Would you rather your milk and meat be made out of corn or grass? This is the question you have to ask yourself when you're choosing your protein.
Since the domestication of bos taurus, what we now think of as domestic cattle, cultures around the world have flourished around grassland. Entire cultures and empires have come and gone based on the availability of grass for their herds. The Mongol empire, geographically the world's largest ancient empire, relied on availability of good grazing grounds as its number one tool in supply chain management for war.
What does Genghis Khan have to do with grass-fed protein? Ruminants like cows, sheep and goats are suited for the unique purpose of converting the carbohydrates stored in the vegetative matter in plants to protein and fat. While it's true that old school farmers and herdsmen likely fed some of their grazing herds small grains like wheat and barley. But because these were traditionally more valuable for producing bread, beer, and bacon, grazing animals would have received very little except a small supplement over the winter. So why did American farmers begin feeding massive amounts of corn to beef and dairy animals starting in the mid 20th century?
Corn yields one of the highest consumable calories per acre that can be grown by any crop in temperate regions. The calories from corn come directly from starches in the seed head of corn. Starches are relatively easy to digest for humans, pigs and chickens - animals with one stomach. Ruminants, however, are so called because they have a rumen, one of several other stomach-like digestive organs designed for breaking down the carbohydrates in vegetative plant tissues. These carbohydrates are very different from starches - usually in the form of fructans and lignins.
What happens when cattle are fueled with the wrong carbohydrate? High starch diets in ruminants are well known to cause acidosis and dysbiosis in the rumen. This means a reduced immune system for the cow and has implications in the resulting nutrition of the meat and milk for humans. More research needs to be done in this area, but unhealthy animals are not the ideal source of food for producing healthy humans.
It's not just a question of what happens inside the cow, but the consequence on the outside as well. In order to feed corn, we remove cattle from their grazing environment. We have to look at the impacts on both the gut of the bovine and the impacts of removing the bovine from the pasture.Rather than allowing the animal to harvest its own feed and spread its own manure, by design a feedlot requires mechanized harvesting, storage and delivery of feed. With a feed conversion ratio in beef animals of 20 lb of corn to one pound of beef, there's also a massive amount of waste.
This is the most remarkable difference between grass-fed and grain-fed meat and milk. Live animals grazing on living pasture in a properly managed rotational grazing system will actually benefit the soil by increasing organic matter and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. Recently, the New York Times covered exactly this phenomenon. Confinement animal feeding operations are one of the worst known carbon sources on the planet because of lack of symbiosis in the feeding system.
It goes without saying that herds of cattle breezed on green grass under the sun are quite literally more content than animals in confinement. We can measure all the stress hormones we want to scientifically prove how much less-stressed livestock are when they are in their natural environment, or we can be reasonable human beings and think about what type of environment a grazing animal would like to be in.
For this reason more than any other, Earth fed muscle has continued to partner with Truly Grass Fed for our whey protein isolate. TGF is a cooperative of over 300 farming families in Ireland who produce milk with grass-fed cattle. These animals must be outside on green pasture for at least 270 days annually. They have access to shelter as needed, and eat hay through the winter months. Truly grass-fed makes cheese and butter seasonally, and Earth Fed Muscle whey protein is produced from the whey derived from cheese making.
Every container of EFM whey protein you buy helps to support family farmers in Ireland who are grazing their cattle outside year round. You support carbon sequestration, content cows, and local economies that can be passed to the next generation of responsible land managers. Think about what kind of production system you want to support, and make the Earth Fed/Grass Fed choice!