Category: Research

25 Jul 2018

Grass-fed doesn’t always mean grass-finished

You like beef. You aspire to be healthy. For years, you were told that red meat wasn’t good for your health and you were left with a difficult decision. Choose red meat and throw caution to the wind or give up beef and live a life without this delicious and readily available protein. Then came grass-fed beef with promises of healthier fat ratios and vitamin content, essentially the best of both worlds. As a beef lover you could finally have your cake and eat it too, or could you?

As the Information Age continues to drive us to make healthier decisions, it is unsurprising that grass-fed beef is surging in popularity with its healthier nutritional qualities. Unfortunately, there is some misinformation about what actually qualifies as grass-fed. Not just a marketing ploy that your neighborhood gastropub uses to sell $15 hamburgers, it would be easy to assume that grass-fed cattle spend their entire lives on a pasture, happily grazing on grass. This is not always the case. It is entirely possible that beef labeled as “grass-fed” never will taste another nibble of fresh grass once weaned from their mother. Instead they could be fed harvested forages — such as hay, silage, and grain by-products — out of feed bunks on a dry lot, similar to grain fed.

..The beef producer now determines what it considers to be grass-fed.

You might be wondering how this is possible. In 2016 the USDA withdrew its “grass-fed” label, leaving each beef producer individually responsible for defining grass-fed. Let that sink in for a moment; the beef producer now determines what it considers to be grass-fed. This leaves room for interpretation and many questioning the nutritional properties of the grass-fed beef they purchase and consume.

With these inconsistencies in mind, Greenacres Foundation partnered with Michigan State University to sponsor and participate in the largest nutritional study of grass-fed beef ever completed. 750 samples of beef labeled as “grass-fed” were collected and analyzed to determine if there were any differences in nutritional quality. The results of the study found that when it comes to the nutritional quality of grass-fed beef, what the cattle eat and where they eat it, really does matter.

The largest nutritional study of grass-fed beef ever completed.

The research revealed that there is a tell-tale sign of beef that had grazed fresh forages on pasture; its nutritional profile. The study shows that nutritional hallmarks associated with grass-fed beef are highly correlated to the cattle’s consumption of fresh growing forages without any additional supplementation of grain or grain by-products. Fresh forages, when grazed on pasture, are high in fat soluble vitamins beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) and alpha tocopherol (vitamin E) and also leads to a more favorable ratio of omega-6 (n-6) to omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids in the finished product.

The n-6 to n-3 ratio appears to be a key indicator of beef production methods. The ratio in which these fatty acids are consumed are also important for human health considerations. The ideal n-6 to n-3 ratio in the human diet is 1:1. However, it is common for humans eating a typical Western diet to consume a ratio of 20:1 or greater. This is often due to the consumption of large amounts of oils that are high in n-6 (such as corn, soy, safflower, canola, and vegetable). In addition, Westerners often don’t eat enough food that is rich in n-3, such as salmon and other fatty fish. The skewed ratio of pro-inflammatory n-6s and anti-inflammatory n-3s have been hypothesized to be a contributor to the diseases of chronic inflammation often seen in Western societies. These diseases include certain types of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune diseases.

A look into the literature for grain-fed beef — which is often finished on rations of corn and soy — shows n6 to n3 ratios that typically fall in the vicinity of 8:1. The results from our research indicated that beef labeled as “grass-fed” that had been fed harvested forages and supplemented with grain by-products can have n-6 to n-3 ratios that are similar to those seen in grain-fed beef and in some cases much higher (15:1 to 27:1). Greenacres’ own herd is grass-fed and grass-finished and has been raised on pasture, grazing on fresh forages, when available, for the entirety of its life. Because of this, Greenacres beef averages an n-6 to n-3 ratio of 2:1. The ratio in which n-3s are combined with n-6s are an important measure if you are trying to find the most nutritious beef for you and your family. As a consumer, you may want to do more than read the label because not all “grass-fed” is the same.

20 Jun 2018

What’s in the woods?

What’s in the woods?

Greenacres has several types of forests on the property including Beech-Maple and Oak-Hickory.  We are through time. The frequency of invasive species such as Amur honeysuckle, Oriental bittersweet and Lesser Celandine will be documented.  

Today, transects were established in the Beech-Maple forest and tree data collected.  As expected, a large number of maple saplings were growing there. There are some very large beech trees growing, one approximately 146 years of age.  This is an estimate using the diameter of the tree multiplied by a growth factor (see this site to learn more). interested in knowing the types and sizes of trees as well as what is growing in the understory.   Our plan is to monitor the forests over the next decade (or more) and look at changes

16 May 2018

Bringing the Bobwhite Back

Bringing the Bobwhite Back

We see many potential benefits with planting native warm season grasses in our area. Aside from the added benefit on increased forage productivity during the summer months – when our perennial cool season pastures are suffering and the fescue endophyte causes a real challenge for our cattle – these native plant ecosystems also provide an added benefit for our area wildlife. Some of you may have heard of Bobwhite quail…but how many of you have seen them in recent years? Bobwhites were once prevalent in the area of Indian Hill, where our farm is located (northeast of the city of Cincinnati). However, since the 1970s Bobwhite populations have declined by 80% in southern Ohio. There are many reasons for their struggles but one of the top issues is lack of habitat. Bobwhites are an “edge” species, meaning they seek brushy habitat where woodlands connect with row crops, pastures and fields. But according to the USDA, this type of habitat is becoming harder and harder to find. Bobwhites are also ground nesting birds and depending on specific stages of their life cycle require a variety of types of cover. NWSGs, which are clump grasses (non-sod forming) provide a near perfect habitat for Bobwhites. The small birds (which are roughly the size of a softball) are able to maneuver in between the grasses in search of food while being protected from their numerous predators. The diverse mix of grasses and forbs found in a native prairie also bring in sources of food, in the form of seeds and insects. But we can’t just plant these native grasses and let them go. They need to be properly managed to keep the grasses from becoming so dense that the Bobwhites cannot move through the canopy. Research has shown that one of the best tools to manage these NWSGs is high intensity, low frequency grazing. When grazed properly, there will be different stages of plant growth which will fulfill the varying seasonal needs for Bobwhite habitat.
As part of our NWSG research with University of Tennessee, Greenacres hopes to fulfill our obligation to provide habitat for this wonderful bird species which is on the decline. In addition to the Northern Bobwhite, many other ground nesting birds, pollinators, insects, and animals thrive in a diverse prairie habitat. Of course, we’re not just going to say that we are accomplishing goal of providing Bobwhite habitat just because we have a successful stand of NWSG. We plan on monitoring the changes in this ecosystem over time, including the presence or absence of Bobwhites. Hopefully the data we collect can be shared for the benefits of others who have aspirations of adding more diversity to their land or production systems.

18 Apr 2018

Trial Run of Establishing Native Grasses

Trial Run of Establishing Native Grasses

To gear up for our research with University of Tennessee we are going to be trying our hand at establishing some NWSGs at our Indian Hill farm. We will be focusing on a 3 acre pasture that is predominately fescue, which you may know provides some initial challenges for us. NWSGs can be easily outcompeted by the aggressive nature of fescue and thus needs to be under control prior to seeding our chosen NWSG species of big bluestem, little bluestem, and Indian grass. This leaves us with two options: the moldboard plow or an herbicide treatment. Neither are preferred but we view them as short-term tools to reach our long-term goals of a native prairie ecosystem on our farm.

Although Greenacres follows organic practices (and then some), we are not certified organic. That said, we know that many producers who may be interested in transitioning to NWSGs might be looking for organic options…so we decided to do it without herbicides. After the ground is prepared with a tillage pass we will be seeding a diverse mix of warm terms of NWSG establishment – providing valuable information to cattle producers, wildlife professionals, extension agents, academics, and others.

4/18/18
To gear up for our research with University of Tennessee we are going to be trying our hand at establishing some NWSGs at our Indian Hill farm. We will be focusing on a 3 acre pasture that is predominately fescue, which you may know provides some initial challenges for us. NWSGs can be easily outcompeted by the aggressive nature of fescue and thus needs to be under control prior to seeding our chosen NWSG species of big bluestem, little bluestem, and Indian grass. This leaves us with two options: the moldboard plow or an herbicide treatment. Neither are preferred but we view them as short-term tools to reach our long-term goals of a native prairie ecosystem on our farm.
Although Greenacres follows organic practices (and then some), we are not certified organic. That said, we know that many producers who may be interested in transitioning to NWSGs might be looking for organic options…so we decided to do it without herbicides. After the ground is prepared with a tillage pass we will be seeding a diverse mix of warm season annuals. These annuals will allow us to start the transition from cool season pasture to warm season.