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Pasture-Fed Beef vs. Grass-Fed Beef – What’s the Difference?

Make no mistake, there is a lot at steak (whoops, stake) when deciding what to feed your family, so when someone tells you a steak is a steak is a steak … they are either misguided or simply unaware of the differences in the choices available. Never fear, we are here to help with pasture-fed beef vs grass-fed beef.

Much of the beef consumed comes straight out of cramped feedlots where the cattle are fed copious amounts of GMO grains to maximize weight gain of the animals. Health conscious and educated customers see many pitfalls to this type of mass production, including a heavy impact on the environment. With more and more consumers searching for better options, the food market is now ripe with confusing terminology.

This sounds complicated, but really it’s not. Grass-fed describes what is being fed, whereas pasture-fed describes where the animal is being fed. A classic case of what versus where.

At Rafter W Ranch we feel education and understanding WHAT you are buying is more than half the battle (enjoying what we produce is the other half of the battle … but that’s the BEST PART!). Many consumers DO NOT UNDERSTAND the differences in their choices and we are here to educate you properly.


Defining Pasture-Raised and Grass-Fed?

We know you may be curious and we are ready to explain the lingo. As you shop in today’s modern grocery stores we hope that you want to be informed. There are so many options to choose from. The shelves and all the labeling can be overwhelming! Healthy, delicious, environmentally-friendly food is our mission. Serving and educating you is our passion.

What Does Pasture-Raised Mean?
First, what is pasture-raised? Pasture-raised means that animals get a significant portion of their nutrition this way. They get it from managed pastures. Sometimes the foraged feed may be dried and stored for future use. Animals may also be receiving supplement grain. Largely, pasture-raised livestock grazes on grass.

Is Grass-Fed the Same as Pasture-Raised?
Does pasture-raised mean grass-fed? There is a difference as you probably expected. You know what pasture-raised means now. But what about grass-fed? Grass-fed means that animals eat nothing but their mother’s milk and grass from birth to harvest. The grass may be fresh grass or grass-type hay. We like to put it simply. Grass-fed links to what the animal eats (grass). Pasture-raised links to where the animal eats (a pasture).

Is Pasture-Raised Automatically Grass-Fed?
Pasture-raised livestock might be fed grain. This happens during winter when the climate turns cold. During this season, a pasture may be covered with snow in some regions. Pasture-raised animals can be labeled “grass-fed” only if the animals’ diets consist of grass from birth to harvest.

Is Grass-Fed Automatically Pasture-Raised?
No. An animal may be kept indoors for the duration of its life. It could be grass-fed in the form of hay. It could be stationed in a barn. We will say that this is rare. Most beef and dairy marked as grass-fed however, do spend a great deal of their lives outside at pasture.

So a pasture fed cow can also be a grass-fed cow, but only if the pasture in question has ample grass to sustain the herd all throughout the year. A pasture fed cow could also be raised, or at least finished on nothing but grain, yes even GMO grain.

Grass-fed beef is an important term, but still consumers must pay careful attention as not all grass-fed beef is created equal. Grass-fed could mean the animal ate grass once upon a time, grass finished could mean the cow was fed grass in the months leading up to market. At Rafter W Ranch all of our cattle are raised purely on grass for their entire lives. To give our customers the best meat on the market and to sustain the land we deeply care about, we rotate our herds daily. And even more importantly, we NEVER feed grain of any kind which has earned our ranch certification by the American Grassfed Association. We live and work on the same Colorado soil where we raise our cattle so the health of our lush pastureland means as much to us as the health of your family does to you.

There are a growing number of local farm to table options for consumers in many areas, but as consumers, we must be vigilant and ask the right questions in order to truly understand where our food is coming from.

Researching pasture-fed beef vs grass-fed beef can be both time consuming and confusing, but well worth the extra effort. Or you can easily satisfy your need for pure, grass-fed beef by ordering direct from us here at Rafter W Ranch.