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"grass fed" can mean "not grass fed"?

 
paul wheaton
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I was visiting with a guy at a natural foods meat counter a while back and he was telling me about lots of different terms that are really weak.  One that shocked me was "grass fed".  Apparently, if the animal ate any grass at any point in their life, a lot of folks are happy to label it "grass fed". 

And here is the real kicker:  a lot of less-than-organic folks are keen on animals that are "grain finished."  So the marketing folks will advertise that they offer "grass fed" and that they also have a line of "grain finished" - what they leave out is that it is the same meat and two different marketing approaches. 

So!  Has anyone seen any marketing that suggests that the animal was grass fed all the time?  Zero CAFO.  ??
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Corn is a species of grass, I guess...

Several places, though, I have heard beef advertised as "grass-finished."
 
Leah Sattler
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I have run into this too. I thought grass fed meant....just that.....they go from pasture to  slaughter. but when you actually ask about managment practices you find out that beef was fed corn at the end possibley in a feed lot type situation. I think there needs to be more categories. I am not apposed to eating beef that had some grain. but I want beef that has had full access to quality pasture until the day it was offed. 

I think marketing for this still emerging niche is still in its very infancy and so is the general publics awareness of it, we have to be careful about making assumptions.
 
            
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Leah Sattler wrote:
I have run into this too. I thought grass fed meant....just that.....they go from pasture to  slaughter. but when you actually ask about managment practices you find out that beef was fed corn at the end possibley in a feed lot type situation. I think there needs to be more categories. I am not apposed to eating beef that had some grain. but I want beef that has had full access to quality pasture until the day it was offed. 

I think marketing for this still emerging niche is still in its very infancy and so is the general publics awareness of it, we have to be careful about making assumptions.


I think the only label you can ultimately trust is one with "your farmer's face on it".. that is, you know and trust the individual or family from whom you've purchased the product (or you produced it yourself). Relying on the validity of claims made by marketing apparatuses in pitching their products is dodgy business. Your picture of the happy cow living on healthy, vibrant pasture until the day it's culled is unfortunately mostly relegated to the depictions of such bucolic scenes on cellophane packagings. More often "organic" and "grass-finished" refer to the cows being finished on cut and bailed organic forage in a feedlot.
 
John Polk
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Marketing gimmicks are devised by people sitting in offices trying to maximize sales and profits.  Do you think "Nepalese Gogi Berries" come from Nepal?  No, they don't...it is strictly a 'brand', just like your Chevy Malibu was not built in Malibu.
 
Jordan Lowery
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we have a lot of local farmers who have fully grass fed cows, the sad part is the grocery stores still stock the cheap crap.
 
Jonathan Byron
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That's what happens when there is no standard of identity, no legal definition of what something means.  Beef means beef, not beef mixed with soy and sawdust. Someone can be prosecuted for mixing soy and sawdust into meat and selling it as 'beef.'  Only because there is a code to regulate labeling, and that code defines what beef is.  The interest in 'grass fed' and omega fatty acid composition of meat is new, no one in the bureaucracy has gotten around to writing a standard of identity for it. The world may end before they do.

In my mind, the prize goes to the manufacturers of cosmetics and toiletries. They can add one drop of chamomile extract to a 2000 gallon vat of shampoo or hand cream and then sell it with the name 'Chamomile' and a picture of the flower that covers half the container.
 
Chris Fitt
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M. Edwards wrote:
I think the only label you can ultimately trust is one with "your farmer's face on it".. that is, you know and trust the individual or family from whom you've purchased the product (or you produced it yourself). Relying on the validity of claims made by marketing apparatuses in pitching their products is dodgy business. Your picture of the happy cow living on healthy, vibrant pasture until the day it's culled is unfortunately mostly relegated to the depictions of such bucolic scenes on cellophane packagings. More often "organic" and "grass-finished" refer to the cows being finished on cut and bailed organic forage in a feedlot.


I thoroughly agree.  For me knowing the people that produce my food goes further than any regulated and legally defined or slickly marketed product.  If I can see the animals and vegetables and get an idea about practices, then I feel I made an informed choice.

 
                                  
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I've been asking the smaller independent grocery stores near me (there's even an old fashioned MEAT ONLY store, how neato is that?) about the grass fed-ness of the beef, and the answer I get is "well sweetie they're all grass fed til they go to the feedlot." 

I got an astonishingly negative opinion on grass fed beef from the owner (?) of one small grocery store.  There was organic beef, organic pork, organic chicken, but nothing that advertised grass fed anything.  At the time we were buying our beef from a local farm who advertises grain free, grass fed and finished beef, so I asked the manager-looking guy if the store had any "grass finished" beef. 

He got heated almost instantly, and told me flatly that "this store will never sell that tough, tasteless, grass fed stuff they call beef."  He told me that the same small beef producers we buy from had approached him about selling their meat in his store and he said NO because of his preferences. 

So then I got a bit heated, and explained that some people prefer the taste of grass fed meat as it is leaner, and perhaps toughness was more due to improper aging?  I don't know, it shocked me.  I mean, if he wants to sell food, and I'm assuming that's his goal, shouldn't he smile and say "we'll look into stocking some grass fed beef" so that I come back and give him some money?  It made me never want to go back again.  And to say mean things about him on the internet.....
 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
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I'm in the 'know your farmer' camp.  Even when it is marketed completely to our satisfaction - how do we know they are telling the truth?  Too often they are not.

I love bison but after a few e-coli scares I don't even eat that anymore.  You cannot convince me that those bison were raised and finished on pasture. 

With only a few exceptions I eat the meat I raise myself and drink milk from two dairies that are here locally.  Raw or flash pasturized.

To answer the original question, 'when grass fed can mean not grass fed' -  I think it is anytime you find it in the grocery store.
 
John Polk
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I think "proper" (true) labeling of such products in nearly impossible.  The dairy industry is very prominent in lobbying for regulations (to their advantage).  So is the cattle industry.  As long as big money is paying to get rules/regs enacted, the general consumer will be left high and dry to fend for themselves.  Whatever the next catch-phrase is that comes along, big business will be prompt to make sure that it encompasses their product without having to change their production methods.

"Know your farmer" is about your only assurance of getting what you want.
 
Walter Jeffries
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Which points out why you should know your farmer beyond just one or two marketing terms. We put our web address on our label so customers can come and do a virtual visit, touring the farm in all seasons to find out how we do things. Thousands of photographs and articles.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa
 
John Polk
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Good point.  If you are doing things "right", you want to give your customers every opportunity to "see" it.  It's just a shame that they don't get to take a virtual tour of a CAFO!  If the average consumer could see both methods in practice, I think a lot more would begin switching loyalties.
 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
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There are three farms in the South Carolina Midlands that have allowed me to tour the farm.  Now I realize that 'tours' are time consuming and some people just don't know when to leave or misunderstand what they see.  Regardless, I will no longer purchase meat unless I can see the farm at least once.

There is at least one local farmer who will never again get my business because not only did he not want to allow a visit - I caught him lying about his products.  I have not confronted him but I am sure he has noticed the drop in income - many I meet feel the same way about him - word of mouth is a powerful tool.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is a guy who operates out of Florence South Carolina;  Oaklyn Plantation.  He is not into heavy marketing but I think he manages on good product and word of mouth.  He went out of his way to show me and my husband the details of what he does on the farm and has even been very helpful in giving me tips as I switch to providing my own meat (less money for him).  I may give him a ring to see if he is interested, or has time to check out the permies site as I feel  he could share a lot with everyone here.   
I wish I were still a regular customer as I really like to support people like him but we are working to become self-sufficient.
http://www.freerangechicken.com/
 
Tyler Ludens
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Now I see people not wanting to eat grass-fed because of bio-accumulation of fallout from Fukushima. 
 
Walter Jeffries
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Well, speaking from the other side of the fence, I won't give you a farm tour. And you can shove your money back in your pants if you make that a requirement of buying.

We used to give tours but they take up a huge amount of time. I get, even now, about four tour requests a week. A typical tour is several hours. We have thousands of customers. If everyone demanded a tour that would be thousands of hours. I wouldn't be able to do any farming.

You can drive by on the road and look at the pigs out in the field. We'll call you a pig peeper, it's sort of like a leaf peeper who comes to see the fall foliage. We get pig peepers all the time who come by to enjoy seeing the animals. We wave a friendly 'hello' and go about our work.

You can visit our blog and see literally thousands of articles and photographs from our farm. Years and years of blogging. You'll learn more there about how we do what we do than you'll ever learn in a physical visit.

You can also read the testimonials by individuals, stores, restaurant owners and chefs who buy our product. Many have standing weekly orders. They know the good stuff when they taste it and have been buying from us for years. That right there is the most important thing to know.

What you may not understand is that when you come onto the farm you can bring disease with you. Twice we have had visitors bring disease onto our farm and it cost us $25,000 in one case. The other case was far more than that. Animals died because people wanted 'just come for to visit.'

So we don't do tours. If someone wants to refuse to buy because they can't get a tour then that's fine. Its their money. This is still a fairly free country. Buy elsewhere. We produce a top quality product and there are thousands of other people who will buy it, every week of the year, year after year.

Am I tired of people who call up and tell me they're going to drop by for a visit? Yes, how could you tell?
 
John Polk
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Point well taken.  To raise poultry (or other livestock for that matter) in a healthy environment, you need a good biosecurity system in place.  Absolutely no outside vehicles, or persons beyond a certain point.  If the State animal inspector wants to see my flock, he is going to have to remove his shoes before passing that point.  He has probably just come from somebody else's chicken coop, and whatever disease(s) they may have, will be carried into my henhouse on his shoes.  NOT!  (I will have a pair of rubber boots available for him, or he may walk through a Oxine foot bath with his fancy Oxfords if he prefers.)


 
Scott Strough
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Jordan Lowery wrote:we have a lot of local farmers who have fully grass fed cows, the sad part is the grocery stores still stock the cheap crap.


There is a reason for all this that people are dancing around. Still in this day in age with all the science proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that grass fed and finished beef is a far superior product, the USDA still defines grass fed as "low quality" and in the commodity markets it commands a lower price. The only reason for this is political. In order to use food as a political weapon you need grains. That's because grains are cheap concentrated nutrition and store extremely well. So you can stockpile it. Then any any economy of the world needing their agriculture and economy destabilised, all that needs done is flood their markets with this cheap grain. Anyone remember during the cold war the big grain deals with China and the Soviet Union? Side benefit is that no one even understands they are under attack. It usually is done with pretenses of "here let's help you".

There is a problem though. What to do with all that grain when it isn't being used to destabilise another country? You have a very real risk of destabilising your own country if not careful! So many ways have been invented to use grain that is in excess of anyones needs. Feedlots are one. Cows don't eat grain. Never did, never will. Feeding them grain kills them. That's why all this other "science" like antibiotics in the feed to keep them alive just long enough to make it to slaughter.

Beef Trade

Most of the beef produced and exported from the United States is grain-finished, and marketed as high-value cuts. Most imported beef is lower-valued, grass-fed beef destined for processing, primarily as ground beef. [1]


But there are other inventions to try and use up all that excess grain when it isn't being used as a weapon. High fructose corn syrup, corn and soy oils, margarine, biofuels, even plastic.

Paul Wheaton likes to talk about world domination with permaculture. It's a great goal. But never forget the ones currently holding world domination have been playing this game for a long time and are quite good at it. Never underestimate them.
 
Benjamin Sizemore
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This thread raises one of the most important issues facing us all today and that is the fact that most of the stuff advertised as "food" is in fact an industrial product. It's gotten so bad now with the loopholes in the USDA definition of "organic," that there is a 50% chance even "organic" stuff is not food. As soon as it has metals from industrial fertilizer, or any kind of petro chemical, it ceases to be food and becomes "food."

It looks like food and it usually tastes kind of like food, but we should start calling it all F.U.-Duh because the agro-corps are saying "eff you!" DUH! Esoterically speaking, humans have become livestock that are farmed by the powers that be - the banks and corps and whoever is behind them pulling the strings. We are cattle that have certain basic needs to deliver a useful and productive lifespan. After that, you are supposed to get cancer so all-your-money-are-belong-to-them.

Uhh, we're talking about beef. The deal is that you need to insist on "100% grass-fed" or nothing at all. This is because feeding corn and or soy to a cow causes all of the alpha-linoleic (fatty) acids in the tissue to be replaced with omega-6, which is inflammatory. According to Salatin, this happens in a matter of weeks. There are plenty of conscientious cow folks who only use grass and no spray hay, but they all have standing orders for all their stock from people in the know. Around here (central Colorado) we have a mix. There are a lot of bison, too and they will only eat grass and only survive on absurdly large range - or at least that's what a bison rancher told me 10 years ago.

Plenty of seemingly rational ranchers still insist that the beef tastes like crap when it's grass finished because the USDA "choice" grade requires fat marbling. That means you have a sick cow - just like 100% vegetarian chickens are sick.

What I have found is that you can't go up to a rancher and ask "is all of your stuff grass fed?" because 50/50 chance they will be on the corn/soy wagon and tell you whatever it takes to sell you a cow. You gotta find people who advertise as 100% grass fed, no spray hay, who know what the facts are. The woman I buy my beef from right now even throws out milk for months if she has to give a cow a shot for a tricky calving. I'm working on getting some trees and swales into her pasture right now haha. Also she needs perennial chicken forage.

Anyway, it's come to the point that, if you didn't grow it yourself, or have not had the rancher over to your own house for dinner, it's probably not food.

I like to rant!



 
matt sorrells
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I agree as well with you gotta know your farmer.

Here's a question - How MUCH grass fed is truly grass fed? In other words, ours are pretty much all grass fed. I say pretty much since maybe once a week or occasionally twice, I'll call them and give them 2 scoops of sweet feed (maybe 3 lbs for 4 cows ; 2 at 900 lbs, 1 at 600, and one at 400), so they arent 100% grass fed, but I'd put it at probably 99.5% or more. Compared to the other "grass fed" animals that are finished on corn, they're definitely better, but I'd been struggling with the possibility that perhaps I was being dishonest in saying they were grass fed.
 
Raye Beasley
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I have 100% grassfed beef beginning to end, raised on pastures/hay that haven't seen chemicals in 20 plus years. I have problems selling it. People come back and say it tastes too beefy.
 
Kelly Smith
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matt sorrells wrote:I agree as well with you gotta know your farmer.

Here's a question - How MUCH grass fed is truly grass fed? In other words, ours are pretty much all grass fed. I say pretty much since maybe once a week or occasionally twice, I'll call them and give them 2 scoops of sweet feed (maybe 3 lbs for 4 cows ; 2 at 900 lbs, 1 at 600, and one at 400), so they arent 100% grass fed, but I'd put it at probably 99.5% or more. Compared to the other "grass fed" animals that are finished on corn, they're definitely better, but I'd been struggling with the possibility that perhaps I was being dishonest in saying they were grass fed.


I have thought the same for my small dairy operation. Generally speaking are cows eat grass and alfalfa. We give the milk cows a handful of organic grain while in the stanchion. We also have oat hay harvested as a nurse crop from a recently leased pasture - technically that has grain in it. :/

I tell my customers that we are grass based. I try to explain to them that even "in the wild" cows would eat seed heads/small grains as they grazed. So 100% guaranteed grain free isnt something that i think is realistic.
if they are interested in more, i explain our feeding and how/when the cow gets grains. most of the time people interested in raw milk are interested in that sort of thing. i also let let know i dont hide behind marketing labels - i can get specific on what my animals eat.
that said, if someone asked me if my cows were "grass fed" - i would say yes. i think if you can establish a relationship where these types of questions are asked you are a head of the game.

as it relates to beef i look for "grass finished"
for me it comes down to knowing the farmer/rancher and establishing a relationship. we have been working with a local rancher for a few years that is a all grass based operation - although he has had people request 1 lb of grain for that last 90 days. they liked their beef a bit fattier than the normal grass finished beef. he advertises as "grass or custom finished" beef. he also gave us some advice on cuts and how to cook grass fed beef as its different than grain fed beef. that helped a lot - as we always thought the grass fed was a little tough - turns out were were cooking it wrong

hope this helps.
 
edwin lake
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What i have noticed in my North Carolina community is that the USDA is becoming very strict with processing meat. A local processor here had to stop processing goats due to inspections. I think that the next angle of the government attack on us will be through the USDA inspections route. The big producers of meat (dairy, swine and cattle) cannot compete with small farmers producing highly nutritious foods. Therefore, they use the U.S. government bureaucracy to make it illegal for the small operations to compete.

Land of the free?
 
richard valley
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Just curious, is there a problem with grain fed?


Richard
 
Scott Strough
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richard valley wrote:Just curious, is there a problem with grain fed?


Richard
Many problems. Now don't get me wrong, grain does have it's place. For example in a drought you wouldn't want to watch a cow starve or over graze its pasture. Or in a long winter up north when the hay might run out. Supplements in emergencies are better than watching animals suffer. But in general yes there are big problems with feeding grain to cattle. The biggest problem is it changes the nutritional and lipid content and balance of the meat and milk. Those changes in nutritional profile have been implicated in a whole host of our "diseases of civilization".

Here is a good review:
A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef

matt sorrells wrote:I agree as well with you gotta know your farmer.

Here's a question - How MUCH grass fed is truly grass fed? In other words, ours are pretty much all grass fed. I say pretty much since maybe once a week or occasionally twice, I'll call them and give them 2 scoops of sweet feed (maybe 3 lbs for 4 cows ; 2 at 900 lbs, 1 at 600, and one at 400), so they arent 100% grass fed, but I'd put it at probably 99.5% or more. Compared to the other "grass fed" animals that are finished on corn, they're definitely better, but I'd been struggling with the possibility that perhaps I was being dishonest in saying they were grass fed.


Might want to check out Eastern Gamagrass. That is a long lived perennial grass that is a "sweet treat" that cows just love. In fact they love it so much they will kill it unless you get them off of that paddock quickly. But you could add some to one small paddock and just let the cows on it one day only once or twice a year. Be careful, this is not an exaggeration. You leave them on eastern gamma grass too long and they will kill it because that's all they want to eat! The good news is that Eastern gamma grass is very large tall grass. 6 feet tall is not uncommon. 10-15 feet root depth is also not uncommon, rare cases even double that. Because it is so deep rooted, it is immune to all but the worst droughts. It really is an amazing forage for cattle. It does require very good fertile soil to establish though, and it is easily overgrazed as I said before. But if you understand permaculture principles, this is a top successional tallgrass prairie species. It's like the "old growth forest" of the prairie. You get to the point that starts becoming part of your pastures and you will have all the "sweet feed" your cows could ever want. Ultimately if all your paddocks had the 120+ species a native prairie has, including Eastern gamma grass, you'd have something for sure. That biome is between 5-10 times more productive than a traditional pasture. In fact it's far more productive than even the Amazon rain forest. Just an Idea.
 
M Johnson
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We do 100% grassfed beef and since we are a smaller operation, I have no issue selling it. People pay EXTRA knowing it is 100% grass fed and no grains at all were given to them. They also know me and can come to the farm when they want and I deliver the packaged product to them as part of the deal. I like to know my customers personally and chat with them. I have customers who will buy from me since they know about the treatment of the animals too...it's important to them that they are not funding bad practices.

So for me, I get to charge extra to pay $0 in feed costs. It takes longer to finish, but the economics are awesome.

If I got a lot bigger, I can see the issue with tours, but I've always liked Joel Salatin's open door policy...he may not give you a tour, but you can come see what you want. I don't know if he makes you go through a process to de-contaminate or not.
 
Seth Peterson
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Hey all,

3 keys to this conversation that I have learned.

1) as stated get to know your farmer, there is simply no other substitute. You know you are on the right track when you and your farmer eat together. Find out the best local farms that sell to the beat local restaurants, but also to the public through a CSA or meat box. I get my meats from Tara Firma Farms north of the San Francisco Bay Area, so if you live around here... Why even bother trying to figure out what you are looking at in a supermarket. I order online, they deliver, I cook instead of shop, after buying direct. It's so good, as they say in Brazil "if it got any better, it'd be ruined!"

2) 100% grass fed is the 'label' you need to see. In my area Marin Sun Farms practices and advertises this way. So if I need to pick something up at the butcher, guess where I go.

3) it is leaner, beefier, chewier. And this means I have to cook it a little differently. First couple of times surprises me, then I got in the swing of things. Now I will never go back to over-soft, under-tasty beef. Of course, you do have to chew your food, something that is actually better for you, apparently. What if America learned to chew our food again, instead always wanting melt in your mouth and fall off the bone (which are also good, depends on the dish/cut).

So, the problems are finding truly 100% grass fed beef, knowing a couple of trustworthy local sources, joining a CSA or finding a cow share, learning to chew and cook better and caring about the cows and farmers in your food shed.

Luckily, as we permies know, that means the solutions are finding truly 100% grass fed beef, joining a CSAor finding cow shares, knowing a couple of trustworthy local sources, learning to chew and cook better and caring about the cows and farmers in your food shed.

And, the result is I no longer worry about my beef, I got that system in place and can move onto other life hacks / improvements while also knowing that I am not supporting CAFOs.

And the bonus is my CSA lets me come out to visit, have a tour or a picnic, fish in their pond, etc.

And the cow jumped over the moon,

Seth
Permie chef
 
Scott Strough
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Raye Beasley wrote:I have 100% grassfed beef beginning to end, raised on pastures/hay that haven't seen chemicals in 20 plus years. I have problems selling it. People come back and say it tastes too beefy.
Demand is very high right now. So I guess you need to find a market for it. It's there, you just need to find it.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Scott Strough wrote:
Raye Beasley wrote:I have 100% grassfed beef beginning to end, raised on pastures/hay that haven't seen chemicals in 20 plus years. I have problems selling it. People come back and say it tastes too beefy.
Demand is very high right now. So I guess you need to find a market for it. It's there, you just need to find it.

If they say it tastes too beefy, I'm guessing they don't like the taste of beef?
 
Rhys Firth
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]I must be spoilt, Everything in the stores here is grass fed, grass finished... other than three feedlots in the entire country, which export all their product (to where? guess, three letters, starts with U ends with A).


If you see a cut of New Zealand beef in your local store, that is grass fed.

 
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Rhys Firth wrote:other than three feedlots in the entire country, which export all their product (to where? guess, three letters, starts with U ends with A).


If you see a cut of New Zealand beef in your local store, that is grass fed.

Unless it came from one of the aforementioned three feedlots
 
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