These are two delightful terms in animal agriculture. They evoke images of cows grazing in fields, pigs freely exploring, and lambs bounding across hillsides. It's pure bliss.
However, when you find yourself in a busy supermarket on a Tuesday evening, the bliss fades. You come across both pasture-raised and grass-fed steak options, knowing that they are a vast improvement over factory-farmed beef. But now you're faced with a dilemma: which one should you buy?
Let's simplify the difference between these terms: "grass-fed" refers to what an animal eats (grass), while "pasture-raised" refers to where it eats (on a pasture). If it matters to you that a cow consumes the food it naturally evolved to eat, which is grass, and little to no grain, then grass-fed steak is the right choice. If it matters to you that the cow freely roams and grazes in its natural environment, then pasture-raised steak is what you're looking for.
But wait, if a pasture has grass, shouldn't a pasture-raised cow automatically be a grass-fed cow? Not necessarily. A pasture-raised cow may be fed grain by a farmer, especially during winter when the pasture is covered in snow in cold climates. That being said, a pasture-raised cow can indeed be grass-fed, but only if its diet consists primarily of grass for most of its life.
On the other hand, why isn't a grass-fed cow automatically a pasture-raised cow? Well, a cow can spend its entire life indoors and be fed grass in the form of hay. Although this is quite rare, most cows marketed as grass-fed have spent a significant amount of time outside on pasture.
Now, what about the farmer who corrects you when you ask for "grass-fed pork"? Pigs and chickens can't survive solely on grass; they require some grain in their diet. That's why you won't find "grass-fed pork" or "grass-fed chicken" on any packaging. However, you will come across "pasture-raised chicken" and "pasture-raised pork" because animals on pasture can have their diet supplemented with grain.
Is there anything else you need to know about grass-fed versus pasture-raised? Here's a simple rule: ask the 100% question. Do you want 100% grass-fed beef? Some products may claim to be "grass-fed," but the cow might have been "finished" on grain, meaning it consumed grain during the last 2 or 3 months of its life.
If you want pure grass-fed beef, look for products labeled as "100% grass-fed" or "grass fed & grass finished". This is exactly what Maple Wind Farm beef is! No grain EVER!
Grass-finished beef is 20% lower in calories than grain-finished beef and has higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, CLA's (Conjugated Linoleic Acid — an essential fatty acid that fights cancer and inhibits body fat), and Vitamins A and E.
Yes, it's all quite confusing. However, we believe it stems from good intentions. Those who introduced these labels wanted to highlight the special way these animals are raised. With this information, you'll hopefully make informed choices during your food shop.