First, the rather gruesome news that you probably don’t want to know but which every beef consumer should hear: Animals raised in factory farms are fed diets whose main ingredients are genetically modified grain and soy (we won’t even get into the “by-product feedstuff” that some industrial farms use). A high-grain diet may be a cheap way to fatten animals and force them to grow to market weight as quickly as possible, but grain-fed cattle often suffer from a number of health problems including intestinal damage, dehydration, liver abscesses, and even death. In addition, industrial farms crowd thousands of animals into confined facilities, often without access to fresh air or sunlight. To combat the problems caused by all this unnatural and poor treatment, antibiotics and artificial hormones are usually added to feed to combat disease and promote rapid growth.
Luckily, we have good news. There is an alternative, and it is local, pasture-raised beef which you can find at the market and area farms. Pasture-raised means the animals are raised outdoors on pasture in a humane, ecologically sustainable manner, rather than in a feedlot or confined facility.
The benefits are numerous. For one thing, pasture-raised animals roam freely in their natural environment where they’re able to forage and graze on nutritious grasses and other plants that their bodies are adapted to digest. Ruminants such as cattle are simply not designed to eat starchy, low-fiber grain; their bodies are built to eat fibrous grasses, plants, and shrubs. In addition to dramatically improving the welfare of the animals, pasturing also helps reduce environmental damage, and yields meat products that are tastier and more nutritious than foods produced on factory farms. Studies show that meat from pasture-raised cattle is lower in calories and total fat, has a higher level of vitamins, and a healthier balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats than conventional meat products. Meat from pasture-fed cows has from 200 to 500 percent more CLA as a proportion of total fatty acids than meat from cows that eat a primarily grain-based diet. A healthier, well-cared for animal means healthier, high-quality, delicious food for you and your family – it just makes sense.
Any one of the farms at the market will proudly explain their practices, describe their care of the animals, and answer any questions you may have about choosing and preparing meat for your meal. When you buy local pasture-raised beef, you’re not only taking a step to safeguard your health, protect the environment, and improve animal well-being, you’re also supporting sustainable farming and the farmers who choose to practice it.
What to buy: Beef can be purchased as whole or halves, for those who have the freezer space and/or large families. At the market, all of the familiar cuts are available include steaks, ground beef, roasts, ribs, and tips.
How to cook pasture-raised beef: Because pasture-raised meats contain less fat, they need to be cooked at a lower temperature and for less time. Overcooking is one of the most common rookie errors when switching from commercially-grown beef to pasture-raised beef. Check out this website, as well as this page from Chelsea Green, for some tips.
Sources: Brookford Farm, Hurd Farm, Kellie Brook Farm, New Roots Farm, Our Place Farm, Popper’s Artisanal Meats, and Top of the Hill Farm will all be bringing our featured food, beef, to our March 16th Winter Farmers’ Market in Exeter!