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Pros and cons of pasture finishing

Pros and cons of pasture-finished beef were aired during a recent University of Missouri (MU) Forage Systems Research Center workshop that compared cattle fed on pasture vs. grain-fed cattle in confinement. Among the highlights were:

  • Meat from pasture-finished beef cattle has a higher conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) content. CLA is a fatty acid health research has linked to prevention of heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.

  • CLA content in cooked meat can be increased by including pasture, with or without grain supplements, in finishing diets when compared to feedlot diets.

  • Pasture finishing isn't detrimental to eating quality of beef. Tenderness and taste were acceptable to test panels.

  • When meat from the two systems are sold for the same price, revenue favors feedlot cattle, in spite of low-cost inputs in pasture-based grazing. Feedlot cattle finished quicker, reached acceptable levels of finish and graded ahead of pasture cattle.

  • Grass-finished cattle have greater variability, as less of the feeding environment is under control of the manager.

  • An MU feeding study compared pasture alone, pasture supplemented with soy hulls, pasture with soyoil-enhanced diet, and a traditional feedlot ration. It found the highest CLA levels were in cattle fed grass and supplemented with heavy soy oil, a by-product of soybean processing

  • Profitable pasture-finished beef requires reaching a niche market of consumers willing to pay premiums for beef finished on pasture.
    Duane Dailey, MU Extension