Grass Fed versus Grain Fed Beef

There have been a lot of folks interested in concept of grass fed beef the past few years.  This niche market has been gaining in popularity in our area, and the economic model fits into many of our smaller acreage properties.  I grew up on grass fed beef as a kid and really never tasted grain fed beef until I was an adult.  For some health conscious consumers grass-finished beef is preferred to traditionacowsl grain finished beef because it is perceived as more healthy and lean and more environmentally friendly from a production standpoint and others will swear that grass fed beef just tastes better.  So what are the differences between grass fed and grain fed beef?  Do they both produce the same amount of product and is one better than the other?

In a research study done by the West Virginia University Extension Service, a group of Angus steers averaging 905 lbs were divided and fed in two different groupings.  One group was fed strictly grass and grazed on mixed species pasture for 84 days followed by ryegrass-clover pasture for 219 days (total of 303 days). Another group was fed in drylot on 80%-corn ration for 168 days. The results were as follows:




ADG, lb
Final weight, lb
Dressing %
Fat cover, in
Ribeye area, sq in
Yield Grade
Quality Grade
Low Choice
High Select

Following the feeding trial, the animals were processed and a tasting panel was assembled to evaluate the end product.  Grass-finished steaks were significantly more tender, but there were no significant differences in juiciness, flavor intensity, flavor quality, or overall palatability. Cost of gain was $0.07/cwt less for grass finishing, and if a carcass price premium of 8% could be realized for grass finishing that system resulted in $62/head more profit.  However, without any premium grain finishing was $25/head more profitable.


Prepared by Philip Shackelford, PhD
County Extension Agent for Agriculture & Natural Resources
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service of Austin County

The information given herein is for educational purposes only.  References to commercial products or trade names are made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel is implied.

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