As most readers of this blog probably know by now, Flying Mule Farm is committed to producing grass-fed meat. While grass-fed is certainly a buzzword in "foodie" circles, our reasons for producing grass-fed meat run far deeper than a marketing trend.
Ruminants (like sheep, cows and goats) are designed physiologically to convert cellulose (e.g., grass, brush, etc.) into muscle, fiber and milk. The bacteria in a sheep's four stomach compartments are able to convert plant material into essential amino acids. Our human digestive systems lack this capacity. Ruminants are able to harvest plants (which in turn harvest solar energy) and turn these plants into products that feed and cloth us. In many ways, I find this to be a miraculous relationship.
Some producers feed their animals grain to speed the growing process along. Grain provides additional energy and protein, which allow animals to gain weight faster or to produce more milk. However, the chemistry of a ruminant's digestive tract must change to handle this more concentrated diet. This chemistry changes the nutritional composition of the meat and milk produced by the animal. To summarize, grass-fed meats and milk products have a more favorable Omega-3 to Omega-6 ration and have higher levels of beta-carotene and conjugated linoleic acid. These nutritional benefits are related to heart health and cancer prevention.
Some producers use the terms "pasture-raised" or "free-range" to provide their production systems. In some cases, this is a way to say the animals have access to pasture while they are being fed grain. We use the term "grass-fed" to indicate that our lambs, goats and cattle are fed nothing but grass.
We do this for several reasons. First, we feel that relying on grass (which grows well here in our region of Placer County - provided we get enough rainfall) is a more sustainable model than importing or growing grain. Second, we feel that the health benefits from purely grass-fed meats are substantial. Finally (and equally important as the first two reasons), we think grass-fed meat tastes better!