You would think that when you hear of Cattle that are "Grass-fed" that would pretty much define what they are, based off of what they eat right? Well….Not exactly. Believe it or not the Government (being the USDA), has at "least" 3 definitions for the term "GRASS-FED"! Wouldn’t it be nice if they would stop confusing consumers and stop making our lives as producers more difficult?
According to the USDA, Grass and forage shall be the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. The diet shall be derived solely from forage consisting of grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g., legumes, Brassica), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state. Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Hay, haylage, baleage, silage, crop residue without grain, and other roughage sources may also be included as acceptable feed sources. Routine mineral and vitamin supplementation may also be included in the feeding regimen. If incidental supplementation occurs due to inadvertent exposure to non-forage feedstuffs or to ensure the animal’s well being at all times during adverse environmental or physical conditions, the producer must fully document (e.g., receipts, ingredients, and tear tags) the supplementation that occurs including the amount, the frequency, and the supplements provided.
Grass (Forage) Fed Marketing Claim Standard (October 16, 2007, Federal Register Notice (72 FR 58631)) - PDF
Than there are the discussion group’s notes taken from the meetings they had to come up with these standards.
Grass (Forage) Percentage
Comments: An overwhelming majority of the comments received expressed support that AMS (Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA). chose to develop and propose production standards for grass fed animals. Further, the majority of comments supported
that the animal’s diet must be 99 percent or higher grass or forage-based. AMS also received a small number of comments suggesting a percentage other than the proposed 99 percent. A few commenter’s suggested the standard be 100 percent grass or forage-based. One commenter in particular commented favorably on the increase from 80 percent to 99 percent but stated that "a 100 percent would be easier to verify." YA THINK!?
There were also commenter’s who stated that the 99 percent grass or forage-based diet was too strict due to the diverse climate and rangeland throughout the United States. One commenter stated that 99 percent of the diet coming from grass or forage is too high to have a balanced ration that provides good weight gains and also reduces nitrogen losses to the environment.
And the senseless babble of backroom confusion continued.
Let’s just lay it all out and make it simple O.K.?
Cattle must be maintained on 100% GRASS/forage diets for their entire lives.
NO GRAIN EVER!! Simple to understand right?
"Grass-finished" on the other hand means just that, they were "finished" on grass. Nothing is covered or defined about what they were fed prior to being "finished". The average finishing time for cattle is 6 weeks. That’s approx. 6% of their entire lives, based on a finishing age for harvesting of 24 months. Or an average of 200 pounds gained before harvest.
"Grain-finished" could be the exact opposite of "grass-finished". My question is why would you do that? BIGGER faster isn’t necessarily better or healthier for you or the cattle.
Compliance with all of a "Grass-fed" BEEF program should be monitored by on-farm/ranch visits and audits by the certifying agency that has certified the producer in question. Just like "Certified Organic" producers right? Not exactly. In Pennsylvania there are no governing bodies that enforce statements or claims of being Certified Organic! Unfortunately I’m not kidding. I could market organic snails and folks that might eat those slimy little creatures would pay top dollar for them. That is if my neighbor/competitor sold his snails as being marketed as Grain-fed or grass finished. Now I’m kidding.