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For conscientious consumers, figuring out what labels like grass-fed or pasture-raised mean can be tricky. And when you’re paying a premium for healthy and sustainable products, the definitions matter.
The USDA regulates dozens of different labels describing how meat was produced, but the labels only define minimum standards. This system leaves consumers exposed to a frustrating amount of greenwashing and marketplace deceit.
At Seven Sons, we use simple definitions for pasture-raised and grass-fed: our grass-fed ruminant animals (cattle, sheep, bison, and goats) eat only grass and forage. Our pasture-raised non-ruminant animals (pigs and hens), get non-GMO supplemental food in addition to what they can forage on the pasture.
The reason for this distinction is that different species have different nutritional requirements. Ruminant animals thrive on grass and other foraged plants, whereas in the wild, pigs and chickens have always consumed diets rich with seeds, nuts, and grains.
However, it’s important to take a deeper look at what these terms mean, not just in definition but in practice. How regenerative farmers and industrial livestock operations work to get these labels is vastly different.
To the average consumer, a pasture-raised label might seem the same as grass-fed. While they are similar, they’re not the same per the USDA requirements.
Pasture-raised animals have to spend a significant amount of their lives on pasture, but the regulations on providing food are more relaxed. Whether or not the animal is on pasture or leaves the barn is not regulated.
Even though pasture-raised animals receive various forms of feed beyond grass and forage, the benefits of raising animals in a more natural environment are significant.
The key difference between grass-fed and pasture-raised animals is what the animals eat. While pasture-raised animals can receive various feeds to cover most of their diet, it’s important to know that some grass-fed animals are sold under this claim, but can still have up to 50% of their diet supplemented with grain or grain-by-products.
While pasture-raised animals can receive various feeds to cover most of their diet, grass-fed animals must have a diet that consists of more than 50% grass and forage from the pasture they live on.
It’s important to note that grass-fed is not the same as grass-finished to industrial agricultural organizations. Many of the benefits of grass-fed are lost the moment the animal is transferred to a feedlot where they eat grain and live in crowded, indoor conditions.
At Seven Sons, our pasture-raised animals receive the same care and attention as our grass-fed animals.
The key difference is that our pasture-raised non-ruminant animals receive supplemental grain, because they have nutritional requirements that can’t be met through grass alone. Our grass-fed animals receive only grass and green plants from paddocks all year round – during the winter months, they’re fed stored forages like hay. This qualifies our grass-fed animals as 100% grass-fed and grass-finished.
It depends on the animal. For ruminant animals – cattle, bison, sheep, goats – it’s always best for them to be grass-fed because they aren’t designed to eat grain. In fact, grain can lead to health problems for these animals, along with a less nutritious end product for consumers.
On the other hand, non-ruminant animals, like chickens and pigs, can eat grains and seeds. If these animals only had access to grass, they wouldn’t be able to metabolize enough protein for optimal health.
At Seven Sons, our beef is both pasture-raised and 100% grass-fed. Our pork and poultry are pasture-raised and supplemented with non-GMO grain and seeds. The result is highly nutritious, delicious meat and eggs that positively impact the environment and ecosystem.
If you’d like to know more about sustainable farming, check out our resources page.