Does "Grass-Fed" Really Matter?

about At a time when all we hear about from the media and manufacturers are the potentially devastating effects of a food supply that may or may not be contaminated or adulterated in some fashion, we are all looking for "cleaner" or "healthier" options.  The problem, as is often the case, is we're asking the wrong questions (which inevitably leads to the wrong answers -- or at least, answers that don't help us solve / answer the question.) Such is the case with the grass fed issue.  We're going to start by talking about "natural" and "grass-fed" livestock in general and then turn the discussion to bison as we proceed. We are a bison-producer, after all. People who haven't been around agriculture all their lives hear "grass-fed" and they immediately have a perfect mental picture of the nice green carpet in their front yard.  They have this vision in their heads of a herd of perfectly manicured cows basking in the sun on a beautiful summer day as they lazily munch their way down the 16th fairway at Augusta National country club. But that's not anything like reality.  In fact, that's not even what grass is! As far as the U.S. Department of Agriculture is concerned, "grass" is forage.  That could be meadow grass that grows as tall as a cow in the right circumstances.  Or it could be swamp grass that only grows a few inches.  Or it could be a field of weeds with a little grass in it.  Would you want to buy "grass-fed" if you could see a field of nothing but weeds with a little grass in it?  But that's still grass. Then there are the cultivated "grasses" (forage) like alfalfa.  Yes, alfalfa is a "grass" under the term forage, used by the USDA.  Or consider grass that is planted with peas and oats in it to make it nutritionally superior for forage. Surely you'd rather eat meat that was raised on peas and oats rather than animals that have dined on weeds with a little grass in it all their lives? And yet animals don't graze in alfalfa fields, or in fields of peas and oats.  Those crops are cut, dried and baled to feed in winter, when the animals are under stress from the cold and need the extra nutrition. Which brings us to our next point.  Do you want to eat an animal that has had to dig through two feet of snow in -40 degree cold to find what few little blades of grass there were that hadn't been killed by the snow, or do you think it's more important to treat animals humanely by feeding them grass (forage) in the form of dried, baled alfalfa and peas and oats so they don't suffer in the winter?  Yes it's possible for them to fend for themselves in the winter, but when they do they are stressed, and the flavor of the meat is very negatively affected by the stress hormones that circulate in the animals system all winter long because of being stressed by the cold and lack of adequate food. And to drive the last nail in the coffin of "grass-fed," you can click on the link to the USDA website which states, "The USDA Grass Fed Program for Small and Very Small (SVS) Producers was designed to create opportunities for small-scale livestock producers who would like to have their ruminant animals certified as grass fed.  This program, is designed for producers who market 49 cattle or less each year or lambs produced from 99 ewes or less."  Meaning, of course that this is a government approved program to allow the little producer to compete with bigger producers.  It has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the meat you're buying. At the end of the day, virtually all the meat you buy today comes from "grass-fed" sources. So since we're in the bison business, that background brings us to the care and feeding of bison.  Bison are not like cattle.  Cattle started as domesticated animals and their actions are those of domesticated animals.  By their nature, cattle are content to stand around a bale of hay and eat.  Bison, on the other hand, were wild for thousands of years before being farm raised.  They have evolved to some extent, but basically these are still "wild" animals.  They prefer to graze on natural grasses and pasture as their ancestors have for thousands of years.  They roam as they eat, reducing the opportunity for bacteria to infect the herd. Bison are incredibly resistant to all bacteria and it's rare for a bison to ever get sick in its entire lifetime. Bison don't lend themselves to being confined to a small pasture, either.  They need room to roam and if you don't provide it, they will go out on their own to find it.  A large bison will walk right through a barbed wire fence like it's not even there.  So that picture you have in your mind from the movie "Dances With Wolves" of the bison dotting the landscape is pretty accurate (by necessity) wherever you a see a grower producing bison. So the question on your mind may be, "are the bison at Intermountain Bison grass-fed?"  The answer to that would be yes.  We don't have a USDA certification because the USDA is in the process of doing away with the certification all together, and it only applied to small growers in the first place.  But if your question really is, "Do your bison roam the hills and dales of Idaho in a largely unrestricted way?"  The short answer would be yes.  Of course we have fences, but our ranches are literally thousands of acres where bison eat naturally occurring grasses and herbs and water themselves in free flowing streams, just like they have done for thousands of years in this area. It's true in the winter we feed our herds, grass in the form of dried, baled forage.  Snow can get 3-4 feet deep in the high valleys of Idaho (and virtually everywhere else bison is raised,) and winter temperatures here can range from -10 to -40 below zero.  We raise our animals to provide a lean, clean meat source to people who recognize the value of such meat, and we would never let our animals suffer in the cold, or allow the flavor of our meat to be tainted by stress hormones.  There's no question that the bison meat from Intermountain Bison is the very best you can buy anywhere at any price.  Each animal is allowed to live the bison have always lived from the day it is born.  It doesn't get any better than that. If you have questions about bison and how they are raised, please contact us at info@intermountainbison.com or call our office during regular business hours and we'd be happy to discuss it with you.  We believe (and we're certain you will agree when you understand fully) that bison is the very best source of protein on the planet.  It tastes better than anything else there is and it's better for you.  We know you'll be a convert once you try our Premium Bison Steaks and burger.  There's nothing available anywhere to compare.

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