Get 5% Off + a Free Item for Life
When You Subscribe and Save

Pasture-Raised vs. Grass-Fed: Understanding the Differences and Benefits

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.

Pasture-Raised

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.

pasture raised chicken

Benefits of Pasture-Raised 

Nutritional Benefits

  • Studies find that pasture-raised chicken eggs have higher Vitamin A and E, as well as higher omega-3 fatty acids. 
  • The same nutritional improvements are found in chicken meat raised on pasture.
  • Pasture-raised pork shows similar improvements in vitamin and mineral content and omega-3. 

Environmental Benefits

  • Pastured chicken flocks improve soil quality and help keep pests in check, especially when the flocks move around regularly. Therefore, the use of pesticides and herbicides is reduced, or eliminated on farms like ours.
  • Pasture-raised pigs help increase plant diversity and encourage nutrient cycling in the soil, as we’ve found with our own pigs. This creates a thriving ecosystem on farmland, without emissions-heavy tillage and artificial fertilizers.

Animal Welfare Benefits

  • Pasture-raised animals, including chickens, experience less stress and disease and better overall quality of life when safely on pasture as the weather allows. This eliminates the overuse of antibiotics, along with offering a humane and ethical option for consumers.

Misconceptions About Pasture-Raised

Is pasture-raised meat more expensive?

  • Pasture-raised poultry is more expensive, but the difference is less than most people would assume.
  • Pasture-raised pork shows similar trends.

Is it hard to find pasture-raised products?

  • While “pasture-raised eggs" are becoming more common in grocery stores, true pasture-raised eggs are a bit trickier to find.
  • The best choice is to get pasture-raised meat and eggs from trusted sources, including direct from farmers, with an open-door policy and transparent operations.
grass fed cows

Grass-Fed

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. 

Benefits of True 100% Grass-Fed (No Grain or Grain-by-Products)

Nutritional Benefits

  • Grass-fed beef has higher omega-3 and overall higher nutrients compared to grain-finished beef.

Environmental Benefits

  • Grass-fed animals help improve the environment – especially when farmers use rotational grazing methods.
  • At Seven Sons, our regenerative grazing processes improve the soil, increase carbon sequestration, and improve water quality.

Animal Welfare Benefits

  • Grass-fed animals are less stressed, less prone to disease, and have a higher overall quality of life than animals on feedlots. 
  • However, these benefits only last as long as animals have access to pasture. Most meat labeled “grass-fed” means they spent some time in a CAFO before harvesting (and the label says nothing about humane harvesting practices). 

Common Misconceptions of Grass-Fed

Does the label mean there was no grain or other supplementation?

  • No, labels do not guarantee there was no grain or other supplementation. Because grass-fed is a less regulated term, labels don't always provide the full picture. Beef from sustainable producers will be both grass-fed and grass-finished -- with no supplemental grain. However, industrial producers can use this label even if their livestock finishes on a feedlot.

Is grass-fed always more nutritious?

  • Grass-fed meat nutrition can vary due to the quality of the forage available on the pasture. This can also affect the quality of the meat. Look for 100% grass-fed, raised on regenerative pastures – that ensures cattle are getting a diverse and nutrient-dense diet.
pigs grazing in nature

Pasture-Raised vs. Grass-Fed

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.

Which Is Better? Grass-Fed or Pasture-Raised?

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 as the weather and seasons allow 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.

Grass Fed Beef Banner