One of the most persistent myths about grass-fed beef is it’s always lean. Much grass-fed beef is lean, but not all, and certainly not most of the beef we raise here at Cairncrest Farm. we like some fat on our steaks because it makes them taste better, and so long as the fats come from a nutritious, clean source of feed we believe they’re healthy for humans to consume.
Grass-fed fats have beneficial compounds such as omega 3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and carotenes. Grain fed beef fats tend to have much less of these health promoting factors as well as a greasier mouth feel and blander flavors.
It is possible to get beef cattle plenty fat on grass alone but many producers don’t. Why? What factors determine fattiness? The quick answer is energy, age, and ancestry. There are other attributes and reasons, but these three are the most important variables.
- Energy – Fat has more than twice the energy per unit weight than carbohydrates and proteins. To put fat on a steer there must be enough energy in the feed for the animal to meet its maintenance requirements and also provide an excess of calories that can be captured as fat. We slaughter our steers in the summer and fall when our cool season grasses naturally are at peak nutritional value.
- Age – young animals direct energy towards growth in overall size. Older animals that have finished growing out their skeletons and muscles put excess energy toward laying on fat for winter. We take our steers out to about 24 months old. Grain finished animals often go to slaughter at 16 months.
- Ancestry – Pedigree matters. A lot. Dairy cattle can make for flavorful, fine tasting grass-fed beef, but it is impossible to get a dairy influenced steer as fat as one with good beef genetics.
This year we also raised some angus steers with with different ancestors from the rest of our herd. They didn’t get nearly as fat as the beef from our easy fleshing cows. We ask our butcher to blend our ground beef at 80/20, but some of it has been blended a bit fatter than that. If you want leaner ground beef we have two options in the store – one is the Bull Beef. Testosterone inhibits fat deposition in favor of musculature, so the ground from our bull is much leaner. The other option is to order the regular ground beef and write us a note in the checkout section to fulfill your order with meat from the leaner lot of steers.