In New Braintree Massachusetts
How to buy grass-fed beef for the REALLY PICKY
Joanie was interviewed on Jimmy Moore's Livin' La Vida Lo Carb Podcast on all the ins and outs of buying grass-fed beef. She went into minute detail on what to look for in choosing a local farm to provide your family with grass fed meat to meet your standards and tastes. 
Below is a synopsis of all the points she covered with Jimmy during their conversations on and off air. 
The key is to decide what you want and then be ruthless in making sure you get it!

Download a PDF of our PowerPoint Presentation of this info HERE. 

The ins & outs of "points for the picky" in choosing grass fed beef
Bet you didn't know all of this was involved in getting the type of meat you want to serve your family.
Purchasing the food you eat is a political as well as nutritional statement - pick what you WANT - and make sure it's what it says it is. Decide what's important to you in taste and how it's grown and VERIFY. Know and visit your farmer. 
  • DO NOT buy grass fed beef from the grocery store. Period. Almost all of the grass fed beef in the supermarket is from outside the US: mostly Australia, but also New Zealand, Uruguy and Brazil. Think of the transportation and the time involved. Cargill buys its beef from Australia – look at the label in your market (unless they make it so they don’t have to tell you where it’s coming from – which is in the legislature NOW). What could go wrong?
  • You can’t investigate shipped in beef – so if you do buy it to be sent to you investigate THOUROUGHLY.
  • KNOW YOUR FARMER. Know your food. You investigate your vitamins loads more than you investigate your edible nutrients. I know people who will spend hours on google searching out just the right type and dose of a magnesium supplement but just take it for granted that that package of “grass fed beef” is just fine.
  • If you can, VISIT the farm! I have actually had a gal go through my barn to look for stashed grain and what I fed for minerals – this is my BEST type of customer – I WANT to sell to demanding people and inform them of what to look for and how to best cook what they are buying. Good beef is an investment, not just a purchase.
    • Is the farm clean? Are they organized? Are they nice, patient people? IF they aren’t nice to you they probably aren’t nice to their animals.
    • Are the animals calm? Stress puts out adrenaline – this makes the muscles ready for fight-or-flight – no way to get tender meat this way.
      • In the book “STEAK” by Mark Schatzker (a great read, btw – and he’s been on Jimmy's show several times) he notes something that’s very true (among a LOT of other stuff): Animal Scientists have long known that when a cow is stressed, marbling is the first fat to disappear.
      • Are they dehorned? Are they lame? Dehorning is often done without anesthesia. Are injuries treated in short order? Chronic injuries flood the system with adrenaline.
      • How old are they when they get weaned? How did they get weaned? Taken away and put in a pen and bottle fed? Taken away and put in another pasture? Most methods stress mom AND calf – calves should be weaned with a weaning ring (think clip on earring) in their nose so they can’t nurse but can be next to mom. Most other systems separate them from mom and the herd – very stressful to them.
    • Are the animals bellowing? – bellowing means they are HUNGRY or something needs attention NOW. Are they fat or are they hungry? Do the adults and calves look muscular and not scrawny? Grass-fed animals should be fat, plump, calm and happy.
    • Are the cattle afraid of visitors or curious? Cattle that are afraid of visitors are not handled much.
    • Is the farmer willing to go over how to best cook grass-fed meat? LOW AND SLOW – my directions are 3 pages long with all kinds of tips and reasons for those tips.
  • Cows are ruminants – this means many things for their health and digestion
    • Many feel cattle need some level of corn or grain to “finish” them well (lay down fat in the muscle, not just on the carcass). Finishing takes time, no matter what you feed them – the fat doesn’t start to lay down well in places other than the skin until the animal is well over 2 years old – usually toward or over 3 for a great marbling.
      • Grass-fed fat should have yellow in it – it should NOT be pure white. Also, there should be NO pink juices – just red. Pink denotes some type of treatment to the beef.
      • Hubby argued with me throughout my finishing my first beef that everyone else said 18-24 months should be fine and me raising them an extra year was just extra cost. They were my cows, so I held them until I felt they were ready. We sat down to enjoy our first taste test of MY beef, raised an extra year. Hubby prepared to say I told you so. He instead said he hadn’t had meat like that since he was a kid and apologized. VINDICATION! I have another grass fed beef producer that says the same thing to me all the time – I am wasting money. I have bought beef from him. It’s good, but I will take mine any day – as will anyone I serve it to – everyone notices the difference. Why would you want to spend a little less and get a lesser product if you are trying to buy the best product for you. It shouldn’t just be healthy – it should taste WONDERFUL.
  • Shades of gray on what “grass-fed” means
    • Grass-fed, grass-finished - what do these mean?
      • Certified Grass-fed means 100% grass fed and grass finished.
        • An AGA-Certified Grassfed animal is born, raised, and finished on open grass pastures where perennial and annual grasses, forbs, legumes, brassicas, browse and post-harvest crop residue without grain are the sole energy sources, with the exception of mother’s milk, from birth to harvest (the politically correct term) . Hay, haylage (those hay marshmallows), silage, and ensilage from any of the above sources may be fed to animals while on pasture during periods of inclement weather or low forage quality. But ASK WHAT THEY FED – this could be used as a loophole.
      • Grass-finished means they were fed grass at the end – if it just says grass finished this is the only time they got ALL grass – if not grass-finished, were they finished on corn or corn silage (silage means corn in a bunker although it sounds nice)?
    • Length of time on forage – should be at all times there is a blade of grass in the field, not just a day here or there – or a year on the same acre.
      • Some just have ACCESS
      • some give other foods also – including pig waste from groceries
      • How long are they on their pastures? If they are on too long they start to eat the grasses too short and damage the plants. Unhealthy plants make unhealthy food. Grazing should cut the grass no shorter than 4 inches to keep a healthy growing structure for the grass plant.
    • Types of forage – some consider sorghum, corn grasses. Some will tell you “I feed it but only in the grass stage”. 
      • Sorghum, wheat, rye, oats, maize (CORN), millet are all biologically in the grass family. BEWARE – many people will tell you their animals are grass-fed and they are fed these grains – they just happen to be in the grass FAMILY so they don’t feel they are lying. Ask questions, visit the farm.
      • This is like saying but you only eat healthy whole grains if you are trying to stay away from carbs..
    • Seeded fields – GMO’s?
      • Our fields haven’t been seeded since the 80s and I am ruthless in determining what hay I will use if it’s from off my farm. No GMOs, no human waste fertilizer, no pesticides. This cuts down where I can get hay from tremendously.
        • I use the cows to reseed – I put them through some plots with seed heads – they spread them for me nicely.
        • If I do re-seed I will have to be very careful in my selection – so many hay seed companies are tied in one way or another to Monsanto or other GMO companies. 
        • I do NOT treat my hay with chemicals to preserve the hay – if you cut it and wrap it correctly and at the right moisture it pickles and stays preserved fine. Preservatives are for people who do not pay attention to detail.
    • Fertilizers – including human waste
      • Often referred to as biosolids or milorganite
        • Treated but not proven to remove drugs, hormones and radioactive cancer treatments. Generally Recognized as Safe – and we all know what that means….
        • Sewage sludge regularly tests positive for a host of heavy metals, flame retardants, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, pharmaceuticals, phthalates, dioxins, and a host of other chemicals and organisms. Of the thousands of contaminants that have been found in sludge, the U.S. government regulates exactly 10 of them (nine heavy metals and fecal coliform)
        • “pee-cycling” is on the horizon as a liquid fertilizer
      • Organic fertilizers cost up to 10 times as much as chemical so raises cost of beef considerably
      • Grass-fed cow poop is ONLY GRASS – that’s all they eat. It decomposes pretty well and is a good fertilizer BUT the cows do take nutrients out of the grass so it is not able to be sustainable without intensive management.
      • Keeping toxins and certain chemicals low allows the soil microorganisms to recover to do the work they were intended to do. Dung beetles, bugs, worms, bacteria – all play a part in the soil health web that makes healthier soil, healthier food and a healthier planet.
    • HAY – just because their fields are fine, does not mean the hay they use in the winter is.
      • Do they cut their own hay? If not, where do they get it?
      • Does it have GMO seeds? What are the fertilizers used?
      • Is it treated with chemicals to “preserve” it?
      • Remember they are on hay in New England – and many cooler parts of the world – for up to six months. When they are out on pasture it looks idyllic but remember: their hay can be half of what they eat. Don’t overlook that piece of the puzzle.
    • Water – we have gravity fed spring water over our entire farm. You take in what they drank for water. Are the animals you are eating drinking city water? Artesian or hydrofracked water? What’s in it? Is it high in iron or lead or other nastys?
  • Do they actually raise their own beef?
    • Feeder cattle
      • Many buy animals at 1 yr old and raise them to sell as their own
      • If so, who’s accountable for the nutrition and handling of the mom during pregnancy and the calf during it’s first year.
    • Bought from the slaughterhouse
      • “looks just like grass fed”
      • If they have 20 cows and they sell at a big farmers market every day where are they getting that much beef?
    • How old do they raise it to?
      • Deposition of fat in the muscle vs on the carcass
      • Flavanoid deposition
    • Organic - ?
      • Organic beef must be managed organically only from the last third of gestation. All health care, feed and living conditions of the brood cow and subsequent calf must meet organic regulations for at least three months previous to the birth of the organic calf. • Brood cows can be transitioned to become mothers of organic calves, thus the beef you buy as organic may have been NON-ORGANIC the first six months of it’s gestation. It’s sire does not need to be organic at all. These detail may or may not be important to you – but if they are, ask questions.
  • Breed of cattle – some marble better on grass.
    • My husband says you can’t make a chicken a turkey – and you can’t turn a dairy cow into a beef cow. Dairy cows are genetically programmed to make MILK not beef up – beef cows are raised to get husky and muscular. Dairy steers are much cheaper to buy for the farmer than beef steers – you don’t need males on a dairy farm. They will be less marbled and less beefy. Ask the breed of what you are buying - and if you don’t know breeds, look them up when you get the answer. If the farmer doesn’t know the breed is it really his cow?
    • Big, high-yielding continental breeds – Charolais, Limousins and others that were bred to do heavy work – are bred to grow very fast and have more fast-twitch (read hard working) muscle fibers. Their steaks, therefore, are tougher and less flavorful than smaller, finer-grained muscle British cattle, that grow slower so are not a favorite of most beef producers.
    • Some breeds genetically marble and beef up better on grass. After 4 years of investigation and taste testing, I chose Devons – they are low-stress, easy to handle and marble fantastically. I liken the taste to undertones of Kerry Gold butter. Pick a good breed designed to finish on grass ONLY and that you like the taste of. Try different farms before you stock your freezer. I tried maybe a hundred before I decided what breed and specific herd of cattle to buy. I wanted FLAVOR.
    • If the animal is given hormones, antibiotics or grain to grow faster, they also have more fast-twitch muscles (meant for bursts of speed and strength, but not so tender) above and beyond the problems with the substances.
    • Angus don’t actually marble all that hot on grass. British breeds do – but the angus has been bred into a fast growing machine he was not meant to be. We chose Devons after many taste tests. In our planning years all I did was taste burgers. When I got my first beef back from the butcher everyone wanted to know what steak I had. I didn’t have a steak – I had a burger. I KNEW what to expect so I could judge it against the hundreds of other grass-fed burgers I had eaten before.
      • By the way, legally all an animal has to be to be labeled an Angus is be more than 50% BLACK. So that certified angus meat you are paying top dollar for could easily be a culled dairy steer that has NO genetics to beef up or marble.
  • Pastured, Management Intensive Grazing (MIG), Planned grazing, Rotational Grazing, Mob Grazing, Paddocks vs pastures – the key is enough pasture with the right grasses to sustain the animals in a healthy way, used judiciously, with the cattle moved to keep them fed well and the plants healthy.
  • Organic – certified organic vs. organic practices vs. “natural”
    • Do they practice what they are certified for? If not certified (you pay a % of each sale to the certifying agency so it’s much more expensive to be certified than you think) is every detail what you want?
  • Humane treatment vs. Animal Welfare Approved
    • Look at any certifications and see what their criteria are – and look at the other certifications that are like it to see if you like them better. The major certifiers have different criteria – I chose AWA as it’s the strictest.
      • Example: AWA allows NO animal byproducts – even a colostrums replacer I may use on a calf has to have 100% colostrum – very hard to get – so many have fillers. Cow products have fillers to – you are what you eat eats.
        • Animal Welfare Approved Mineral and vitamin supplements may be provided free choice to adjust the animals’ nutrient intake and to correct deficiencies in the total diet energy source. The feeding of animal by-products is prohibited, and no antibiotics, ionophores, or hormones of any type may be administered. Any animal in need of medical attention must be treated to relieve its symptoms. If prohibited medication or antibiotics are required for treatment, the animal must be tagged, identified, and removed from the certified grassfed program. Producers must develop and maintain a written record of all vaccines, medications, and/or other substances used in their animal health care program.
  • Minerals – good muscles take a good mineral deposition – should be designed so that the animal can take in what they want – they change what they eat for minerals as to what’s in the pasture for the day – so a variety of free choice minerals is the healthiest – not just a mineral or salt block. That’s like taking one multivitamin and hoping you’re covered. Should be of good quality, just like our vitamins. Also in the winter fat soluable vitamins can be added to the mineral mixes to supplement the hay. All of this is available in good quality and organic.
  • Hormones
    • Growth Hormones specifically are usually noted as not given
      • Hormones often given to cycle cows so they all come into heat at once to make calving convenient – this is NEVER mentioned
  • Antibiotics
    • Usually used to promote growth – also to keep down infections in cattle fed corn and grains as they are not meant to digest this
      • This is a ROUTINE usage in the industry – if the animal is fed corn routinely their antibiotic use may be up.
    • Not usually needed in grass-fed animals and if used for an infection, the antibiotics clear well and have a stated withdrawal time which the USDA checks for
      • Responsible grass-fed farmers will withhold the animal for a year after antibiotic use for an infection (usually hooves in steers) to allow the animal to clear the antibiotic and rebuild it’s microbiome.
  • Just like any food or vitamin, there is so much FRAUD and lousy care it’s amazing. You probably investigate your supplements 100 times more than you investigate your protein or dairy. Visit the farm, ask a million questions. If you don’t like the answer or the farmer doesn’t want to spend time with you, WALK AWAY.