Corn-Fed vs Grass-Finished

DeEtta Bohling, KCGA/KGSPA
Communications Specialist

We see the labels at the grocery store differentiating grass-fed from the rest. What does this mean and why should you care?

Corn-fed beef, is also known as conventional or grain-fed. It is the most widely produced kind of beef in the U.S. and probably what you commonly see at your local grocery store. What you may not know, however, is that corn-fed beef cattle spend most of their lives in pasture conditions eating grass. At 12 to 18 months of age, conventional cattle are moved to a feedlot and are usually separated into groups of 100 animals and live in pens that allow about 125 to 250 square feet of room per animal. Cattle then spend four to six months in the feedlot and are fed a scientifically formulated ration of corn and/or silage, hay and distillers grains.

Modern beef production increases efficiency and allows us to produce more pounds of beef using fewer resources such as land, feed, and water. Modern production is also heavily regulated to protect the soil, water, and air quality. Modern cattle feeding operations allow us to have a year-round supply of safe, wholesome and nutritious beef at an affordable price for consumers.

Many consumers are unaware that beef cattle spend a great deal of their life grazing in the pasture whether or not they are later fed corn. Grass-finished beef are kept on grass at 12-18 months of age. Grass-finished cattle can also be called free range, and only eat grass and forage throughout their lifespan. Grass-finished beef is often described as having a distinct taste and may have different preparation methods. In North America it is difficult to produce grass-finished beef in large due to limited growing seasons. This is why a large amount of the grass-finished beef is imported from Australia and New Zealand where they will have grass year-round. If all beef was grass-finished, we wouldn’t have enough land to produce the amount of beef we do now with modern beef production and we wouldn’t be able to produce it at the same quantity year-round.

It is important to understand that consumers have a choice when choosing corn-fed or grass-finished beef. It is a common misperception that grass-finished beef is healthier. Consumers can be confident that all types of beef can be included in a healthy diet.

I am going to continue eating corn-fed beef, but I encourage you to let your taste buds decide.

Special thanks to Kelsey Pope, NE Corn Board, for compiling this information.
Photo: Corn-Fed cattle at Bismarck Gardens- Lawrence, KS.

Additional Information:
Beef Checkoff
Beef Quality Assurance
Explore Beef


One response to this post.

  1. Has anyone studied how many (grass-finished) beef cattle could be raised on land currently committed to the corn and soybeans that comprise the bulk of their feed in the finishing stage?


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