Is A Completely Grass Fed Beef Model Possible in the US?

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Could all cattle in the US be completely grass fed?

This has been a case for great debate. The pro-feedlot bunch says no; the grass fed bunch says yes.

The American beef industry is complicated. There are so many different models, so many different paths for a single animal to go on to ultimately end up on a consumer’s plate.

All the beef animals start at the same place (no including the dairy steers–it was surprising to me how many dairy steers there were in feedlots when I hauled cattle!). The cow-calf operation is where they all start.

The conventional model: cow-calf -> stocker -> feedlot -> packer -> wholesaler -> retailer -> consumer.

Farm to fork model: cow-calf -> processor -> farmer’s market or other distribution that goes directly to consumer.


Grass fed conventional model: cow-calf -> stocker/finisher -> packer -> wholesaler or direct retailer -> consumer.

You get the idea. There are variations for the model. The question being, what if we eliminated feed lots and went with strictly grass fed beef? Is it possible? Not asking is it desirable, just if it is possible.

How would such a change affect the American beef industry? Cattle genetics? Jobs? Farming methods? … Pharmaceutical production? (Not getting into the argument here….will argue the antibiotic thing at another time).

How long would it take?

I’m not going to tackle all the possibilities, but just off the top of my head:

If the acreage used to grow produce–namely corn–in the US was converted to grass, how many cattle could be finished and harvested vs. what is currently produced?

Something to think on. If it were converted to grass and no longer produced corn, it would no longer be subsidized or eligible for crop insurance.

How much fuel would be saved, having the cattle graze instead of having the machinery harvest the feed and then hauling it to the cows? Most likely there would still be hay production, so it wouldn’t eliminate the use of fossil fuels; and cattle and beef would still have to be hauled.

So do you think it is possible? What are your thoughts about it?


4 thoughts on “Is A Completely Grass Fed Beef Model Possible in the US?

  1. Jrpascoe

    Will a grass fed calf grade usda chioce? It’s my understanding there is a huge difference between grass fed and grass fat. This difference help bring about the business of confiment feeding to finish a calf to end point of white fat versus the old yellow fat of grass fed. This model of production started in the early 50′ s. Correct me if I’m
    wrong. JRP

    1. randi Post author

      Grass fed cattle can easily grade choice, if they have the right genetics. The issue I see today is that the US cattle are bred to convert grain and have lost a lot of their efficiency on grass. The confinement feeding came about because grain and fuel were abundant and cheap. That is no longer the case.

      But the question was would it be possible, not if it should be. Tastes are different. Some prefer grass fed/finished, some prefer grain finished. (FYI, I like both tastes, but really has to be a great cook job on a grain finished — like The Big Texan, in Amarillo. I can’t stand the supermarket beef….even our dogs wouldn’t eat the t-bones).

      The white vs. yellow fat…that’s actually a breed thing, and sometimes a forage. We are strictly grass fed and the fat on our beef is not yellow. I actually haven’t seen any yellow fat in recent years. Jeramie says a dairy breed–Guernsey, I believe–always has very yellow fat, regardless of what they are fed.

      No, you aren’t wrong. Feedlots started really becoming the US beef model in the 50s, but as I pointed out, it was when the grain and fuel were cheap. Since those are no longer cheap… maybe some change is in order?


    Well all I can say is that the most successful cattle producers around me now are those going grass fed direct to the consumer…they are growing in scale every year and none of them are heard to be moaning about the low cattle prices….one has recently quit making hay and now buys what hay he needs to get thru and says he can buy it cheaper than he can maintain all the needed machinery. i am striving to graze my cattle 10 months a year an if I hit that goal then I will be striving for 11 months per year.

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