Force Feeding Cattle: Grass-Fed vs Grain-Fed
I was engaged in a brief conversation last week, when I received the following reply:
@JeffFowle Cows eat grass naturally.We force them 2 eat corn 2 fatten quickly.They don’t digest it well & humans don’t digest the beef well.
This is not the first time I have seen a statement like this on Twitter, let alone other social media platforms.
First, cattle love grain, literally. I shared two personal examples with the individual.
Example #1: When we are bringing cattle up to the corrals, on the west side of the ranch, they break into a run as they come around the hill before entering the barnyard…in a beeline to grain tanks that we store our rations in. Despite keeping the platforms relatively clean under the tanks, there is always some remnant grain available and a mass of black bodies soon envelop the tanks, looking for a treat. It then becomes a grand “game” between the dogs and cows to evacuate the area.
Example #2: We always have at least one pen of bulls, being fed out for sales. Our nutritional program maintains free choice, high quality, hay in front of the bulls 24/7. It is typically either a grass/alfalfa mix or straight alfalfa, depending on the time of the year and length of time on feed. The neighbors can tell every morning and night that I am even 5 minutes late to feed grain…the bulls want their grain. Like clockwork, the bawling begins at 6:55 am and 5:35 pm, it would make for a great alarm on a clock. And, as anyone who has fed calves at a bunk, if you are not quick enough to deposit the grain, the body can suffer…it is more like they are “forcing” us to feed them grain [sarcasm].
The second part of the statement, related to fattening cattle more quickly is correct. Grain is higher in energy content and higher in digestibility, thus decreasing the number of days required to be on feed to reach an end point. The introduction of grain as a feed source, has allowed ranchers to have more options in managing and rotating pasture and ranges and more grass available to maintain cows as their calves could be fed out quicker.
In regards to the last part of the statement, I wrote a post last year that covers these two topics; digestibility of grain by cattle and meat by humans Is Grass Really Greener? and Beef In A Diet. In short, grain is more easily digested than grass and hay and muscle tissue is digested more completely than plant tissue.
I enjoy conversations that bring up “popular belief” by people who have not had the opportunity to discuss particular issues with folks who actually know.
What other common mis-understandings have you encountered?