What is Grass Finished Beef?

Grass fed cows grazing on a hill.

What is Grass Finished Beef?

Grass Finished Means Really, Truly Grass Fed

Grass finished beef is beef from cows that have only ever eaten grass. The finishing period of a cow’s life is the final stage, at which point it may still be growing its frame a bit but is mostly gaining muscle and fat. For conventionally raised beef cows, this is the period in which they eat the most grain, because calorie-dense grain is good at putting on fat. So the term grass finished beef reaffirms that the cow only ate grass, even during the critical finishing period.

Grass finished beef cows gazing beneath a hill.

How is it Different from Grass Fed?

In a perfect world, grass fed would always mean grass finished. And it usually does, particularly when used by small farmers committed to the best agriculture. But some brands, eager to catch the grass fed buzz, market their beef as grass fed even though they also feed grain. Their unscrupulous logic is that because cows universally eat lots of grass in their early life, they can all be called grass fed, even if they also eat grain.

So farmers like me are stuck with clarifying terms like ‘grass finished.’ I never feed my cows grain, and I want people to know it. I would like to just be able to say grass fed and have that be clear, but as long as big ag is trying to steal the language I and farmers like me use to differentiate ourselves, I need to use words that don’t leave any wiggle room.

The Key to Better Beef

The reason all beef isn’t grass finished is that it’s harder. Almost any cow will quickly fatten if fed enough grain. But to appropriately finish on grass, the pasture or hay must be of the highest quality, and the cow must be given time. Producing grass finished beef takes a level of care and attentiveness that isn’t needed in a feedlot environment.

In practice this requires good grazing. On my farm cows move to fresh grass every day of the growing season and deep into the fall. They eat a diverse diet of grasses and clovers, breath clean air, and drink clean water. Cows finishing in colder weather require the absolute highest quality hay to give them enough energy.

But it’s worth it. Beef from cows that have lived their whole lives outside, eating nothing but grass, is absolutely delicious, with a depth and complexity of flavor that grain fed beef can’t match. Cows evolved eating grass, and they’re particularly good at it. It is also healthier for the land, the farmers, and the people who eat it.

A herd of grass finished beef cows with hills behind.

The Keys to Grass Finished Beef

  • Cows eat only grass their entire lives.
  • Unlike conventional beef, in which cows are fed grain during the finishing period, grass finished beef comes from cows fattened on grass alone.
  • Some unscrupulous brands market beef as grass fed even though the cows it comes from have also eaten grain. Grass finished is a further guard against such obfuscation.
  • Raising high quality beef from cows that eat only grass takes particular skill, because grass and hay are not as naturally calorie dense as grain.
  • Grass finished beef has a richer flavor and superior nutrient profile when compared to conventional beef.

Where to Find Grass Finished Beef

Hopefully this post has clarified what grass finished beef is and why you should consider seeking it out. If you’re interested, I’ve created a whole page dedicated to helping you find a local farm that sells grass fed beef. It has both national and regional directories of farms, questions you should consider asking and what to watch out for.

If you’ve liked this post you might also want to check out this article on the differences between pastured and grass fed, or an explanation of why you shouldn’t go looking for grass fed chicken.

Please leave a comment below or shoot me an email if you have any further questions.