Home > Beef, Science, Water & Environment > Is Grass Really Greener?

Is Grass Really Greener?

I’ve begun hearing an argument among “green” activists and some Grass Fed niche marketers that grass-fed cattle are “greener” and produce less methane (CH4) than their grain fed counterparts.

Folks, go back and review your feeds and feeding class, nutrition class and biochemistry class.

First, grain has a higher TDN (total digestible nutrient) than forages. Due to higher TDN, in most comparisons, grain digestion results in an average of four times less methane (CH4) production. In addition, due to the higher digestibility of grains, it requires less energy to breakdown, thus results in a higher net comparable energy gain than forage digestion.

For example, think back to that steer you fed in 4-H or FFA. When you started them on feed your ration was probably around 80:20 (roughage:concentrate or hay:grain) and over the course of feeding, as you neared the end point, that ratio changed to around 35:65. A lower energy, higher protein diet was utilized to maximize growth at the beginning of the animals growth curve and transitioned into a higher energy, lower protein diet to encourage inter muscular and subcutaneous fat deposition. Now, remember how that steers phenotype changed over the course of feeding him? At the beginning, he walked around the pen with a what? “Hay Belly?” Correct! and as time went on, that belly gradually diminished as the ration increased in the percentage concentrate being fed. That “Hay Belly” is methane gas (CH4). OK, enough for the feeds and feeding lesson.

Those in the beef industry need to make sure that the information they present to the consumer is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I fully support niche marketing, however, utilizing mis-information to gain a market share, mislead the public and potentially hurt others within the industry is not the Christian thing to do. Utilize the true scientific merit or consumer preference to support your endeavors.

For those in the general public, before you believe what you read or hear on the news or from a friend, or organization, always check the science.

The grass is not always greener.

  1. February 5, 2010 at 8:21 PM

    Well said Jeff. I've always been suspect about grass-fed beef being so good. You have any more info on the nutritional value of grass-fed vs. grain fed?

  2. David
    April 4, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    Really insightful for someone like me that doesn’t have first hand experience with raising cattle.

    Like Brett, I am also very interested in the nutritional value of grass-fed vs. grain fed. I’m particularly interested in knowing what it is about Argentina’s cattle raising methods that make’s their beef taste so great.


  3. June 8, 2011 at 4:10 AM

    This is a compelling argument. It makes some sense to me. I will have to investigate it further.

    Is there any environmental ‘opportunity cost’ to not using grass?

    I get the digestion element but excuse my ignorance here. Do farmers generally purchase grains for their cows or grow it themselves? I would think that at least CAFO operations would do the former. In that case, wouldn’t there be environmental costs that we aren’t taking into account here such as processing, transportation, and the like?

    • commonsenseagriculture
      June 12, 2011 at 10:18 PM


      Going to try and answer this one before I nod off…lol.

      In the early 1900’s, the vast majority of ranchers were able to make a living feeding out their own cattle, on their ranch, predominately on grass. As costs for living and operation increased, many ranchers realized that they did not have enough grazing land to raise the number of cattle it would take to make a profit. Thus, feedlots became an viable option. Ranchers were able to increase their cow herds by being able to send their weaned calves to another location to be finished, and were able to continue making a living at ranching. It is also important to understand that some ranchers do not own any cows and will buy weaned calves from others and feed out completely on grass or until they are around 950 pounds, at which point they will be sent to a feedlot.

      The primary limiting factors are the AUMs (Animal Unit Months) of a ranch and total operating costs.

      However, there are also registered or seedstock ranches, which produce the bulls and replacement heifers that are utilized by commercial ranches. This is an entirely different ball game so to speak, as their income is not directly based on the fat market. While registered herds to have higher input costs on average, they also see slightly higher returns per animal sold, on average.

      I hope this helps. If not, feel free to ask away. 🙂

      Thank you again for the great questions.

  4. June 8, 2011 at 4:10 AM

    Oops, forgot to subscribe to responses 😦 so adding another comment.

  1. January 24, 2011 at 7:17 AM
  2. March 24, 2011 at 10:41 PM

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