Grassfed to Finish – A Book Review

In BEEF, Book Reviews, Livestock & Pasture, Stockman Grass Farmer by James4 Comments

“Grass finished steak is too tough. You can’t get enough fat marbling on grass and that’s why it hasn’t caught on.”

This is what a lot of people have been led to believe about grass finished beef. Some have experienced it, others have read this or been told by people who tried it with sub-par results. But, it’s not true. The fact is you can produce a gourmet grass-finished steak that rivals any grain-finished steak in tenderness, flavor, and marbling. Allan Nation gives us the recipe for how to do this in “Grassfed to Finish: A Production Guide to Gourmet Grass-Finished Beef.” He takes us to New Zealand, Ireland, and Argentina to see how they have achieved success. He walks the reader through the pre-slaughter, slaughter, and post-slaughter to show how much the processing affects the beef. Ultimately it’s a combination of several factors that go into producing gourmet grass-finished beef and Allan Nation covers them all in this easy to follow and digest book.

What’s in the Book?

Nation has divided the book into 15 Chapters:
Introduction….7
1: The “F” Word….11
2: First, Some Background and History….15
3: Three Distinct Phases….27
4: Theory of Finishing….38
5: Horses for Courses – Using the Right Genetics….58
6: Myths and Truths About Grass-finished Beef….80
7: Three Proven Prototypes….99
8: Start with Heifers….151
9: The Forage Chain….156
10: Laying the Foundation in the Soil….189
11: Low Stress for Tender Beef….198
12: Turning Cull Cows into Gourmet Products….210
13: Abattoirs….217
14: Pioneering a New Industry…255
15: Ready? Set? Go For It!….292

Highlights

There are a lot of highlights in this book. I used over three dozen passage markers that I wanted to save for future reference. I’ll choose a few of the key ones here.

Theory of Finishing

One of the new things I learned was that grass finished meat is often not finished properly. For a proper finish the animal should be gaining weight the last 60-90 days before harvest. In order to achieve intra-muscular fat the animal should be gaining an average daily gain in excess of 1.7 lbs per day for 60-90 days. Many pioneering grassfed farmers and ranchers have ignored this, or have not been able to do this, primarily due to management deficiencies. A big part in achieving these gains comes from the type of forage you’re finishing the animals on. To achieve the weight (fat) necessary for a proper finish the forage should be highly digestible and rich in soluble carbohydrates (sugar). Soluble carbohydrates are determined by the plant species and stage of growth, along with the level of soil mineralization. Considering this it’s best, and easiest, to finish animals in the spring when the grass meets these requirements.

Production Skills Needed for Gourmet Gassfed Beef

• Knowledge of soils and plant species
• Knowledge of how to plan forage sequences and transitions
• Knowledge of how to practice leader-follower, Management-intensive Grazing
• Knowledge of how to part, sort and load cattle quietly.
• Knowledge of how to interpolate outside visible fat cover with eating quality

Theory of Finishing Checklist

• Animal genetic plays a key role. Smaller stockier framed cattle bred for grass finishing are ideal. Larger breeds bred for fed lot finishing will not work.
• Any weight gain in a fully grown animal must come primarily from the creation of fat.
• 75% of the carbohydrates the animal eats will be consumed in body maintenance
• To create intramuscular fat requires that we use a forage that is at least 65% digestible, at least 20% dry matter, with a protein level range that does not exceed 18% and a soluble carbohydrate content of at least 15%
• Due to the shortening of the day length, perennial grasses start to shift carbohydrates from their leaves to the roots

Health benefits of grass finished beef compared with grain-fed

• 500% more CLA
• 400% more Vitamin A
• 300% more Vitamin E
• 75% more Omega-3
• 78% more Beta-carotene

Stress

Stress plays a key factor in determining the tenderness of the meat. Animals are creatures of habit and anything that breaks their routine creates stress – for example being loaded into a trailer and separated from their buddies. One strategy people use to keep cattle calm is to have a travel buddy with them. Sometimes goats are used. In addition cattle should not spend more than four hours on the truck to the abattoir. Once at the abattoir cattle should not be there longer than 24 hours before slaughter.

Tenderness Factors

• Genetics – reduced level of calpain enzyme.
• Age of animal – less than 36 months
• Stress – Muscle pH (7.5 or lower)
• Electric shock (to the Caracas post slaughter) – little effect on tropical breeds.
• Aging – Six weeks best, but not all carcasses respond to aging.
• Marinades –
• Slow chill – In commercial plants the chiller is set to cool the fattest carcasses or biggest. Wisconsin researchers found that chilling the carcass too fast contributes to tough meat.

Final Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer

The myth that grass finished cattle can’t produce tender flavorful meat persists only because most farmers have not adapted their production skills. A lot of people are willing to pay a premium price for a steak that is tougher and less flavorful than a grain-finished one solely because of the health benefits of grass finished beef. The good news is there’s no reason why you can’t have the health benefits along with the tenderness and flavor. In addition, a steak that has more marbling (fat) will be a healthier steak when you consider all the nutrients that are stored within the fat. The grass finished beef market has grown a lot in recent years. Mr. Nation mentions that in 1999 author and friend Jo Robinson and him could only find 40 grassfed direct-marketers in all of North America to list on Robinson’s grassfed consumer website eat wild. By early 2005, the number had grown to over 1,000 and the website had recorded over one million individual visitors. With more people becoming aware of the health and environmental benefits of grass-finished beef, and with more farmers developing the skills to create a product that surpasses grain finished on every level (economic, environmental, health, and flavor) the future looks very bright for grass finished farmers and consumers.

Buy the book via Amazon by clicking HERE (It’s an affiliate link so I get a little kickback if you buy. Thanks!)

 

Comments

  1. Addye Thole

    Very informative review!!!! I for one am one of those mentioned that would be willing to eat a tough piece of grass fed meat. But I have been fortunate or just lucky I guess, because most of my steaks have all been pretty tender. I have experienced a few that weren’t, so this is an eye opener as to why. Thanks. Very good info. for processing the best delicious healthy beef possible!! Good read!!

  2. gabrieldye

    One point seven pounds per day for 90 days? Jeez, I had no idea cows could grow so quickly. Nor was I aware of the complexities involved in successful meat production (macro-nutrient breakdowns, travel time…) I wonder if this is common knowledge among farmers. Maybe not, hence the marbling ‘myth’…

  3. Author
    James

    I don’t think it’s common knowledge. One thing farmers are notorious for is sticking with what they “know” or have been taught by “trusted” others. They’re a stubborn and loyal bunch. For farmers who sell in the commodity market and send their cattle to fed lots they don’t need to worry about this stuff. However, farmers who are finishing on grass, and direct marketing, it’s essential, and many of them don’t know this as far as I can tell. Or they ignore it, produce inferior product and you know the rest of the story.

Leave a Reply