Corn’s Benefits as Part of Livestock Diet

Original release- NCGA

In a world where the importance of a high-protein diet is widely recognized, consumers value the meat they eat and recognize the role it plays in keeping them healthy and strong. A lot of this has to do with what goes into the meat in the first place, and our food-sensitive culture often does not understand the role of grains in the livestock world.

“At National Corn Growers Association, many of our grower-leaders, myself included, have livestock feeding operations,” said NCGA President Darrin Ihnen. “I see the value every say of using corn as a natural, healthy and nutritious feed for our animals. Likewise, as someone involved in the industry, I see a lot of the myths that are out there about grain feed.”

In the first place, there is no clear division between “grass-fed” and “corn-fed.” Corn-fed beef actually spend most of their lives on a range or pasture, eating grass. At 9 to 12 months of age, they are moved to a feedlot for about four to six months, eating a balanced mixed meal of different grains hay, and forage. This allows them to grow more quickly.

“Grass-fed” cattle start the same way, but are finished with a diet of grass. Because it is hard to produce grass-fed beef in large quantities here in the United States, due to limited growing seasons, most grass-finished beef is imported from Australia and New Zealand where grass grows all year.

More details can be found on this fact sheet. What is essential to realize is that there is very little nutritional difference between the types of beef, and taste and tenderness tend to be better with grain-fed beef, as evidenced in a recent Time magazine taste test.

There is also an environmental benefit as well. The Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues issued a study in 2007 that found that beef produced with grains produces 40 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions and saves two-thirds more land for nature compared to organic grass-fed beef. When people are concerned about acreage and land use, that’s a good thing.

Of the 2010 corn harvest, the U.S. Department estimated that 5.4 billion bushels of corn will be used as livestock feed, along with an additional 1.5 billion bushels of distillers grains, a high-protein ethanol coproduct. That’s about 46 percent of the corn supply.

The distillers grains amount is important, because it is part of the corn that goes into ethanol production. This amount unfortunately is easily ignored by those who think that corn for ethanol takes corn away from livestock, which it does not. In fact, it puts important protein and nutrients into the food supply.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Rancher on August 31, 2010 at 10:55 PM

    This is a partly true article. It is the parts that are untrue that bother me. I guess we all choose to see only what we want to see to some degree. But you seem to only be looking at the research that strengthens your position instead of offering a balanced approach. Lets start with you first point, “no clear division”, there have been hundreds of studies showing the clear superiority of grass-fed beef, there is a difference. What statistic can you give us readers to validate your claim that “most grass-finished beef is imported from Australia and New Zealand”? There isn’t proof, this is a baseless claim with no support and no merit. Let’s talk about the Hudson report. Who paid for the Hudson report? What this report leaves out is that feedlots are carbon negative, meaning that feedlots because of the compaction of the soil and lack of green grass, cannot hold or absorb carbon. Grazing systems are carbon positive, even with an increase of methane production, the land can absorb more carbon (methane) than the animals produce. The Hudson study is not worth the paper it is written on because it only tells the part of the story the funding company wanted told. The bottom line is the corn industry has to have an outlet for the over production of corn and livestock is the default choice, not because it is healthy, it is not, not because it is right, it again is not, it is simply a matter of economics. Please stop trying to justify what the corn industry is doing by lying to the public about the health benefits. It is bad for the animal and bad for people and we haven’t even addressed Genetic Modification yet. Pawn this stuff to someone who doesn’t know any better!


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