50 Shades of Graze
Free-range vs. Pastured vs. Grass-fed
What to believe and is does it matter?
This subject can be incredibly complex and may be too hard to breakdown in a 500 word post. But, after taking a deep breath, flexing my fingers, and silencing my phone, I’m ready to give it a try.
A truly grass-fed animal will never eat grain in its life. This does not mean it can never eat harvested feed, it just means the forage cannot contain starch. This eliminates feeds such as corn silage.
To raise a grass-fed animal, the farmer needs to provide quality pastures and high-sugar forages such as cool season grasses and sorghum.
It is important to note that grass-fed is only an option for ruminants – such as cattle and sheep. It is impossible to do with chickens and virtually impossible with hogs.
This will be the best option for most Poultry and Hogs. It means giving the animals as much grass as they can eat while giving them access to a quality mix of grains and minerals. A chicken will eat about 25% of its diet from grass, while turkeys and pigs can eat as much as 50% if managed properly. Many farmers rotate their laying hens behind their cows through the pastures. The chickens eat the fly larvae and dung beetles that live in the cow manure. A dung beetle is 17% protein and 6% fat – a perfect ration for a chicken!
This is possibly the most abused term in the agriculture industry. As far as the animal is concerned, it is certainly a better option than the alternative of battery cages and gestation crates though it does little to impact meat or egg quality.
For instance, organic standards for laying hens require that they have 1 square foot of outside yard. That means that a 50,000 bird barn needs about an acre of outside yard attached to it. Anyone who has raised chickens knows that no grass will survive with that kind of animal density. A recent proposal to require 2 square feet per bird and minimum vegetative cover has met stiff industry resistance.
In summary, free-range was a huge step forward in animal welfare but the term has been abused. Buy your meat and eggs from a farmer you know! It is the best way to know if the animal you got your product from was properly cared for.
So what does Zweber Farms do? Our cows are pastured. They graze as much as possible on grass, but they also receive corn silage (the whole plant) and mineral for added nutrition. We have been trying to breed our cows to be able to survive on less and less grain. Our hens are free range. Yep, they do whatever they want, expect when it is below 20 degrees. Then they are tucked in warm in their hen house. Our meat chickens are pastured. They live life on pastures, but protected by a large fenced enclosure to keep predators out. We don’t bring them in the for night, so they need to be protected from skunks, owls and weasels. If you ever have any questions feel free to ask. We are happy to show you around and let you know how we do things on our farm