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Grass-Fed Or Grain-Fed Cows For The Homestead?

Grass-Fed Or Grain-Fed Cows For The Homestead?

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You hear a lot of talk these days about grass-fed beef. You might be thinking: What’s the big deal? Don’t all cows eat grass?

Well, yes and no. Except in some extreme cases, most cattle get some kind of grass or hay as roughage in their daily rations. After all, they are herbivores.

The real question is: What is the main nutrition source of their diet — grass or grain?

Most cattle in the United States are fed grain and given hay, pasture and in some cases silage as part of their daily diet.

Which is better: grass-fed or grain-fed? Rather than launch into the pros and cons of the meat and health qualities, let’s look at the considerations you’ll need to weigh before deciding which might be a better fit for your homestead.

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Raising a cow on a 100 percent forage diet means having enough high-quality pasture and hay to feed them. If you have access to that kind of pasture and even better, land to raise hay, grass-fed could be a great option.

How much pasture will you need per cow? There is no definitive answer. It depends on several factors, such as quality of forage, soil type and rain fall in your area.

A good place to start would be two acres per cow and then closely monitor both the condition of the cows and the pasture.

Grass-Fed Or Grain-Fed Cows For The Homestead?

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You’re looking for the sweet spot of not over-grazed but not under-grazed to the point it gets too mature before the cattle can graze it off. If you have enough pasture, this is easily kept in balance by sectioning off the field and rotating the cattle through it.

If you don’t have much land and you’ll be purchasing hay, you should consider using pasture as much as possible and supplementing with hay and grain.

Many farms feed some grain to compensate for low-quality pasture and hay. Let the condition of the cattle dictate if they need grain.

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If you want to raise 100 percent grass-fed cattle, you’ll need to make a commitment to creating and maintaining high-quality pasture. Look for cattle that will thrive on a forage-only diet.

Many times, it’s a good option to start out with the mindset of supplementing with grain and working to cut the consumption as much as possible until you learn the ropes of pasture management and hay selection.

Keep in mind that your particular philosophy of raising cattle is of no concern to the cows. They simply want to be well-fed.

If you can do that on 100 percent forage, I think that’s great. If it takes some grain to pull it off, feed some grain.

Either way, you will know exactly how your beef is raised. That’s more than most Americans can say.

What is your preference: grass-fed or grain-fed? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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  1. For tax purposes, one of the measures of the value of the land is based on how many acres it takes to maintain a cow. In the south east US, it takes about 2 acres per cow, when you factor in hay land as well. That’s with medium management. Poor management will take like 3 acres per cow. High management, maybe less than 2 acres per cow. In the Midwestern US, where it’s desert sort of land, it takes at least 10 acres to maintain a cow.

    Another factor in the grain fed vs grass fed debate is the flavor of the meat. We raise grass fed beef to sell, and they get little to no grain, just because of the economics. But if we feed out a calf for ourselves, we give it grain to fatten up faster than just on grass. It gives a much better marbling to the meat, so it has much better flavor. It’s still fairly lean, as with about any home grown meat (chicken, etc). The fat of the land has literal meaning: the fat that comes from the milk cow, the meat you raise, etc. It’s extremely valuable and rare, but it’s also healthy and to be sought after, not avoided. If you are eating what you raise, and you’re raising your animals and crops in a wholesome manner, you don’t need to be afraid of the fat. If you’re eating right, the fat will fall off you, even if you give your animals a little grain. I’ve been feeding my milk cow a good bit of grain everyday, plus cotton seed meal, just to keep some fat on her, but she also gets all the high protein hay she can eat, plus any grass she can find. I’ve been drinking her milk and cream and I’ve lost 40 pounds in the last year. I didn’t start loosing till I got her and started drinking all of her cream I could stand. You must have high quality fat for your own body to be healthy. Think back to the old days– people were so seldom fat, and yet they gorged themselves on any fat they could find, whether cream, butter, milk, lard, etc. The problem today is all the artificial ingredients in our food that our bodies can’t digest.

  2. There are breeds of cattle that do better on just grass. The Red Devon is one of them. They convert the grass in to delicious well-marbled meat. Cows were not meant to eat grain. It’s why they have four stomachs.

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