What are cattle supposed to eat?
Ruminants like cows have evolved to eat grass, and they do very well on it indeed. Their digestive systems include specialised chambers and bacteria to break down and ferment the plants they graze on. Like most natural processes, it’s slow, steady and can’t be rushed.
If it’s so natural why aren’t all cattle grass-fed?
Time, as you know, is money. In other countries (and now, alarmingly, even in the UK), cheaper farming systems mean that livestock are fed on grain, not grass. Because they put on weight more quickly, the meat costs less to produce.
What’s the problem with grain-fed beef?
It’s not good news for the animals, whose digestive systems can’t cope with this unfamiliar foodstuff. A nasty foamy slime can form when they try to digest lots of grain – their stomachs just aren’t designed for it. This foam can trap digestive gases which can eventually put pressure on other essential organs like the lungs, making breathing difficult. Sometimes the only way to stop this condition before it becomes fatal is to manually pop the foamy bubble via the throat – very unpleasant for the animal, as you can imagine!
The acidity of their gut is also altered, making the animals unwell. They’re then given routine antibiotics to keep them ‘healthy’. This adds to concerns about unnecessary use of antibiotics raising tolerance levels in humans, and feeding into the possibility that antibiotic-resistant bugs will evolve because of this.
What about Donald Russell beef?
At Donald Russell, we insist that our animals are raised as traditionally and naturally as possible, able to move freely in their herd and graze outdoors on lush green pasture. That’s why we only sell grass-fed beef.
What does ‘grass-fed’ actually mean?
It’s just about as simple as it sounds – cattle roaming in fields outdoors, grazing on the grass underfoot (or should I say ‘underhoof’?!). That’s not to say that our animals don’t have access to shelter though. In the depths of winter here in the UK, our grass-fed cattle may shelter in large sheds, to keep them out of the worst of the cold weather. During this time, when snow or hard frost covers the ground and affects the quality of the grass, their diet is supplemented with hay and silage. Both are natural products, made on the farm to preserve some of the spring and summer grass growth. Hay is just dried grass, and silage is grass that has been fermented to be rich in vitamins and good bacteria (a bit like us humans taking a probiotic yoghurt drink in the morning!)
Is grass-fed beef only about animal welfare?
No. Although it’s an incredibly important reason to choose grass-fed beef, animal welfare is only part of the story. As butchers we’re interested in the difference in quality that can be found with grass-fed beef – and we think you will be too! But that’s a whole other subject, which I’ll cover in my next blog.
Meanwhile, next time you’re tucking into your favourite steak, think about all the time and care that has gone into raising such excellent grass-fed beef!