Posts Tagged: grass fed beef
Grass-fed beef production a possible money-maker for Central California ranchers
The health benefits of grass-fed beef are well documented. Meat from cattle that live out their lives grazing on rangeland before being processed has more beta-carotene, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids than the meat from animals finished at feed lots.
The health benefits – and for some consumers, the idea that cattle raised on the range have longer, happier lives than conventional beef cattle – increases the value of the product. Grass-fed beef generally sells for 60 percent more per pound than standard beef. These potential premium prices get cattle ranchers' interest, and therefore captured the attention of UC Cooperative Extension rangeland advisor for Mariposa and Merced counties Fadzayi Mashiri.
Two major challenges face ranchers who wish to produce grass-fed beef: the lack of local processing plants, and the unfamiliar marketing strategies that successfully selling a niche product demands.
“I decided to bring ranchers together to discuss these issues,” Mashiri said. She formed a group that meets regularly in Mariposa County to discuss how they might be able to work as a team to break into the grass-fed beef market. Mashiri sees this project as an opportunity for the ranchers to diversify their sources of income and increase profit margins.
“Farm to fork is getting big,” said Marshall Long, a Mariposa County supervisor and rancher who attended the meeting this fall. “I want to keep those value-added dollars in the county.
Most of the ranchers in the valley and foothill counties of Merced, Mariposa, Madera and Fresno have cow-calf operations. After calves are born on the range, they stay on the land for about a year before being sold at auctions and fed grain or other high-carbohydrate feeds in feedlots. In grass-fed production, yearlings aren't sold, but rather kept on the land for another two years before they are processed.
The meat can be quite different. Grass-fed cattle produce meat with a distinctive flavor, less marbling, and a yellow cast. And, it commands a higher price.
“We have strength in numbers,” Schiff said.
Made in Mariposa is a potential marketing partner, or represents a model for local beef producers to emulate.
“If we think big, how big do we want to be?” Mashiri asked. “Can we work together to relieve individual producers of the pressure of selling on their own?”
The producers concluded that their next step would be a market study to determine whether stores and restaurants would be willing to pay for a ready supply of grass-fed beef. Schiff of Made in Mariposa and Mashiri will identify grant opportunities that would allow the group to move forward with the study.
Under Mashiri's leadership the ranchers will come together again in the spring to continue their planning work together to increase their businesses' bottom lines by diversifying into the production of a specialty meat product.
Lack of local slaughterhouse enlarges footprint
The efforts of grass-fed beef producers in Northern California to shrink their carbon footprints are frustrated by the need to truck animals long distances to the nearest slaughterhouse, according to an article in today's Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
“There just aren't enough of these smaller plants people can go to,” the article quoted John Harper, UC Cooperative Extension livestock farm advisor in Mendocino County.
The story said Harper is working on a slaughterhouse project with Mendocino County ranchers, community members and economic development officials. They're hoping to attract an investor willing to build one.
Small meat-processing facilities used to be commonplace all over the country, Harper said, but most have disappeared. Ukiah's last slaughterhouse closed almost 50 years ago. Four large corporations now process 85 percent of the nation's cattle, most of which are finished in feedlots eating grain.
To reach remote producers, USDA promotes mobile slaughterhouses. However, Harper told reporter Glenda Anderson that the mobile alternative isn't feasible for Mendocino County. State law makes it illegal to bury the inedible and unusable parts of butchered animals, so the mobile facility presents a disposal problem.
Four years ago, a Marin County investor proposed building a meatpacking facility in the Ukiah Valley, but the plan was dropped because of local opposition. Opponents feared the facility would emit an unpleasant odor, the story said.
“I learned really quickly the public doesn't know the difference between a feedlot and a meat-processing plant,” Harper was quoted.
The facility being promoted would not include a feedlot, which generates the odor people mistakenly associate with slaughterhouses, Harper said. After one study and public outreach, Harper believes that objections to a local slaughterhouse now are limited to people who don't believe animals should be killed for food.
Beef grazing grassland.
Grass-fed beef fights cancer, study finds
Several studies suggest that eating grass-fed beef elevates precursors for Vitamin A and E, as well as cancer-fighting antioxidants such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase, compared with eating beef from grain-fed animals, says a research review published in the current issue of Nutrition Journal.
The review, written by three Chico State professors and UC Cooperative Extension livestock advisors Glenn Nader and Stephanie Larson, reported that grass-fed beef has an overall lower fat content.
"However, consumers should be aware that the differences in (fatty acid) content will also give grass-fed beef a distinct grass flavor and unique cooking qualities," the researchers wrote.
In addition, the fat from grass-finished beef may have a yellowish appearance from the elevated carotenoid content (precursor to Vitamin A).
The research prompted San Francisco Examiner blogger Joshua Horrocks to ponder whether grass-fed beef is the key to cancer prevention. He noted that, in addition to grass-fed beef's higher levels of antioxidants, it has lower concentrations of monounsaturated fatty acids. MUFAs have been linked to a higher mortality rate for women.
The researchers have developed a Grass-Fed Beef Web page with information on the product's health benefits, niche marketing, labeling, cost of production and more.
The Grass-Fed Beef Web site.