vs Grain Fed Beef

 Note: This is a guest blog from HMI Board of Director’s member and grassfed producer, Kirrily Blomfield of Quirindi, New South Wales, Australia.

 

If you’ve ever tasted the difference of beef fed on diverse pastures, there’s an inherent knowing that it must be better for you, because it tastes so good. I am a grass fed beef producer in Australia – and I’d like to share with you why my husband and I choose to produce grass fed beef in our business. We want to produce something that nourishes the body, not just fills the stomach.

Many people already know that grass fed beef is better for them because of its healthier fat profile, but there are some other differences that you may not be aware of, like its ability to satiate, its superior mineral content and its role in preventing modern, western society diseases.  Let me start by explaining why the fat profile of grass fed beef is healthier.

Good Fats

There has been much recognition of the importance of fats in our diets in recent years. And they do form a very important part of our diet but it’s essential that we eat the right ones – or more importantly, that we eat the right balance to help ensure great health, longevity and freedom from modern day diseases.

Essential fatty acids are named so as they are required in biological processes in our bodies, as opposed to fats that are for storing and providing energy.  Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are such fats, and it is the balance of these essential fatty acids that is important.

There is much evidence to suggest that the diet on which we evolved consisted of a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of around 1:1. Modern day western diets however, have much higher relative levels of omega 6 fatty acids, which has been found to promote diseases like heart disease and cancer, as well as inflammatory and autoimmune diseases (1). Shockingly, most current western diets consist of ratios of around 16:1 and even higher!

Choosing grass fed beef over grain fed beef assures you a healthy balance of fats from your beef.  Grass fed beef has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of around 1.5 : 1 – a level consistent with wild game – because, like wild game, grass fed animals are eating what nature intended!  This is compared with grain fed animals – the meat of which has a ratio of up to 7:1 and even as high as 16:1(2) – much higher in its relative quantity of the less desirable omega-6 fatty acids.

High concentrations of Omega 6 in the diet have been linked to memory problems, confused behaviour and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as weight gain, allergies and depression.

Research shows that choosing grass fed beef helps put you in a position of preventing or fighting these diseases. Virtually all cattle in Australia are born into a grass fed environment.  Many of these however are then sent to feedlots (CAFO’s) as yearlings (at a certain weight and age), where they are fed and finished on grain.  Research shows that the fat profile of the animal changes very quickly, (to an undesirable level) once the animal’s feed is switched to grain. Grain fed beef then takes to the consumer the potential health problems associated with this higher omega-6 to omega-3 ratio – and in most cases to an unknowing consumer.  This is one of the reasons why I choose to eat and produce beef that is not only fed on pasture, but is also finished on pasture – completely 100% grass fed.

Grass fed beef is one of the best ways to source healthy omega 3 fats, along with other grass fed & free range meats, coconut oil, olive oil, butter from grass fed dairy cows and eggs from pasture fed chooks. Avoiding commonly used vegetable and cooking oils (which are high in omega 6’s), will also help keep your omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio healthy – things like canola, sunflower, soybean and cottonseed oil.  I avoid these whenever possible (and it’s not so easy to do if you eat anything remotely processed – they are in so many things, including most sweet and savory biscuits and crackers and even sultanas – listed as vegetable oils!).  Many of these oils themselves are highly processed.

Stick with whole foods, stick with what nature intended.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

It is not only the greater proportion of the desirable omega-3 fats that makes grass fed beef a healthier option.  Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is another substance found predominantly in ruminants animals (cows and sheep) fed on grass pastures.  These CLA’s have great health attributes, such as aiding in the prevention of:

  • cancer
  • heart disease
  • osteoporosis
  • high blood pressure
  • inflammation

Bodybuilders also love it for reducing body fat and increasing lean body mass.

diverse pastureSecondary Compounds

Another reason why you may like to choose grass fed beef over grain fed is due to the secondary compounds or phytochemicals (naturally contained in plants) that grass fed animals access when grazing – things like tannins, flavanoids, aromatic oils and alkaloids. These are rarely talked about with relation to food.  We regularly hear about the primary compounds – protein, carbohydrates, energy, and the mineral content of food, but rarely do we hear about these secondary compounds.  This is possibly understandable, because there are thousands of different compounds – but don’t let this have you underestimate their importance!  The combination of a variety of these different compounds contributes to overall wellbeing – in this case, of our cows.  It also however, has a positive knock on effect to our health – the ones consuming the grass fed beef!

These secondary compounds are like nature’s medicines.  They are the things responsible for why red wine is said to be good for your heart and why certain herbs can aid health.  Secondary plant compounds have many roles in your body including appetizing, digestive or therapeutic purposes.(3)

What cows need then, to access the necessary variety of these compounds, is a diverse pasture on which to feed.  The access to this diversity of plants means that the animals maintain good health and the need for chemically treating sickness is avoided. Animals that feed on a single species crop (like an oat crop) however, simply don’t have access to this plant diversity. You and I (as humans) have mostly lost the intuition for knowing what we need to eat to ensure good health or to mend illnesses.  Cows however, have not.  Giving them a diversity of plants on which to feed will provide them the choice required that they may ‘self-medicate’ and ensure their own well-being.

This is great because it means that the cows are healthy and farmers can then avoid pesticides and undesirable chemicals that may otherwise be needed to treat health problems in their cows.

Secondary plant compounds are responsible for a huge range of positive impacts on cows (and then you, as you consume the beef). Here are some examples of the positive effects that plant secondary compounds can have on animals. They can:

  • Be antibacterial or anti-parasitic in the digestive tract
  • Provide antioxidant protection
  • Inhibit cancer growth
  • Stimulate circulation
  • Prevent diarrhoea
  • Offer pain relief
  • Boost immunity
  • Provide satiety (feeling satisfied or full)
  • Influence feed intake
  • Improve fertility
  • Provide flavour and colour to foods

One cow will have different needs to the next (just like we have different nutritional needs to our friends), so a diverse pasture gives cows the ability to select for what they need. A standard grain mix, rationed every day to animals, as with grain feeding does not account for individual animal requirements.

If you choose to consume beef fed on diverse pastures – it’s better for you. We choose diverse pastures for our cows to graze on so that we can avoid the need for ‘chemical bandaids’ for our cows.  This means that our customers get the knock on effects of clean food and of the associated advantages of the plant secondary compounds when they consume our beef.

Mineral Content

Grass fed beef contains more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than grain fed beef.  Research has shown grass fed beef has increased levels of beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A.  Higher levels of cancer fighting antioxidants (vitamin E, glutathione and superoxide dismutase) have also been attributed to grass fed beef.(4)

Grass fed beef has also been shown to have higher levels of zinc, iron and vitamin B12 (5), all of which form important functions in our bodies.

Organic and Grassfed

I fully support organic production of produce – and that’s how we choose to produce, free of pesticides, heavy metal residues and all the things that could otherwise accumulate in our food. You may like to know though, that just because some beef may be organically certified doesn’t mean it is grass fed. Organic meat can still be fed on grains – it’s just organic grains. This is great because you will avoid pesticides, but there will still be the issues associated with grain fed meats. Certified organic is also no guarantee of diversity in the pasture.

It Tastes Great!

It’s great to have healthy food to eat, but, we all also just want to have something that we enjoy the taste of, and this is what grass fed beef does.

I especially love that thin layer of fat on the outside of a sirloin steak, or the divine taste of a scotch fillet (my favourite). You will also notice the taste come out in a slow cooked beef stew, when you use a collagen rich cut like chuck steak.

The French refer to ‘terroir’, a set of environmental factors that affects the qualities and character of produce – like climate, soils, aspect etc. This is often referred to in relation to wine, but is increasingly being used when referring to other produce.  In the case of grass fed beef – the feed that the animal consumes has a big influence on taste.  This is why we graze our cows on diverse pastures and we say ‘you’ll love the taste difference’.

Conscious Choices means Better Health 

Red meat has gotten some amount of bad press recently when related to human health.  It’s a shame that things are simplified to this ‘black or white degree’ and there is no differentiation between whole red meat versus processed preservative containing meats, or how the animal was raised (grass fed versus grain fed), the style of cooking or the cuts of meats.  More of you are realising that we need to be more conscious in our choice of foods and we need to learn how to be more proactive about our own health. When I refer to the health benefits of grass fed beef – it’s obviously only useful when accompanied by other conscious eating. These choices, I know, will serve us well.

Aside from the health aspects there are lots of other wonderful benefits of grass feeding animals, when they are managed well.  They are a tool to heal and repair landscapes – something which can’t be done with animals in a pen.  Holistic Management International (HMI) educates people to be able to manage animals for these outcomes. These positive land outcomes are another reason we produce the way we do – but that’s a whole other story and HMI can teach you that story! Sign up for their newsletter today!

 

 

Increasing Interest in Holistic Management in Queensland

Brian Wehlburg

We were excited to read this recent article in the North Queensland Register from Australia on “Grazing the Holistic Way.” Holistic Management Certified Educator Brian Wehlburg is featured in this article. Entities like the North Queensland Dry Tropics and the Dalrymple Landcare Committee have helped sponsor and collaborate to provide Holistic Management training in the area. The need to increase soil fertility and capture rainfall as rains come has proven to be a critical point of interest for these farmers as well as the desire to improve the profitability and resilience of their enterprises. If you are looking for someone near you who to answer questions about these practices, check out our Interactive Map.

Passionate Presentations Warm Up a Cold Day in Coolatai, Australia

Judi leads a discussion on forage assessment, utilization and grazing planning

Holistic Management Certified Educator Judi Earl, owner/operator of Glen Orton, leads a discussion on forage assessment, utilization and grazing planning

A tour of Glen Orton

A tour of Glen Orton

Sixty four hardy souls braved the coldest day in Coolatai, New South Wales in many years to attend HMI’s Australian Open Gate held at Glen Orton on July 17th.  Although some registrants weren’t able to attend because they were unexpectedly ‘snowed in’, many people traveled long distances from Queensland, the northern rivers and New England tablelands regions, and the diversity of the audience was a feature of the day.  The presentations, open fires and great food provided the catalyst for the start of many interesting conversations.

Glenn Morris shares about livestock management at Fig Trees Organics

Glenn Morris shares about livestock management at Fig Trees Organics

Judi Earl, Holistic Management Certified Educator and Glen Orton owner/operator shared how she has applied the principles of Holistic Management to regenerate the land and ultimately improve pasture and livestock production.  Since 2011, Judi has been using cattle at Glen Orton to manage Coolatai grass, the dominant low-quality forage in the area.  There was a lively discussion about how she has increased the productivity of her land in spite of 4 years of drought, and how her holistic goal has impacted decisions about health care for her livestock.

 

Other highlights of the day included:

Organic beef pies, compliments of Glenn Morris and Fig Trees Organics

Organic beef pies, compliments of Glenn Morris and Fig Trees Organics

  • Glenn Morris, manager of Fig Trees Organic Farms, passionately presenting on creating a culture of honesty and respect for the land and society in our food production systems.  He shared how they use Holistic Management and organic farming to regenerate ecosystem processes, enhance health and stimulate the economy, and how this creates strength in their marketing.

    A great lineup of presenters:  Phillipa Morris, Judi Earl, Glenn Morris, and Alex Dudley

    A great lineup of presenters: Phillipa Morris, Judi Earl, Glenn Morris, and Alex Dudley

  • Philippa Morris of Peach Trees, discussing how micro-producers can use good environmental management and good livestock handling practices to help market their animals.
  • A delicious lunch featuring Glenn Morris’ organic meat pies.

    Alex Dudley, the biodiversity ‘bug man’ is also a wildlife photographer

    Alex Dudley, the biodiversity ‘bug man’ is also a wildlife photographer

  • Zoologist Alex Dudley inspiring and entertaining with his passionate discussion of biodiversity, and how we are all part of the ecosystem and dependent on biodiversity.

    Warm fires and great discussion

    Warm fires and great discussion

  • A tour of Glen Orton looking at residual herbage and soil surface condition of a number of paddocks recently grazed as well as ones the animals were about to enter.
  • Judi leading an exercise and discussion to assess available feed, plan grazing days, and determine and increase stock density.
  • Gathering around campfires for tea and more discussions
  • Alex pointing out important features of biodiversity in the landscape, and what can be done to retain and create habitat for diverse creatures
  • A good group of participants staying afterwards for a BBQ, drinks and more conversation which eventually wound up around 9pm

Here are some of the comments from participants:

Fantastic

It was a good day despite the cold. Loved Alex the bug man and his knowledge.

Very social, very  informative, very helpful to me personally, and the food was GREAT! Please thank the food providers for me. The pies were delicious, and the salads very special.

Very worthwhile

Thank you for an excellent day at your lovely property on Friday. I’m so glad I ignored every obstacle and  continued on my mission to attend.(Everything was leaning against me!!!!!)

Well put together, very informative, thanks for sharing your knowledge

Very interesting

Lots of interesting talk among people

Very good!

Both of us really appreciate how generous you are with your knowledge and the networking with other producers implementing sustainable and planned grazing and farming practices was encouraging and useful.   Higher stock density and more water to our “POMP = paddock of much potential” are priorities.

Thanks for an interesting and worthwhile open day at Glen Orton. The good food and fires were a bonus.

 Networking – very good

It was great to see your comprehensive plant list.  It is always amazing to see how widespread a lot of species are.

Well done (great food)

 

Here’s what the evaluations showed:

Outcome% Participants
Overall Satisfaction of this event (rated good to excellent):97%
Facilitator's Effectiveness (rated good to excellent):97%
Venue (rated good to excellent):84%
Intent to change management practices/apply ideas you learned in this event? 70%
Intent to complete biological monitoring on your land as a result of today's event? 60%
Expanded network today by meeting new people or learning about resources available to you? 97%
Would recommend this event to others:100%

 

 

HM Podcast Series: Pasture Cropping

In this installment of the HM Podcast Series, we are joined by Colin Seis, an Australian farmer who has invented a new way to grow annual cereal crops. Pasture cropping, as it is called, involves the direct seeding of annual crops into perennial pastures that are grazed at high densities prior to sowing. Colin relates to us what he has learned over the course of a decade of experiential learning with pasture cropping, including how it is done, the economic benefits, and the improvements in soil health and biodiversity that result.

Download the mp3 file. Or listen by using the player below.

 

HM Series Podcast: Interview with Judi Earl

This podcast interview represents a unique collaboration between Holistic Management International and the Agroinnovations Podcast.  The Holistic Management Series of the Agroinnovations Podcast is a series of eight interviews conducted with researchers and scientists.  The focus on these interviews will be past and current attempts to use research methods for better understanding the relationship between the HM decision-making framework, the people who use it, and the land that they manage.  These interviews will be available here on the HM Data and Documentation blog, and also via the Agroinnovations Podcast page.  The Agroinnovations Podcast is also broadcast on WMRW, a low power FM station in the Mad River valley of Vermont.

In this first episode of the Holistic Management series, we are joined by Dr. Judi Earl of Holistic Management International Australia. Dr. Earl is a researcher who supports HM practitioners in Australia. We discuss the shortcomings of research in whole systems management, the use of animal impact as a tool to heal land, the differences between stocking density and stocking rate, the power of Holistic Planned Grazing, and Judi’s research on grass utilization as an indicator for effective management.

Use the audio player below to listen to the episode.  Or, you can download an mp3 file by clicking here.

If you prefer to use iTunes to subscribe and listen, then click here.

 

A Decision Support Approach to Sustainable Grazing Management for Spatially Heterogeneous Rangeland Paddocks

Authors: Bellamy et. al. Published In: Rangeland Journal

Year: 1996

Notes:

The introduction starts out auspiciously from the perspective of an HM practitioner:

“Improvement in land management practices has been identified as the most significant factor needed to achieve sustainable agriculture ideals.  However, the lack of feedback mechanisms to alert producers to problems that may arise from their actions or inactions, and of strategies to deal with them within the time-frame of of on-farm decision making, are considered to represent critical barriers to the adoption of more sustainable practices.”

In so many ways, this is what HRM is designed to do; the development of the holisticgoal and the importance of monitoring and modifying management towards the achievement of that goal fills precisely the need described in the previous quotation.

The authors choose to emphasize the complex variability in abiotic and biotic factors within oftentimes large paddocks on the Australian landscape.  This complexity results in a matrix of under and overutilized resources within a single paddock.  Conceptually, at least, Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG) should be able to deal with this complexity.

In contrast, the authors’ solution to this problem is described as a Decision Support System, specifically that of Landassess DSS.  The focus is threefold: a key understanding of ecosystem processes, the identification of early warning indicators, the availability of effective tools to evaluate management options.

The paper then goes on to describe the development of a DSS based on these criteria.  The DSS is a undoubtedly a software-based approach, using complex modeling, database, knowledge management and GIS agents to assist in the management and decision-making framework.  This framework is compelling and by no means mutually exclusive with HM and HPG; on the contrary, the system could be used to factor in elements that are critical to the HM framework, like grazing planning, managed stock-densities, land health monitoring, and precise control over paddock recovery periods.

In this case, the DSS was used to develop a complex management model for the following factors:

  1. Land units (paddocks)
  2. System states-state tranisitions to classify paddock conditions under 5 category classifications
  3. Precipitation
  4. Soil erosion risk
  5. Regression models for predicting pasture production
  6. Animal production
  7. Preferences for pasture condition, which allowed for the assignation of stocking rates
  8. Economic model to extrapolate value from predicted animal production

Ultimately, what the DSS allows the land managers to do is to run through a series of “What If” scenarios; these scenarios will then predict a number of interesting outputs: animal live weight gain, pasture production, soil erosion risk, and paddock gross margins.  The article presents a couple of real world examples for the application of their modeling software.

Conclusions

The author’s themselves acknowledge that these types of models depend highly on the quality of the data and the assumptions on which they are built.  Little is offered in terms of a detailed evaluation of their modeling software.  Keep in mind, as well, that this paper was published 12 years ago; surely much progress has been made since that time.  Questions abound, for example: How well does it predict things like pasture degradation and/or gross margins in the real world?

For the purposes of HMI, a real case could be made to engage researchers involved in these types of modelling and decision support framework efforts.  By taking elements of the HM framework and incorporating them into these powerful modelling tools, HRM could experience an upgrade that allows it to deal with complexity several orders of magnitude beyond current capacity.  To be sure, complex models have little value for small and medium scale ranches; but government agencies and large land holders stand to benefit greatly.  This is, moreover, a powerful way to “institutionalize” HRM at very large scale landscape levels.