Grass fed vs Grass Finished: What’s the Difference?
There are two ways to describe raising beef on grass. Unless you understand the difference, you may end up buying a product that is not what you think it is.
Both GRASS-FED and GRASS-FINISHED are used to describe growing beef on pasture. It sounds like they may mean the same thing but there is a big difference between them.
You must realize there is no legal description explaining what the difference is. CFIA has not mandated what the terms mean so they both can mean anything and everything that anyone wants them to mean.
That puts much responsibility on you, the beef eater, to understand the difference and then to make your purchases accordingly.
GRASS-FED means that the cattle were fed grass during their lives. This technically applies to 100% of beef cattle grown in the world. They are all grass fed and the majority of the animals are then put in a feedlot in their finishing stage where they are fed anything to help them put on weight. Usually, that is a barley diet in Alberta, but in other places around the world, it can also be corn. Essentially, it means putting carbs into ruminant animals and getting them really fat really fast.
GRASS-FINISHED means that the cattle, on top on being grass fed, are ONLY fed grass,hay, and forages during their finishing stage. This should be more of a philosophical term than a scientific one. I know of producers who advertise their beef as grass-finished, but they supplement their diet with some type of processed food, eg alfalfa pellets. Instead of being on pasture, the animals are confined in a feedlot type situation fed a grass-based diet instead of a grain-based diet. That perhaps fits within the scientific description of grass, but it doesn’t fit the philosophical principles.
At Hoven Farms, we grow GRASS-FINISHED beef. Our animals are raised on grass, moved daily while there is fresh grass available (usually from May-Dec), and only receive a grass/hay food supply. This is hard to do but we believe the benefit to animal health, the quality of life for the animal, the benefit to our soils and environment, and ultimately to human health make it the way we have to go.