MeatWorks a butchery and market in Mena, Arkansas this spring. If you live in that part of the state, you should go visit. It's really a one-of-a-kind store. Today's post was written by Tracy. She also wrote about the benefits of bulk buying local meat here.
Why Does Grass Finished Beef Cost More than Grain Finished Beef?
To answer this question simply, it has to do with three important elements:
First, properly finishing animals on grass is very difficult and requires specific genetics and attention to forage quality and quantity. Approximately 95-97% of the US Cattle Herd producers have transitioned their genetics to fit the industrial feedlot system, which has advocated larger animals that will gain muscle fiber and fat consistently over time. Initially, the feedlot system was built to take advantage of low-priced grain and convert it to higher-priced beef, which is why the typical cow weight has increased well over 300 lbs in the past 35 years. While production geared for this system provided a relatively brief profit opportunity for industrial agriculture (about 50 years), it fundamentally changed the phenotype of most of the cattle in the US, which has resulted in a US Cow Herd that is relatively inefficient on grass and simply wont gain the proper fat covering on grass alone. We have invested only in heritage grass-type genetics which are highly sought after and cost about 2-3 x that of conventional genetics.
2. Forage Quality/Quantity
Additionally, the forage quality/quantity has to be adequate to allow these animals to express their genetic potential, which requires management intensive operations and a higher level of expertise in agronomy.
Most of the grazing lands have been stripped of micro-biology and nutrients due to excessive extraction (hay making, cropping) over many decades. Conventional fertilizers, while causing a short-term boost to forage growth, cause tremendous harm to soil life and structure. A true "grass-finisher" must put several resources into re-establishing the soil micro-biology so that forages can truly thrive and produce high levels of nutrients for our animals.
In general, this requires time consuming methods such as foliar spraying, compost and compost tea preparation and application, intensive grazing and other methods geared for bringing the soil back to life.
3. Additional Time To Finish Animals
Simply put, proper grass-finishing requires more time than grain-finishing which results in increased land requirements and feeding costs. The conventional producer will usually wean and sell their animals at about 8 months old, which doesn't require any wintering costs of the calves. The grass-finishing producer typically keeps their animals until slaughter at about 24-28 months, which results in carrying these animals through two winters, not to mention a requirement of about 40% more land to ensure adequate stocking capacity for raising animals to finish. While some may argue that the cow's time on grass is relatively inexpensive, we would encourage you to look at the current figures regarding the necessary land investment $$/cow in the state of Arkansas, which is now in excess of $10,000 per cow.
In summary, we strive to operate our farms in a sustainable and holistic manner, with a strong focus on the soil and animal fertility and a loving stewardship of the small piece of God's earth we've been blessed enough to "borrow."
Youngblood Grassfed Farm
MeatWorks Butchery and Market