When Mike Weseman began raising cattle to sell as grass-fed beef, he treated his three calves more like pets than soon-to-be steaks. Weseman said he grew so close to his first cows they would eat hay straight from his hand. But due to the emotional attachment, he now avoids the decision to get so close to the calves.
“When you babysit cows for 20 months and then take them down to have them butchered, well, they’re kind of like part of the family,” Weseman said.
Weseman’s small, grass-fed farm is not the norm in American beef production. According to http://usda.gov, once a calf reaches approximately 650 pounds, the animal is sent to a feedlot, which is called a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). CAFOs with 1,000 cows or more account for 80 to 90 percent of the market-fed cattle.
Lindsey Heffner, Webster University senior and health and environmental studies major, said cattle raised in a CAFO are given antibiotics and hormones, which can be transferred to the human consumer.
Weseman, however, raised his livestock on grass and hay. He said it takes about 26 to 28 months to have one of his calves ready for the butcher, but he believes the extra time is worth it.
“I don’t believe in giving all the hormones and everything to a cow,” Weseman said.
Weseman owns a small farm in Horine, located about 30 miles south of Webster University. Every year, Weseman will purchase two or three 6-month-old calves and raise them on a hormone-free, grass-fed diet.
“Whatever the Lord puts in the field, that’s what they get,” Weseman said.
Customers find Weseman and his beef through word-of-mouth. However, chain supermarkets like Schnucks, Dierbergs and Whole Foods Market now stock grass-fed beef. Consumers can also find grass-fed beef at alternative grocery stores like Local Harvest Grocery in Kirkwood.
Clara Moore, executive chef at Local Harvest Cafe, said grass-fed animals are superior to their hormone-injected counterparts. If the process is looked at broadly, it can be hugely beneficial to consumers. They should have an idea of the process their food goes through before it ends up on their plate, Moore said.
Grass-fed animals tend to have higher vitamin and mineral content, Moore said. The Mayo Clinic found grass-fed beef also has lower amounts of fat and higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant vitamins. Grass-fed beef also has conjugated linoleic acid, which fights heart disease and cancer.
“Sunshine does wonders for meat,” Moore said. “Pork especially, it is so much better for you when the pigs are pasture-raised.”
Grass-fed meat can add up to be relatively pricey. According to http://americangrassfedbeef.com, a grass-fed cow requires more land and more time
to fully grow. Cattle raised in a feedlot can be butchered in approximately half the time to their grass-fed counterparts.
A grass-fed calf will also need between two and 35 acres, depending on the quality of pasture. This fact is a a stark contrast to the feedlot process. According to the National Cattle Men’s Beef Association, feedlot cattle live in pens with 100 to 125 other cows, which allows for about 125 to 250 square feet per animal.
Heffner said she believes the extra cost for grass-fed meat is worth it. She said she does not eat a lot of meat, but when she does, it’s grass-fed.
“When you eat a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation’s meat, you are most likely ingesting antibiotics, (therefore becoming immune to them) and hormones,” Heffner said.