The Truth About Grass-Fed Meat: Is Your Label Lying?”

Grass-Fed, What Does it Mean?

There are many ways to raise an animal for food, and just as many names to go with it.

You’ve probably heard of grass-fed, grass-finished, and grain-finished. Some newer market terms are pasture-fed, pasture-finished, and pastured.

What do they all mean and what does it mean to you as the customer?

First, it will be important for you to understand the difference between fed, finished, grass, and pasture.

Anything ending in FED.

This includes Grass, Pasture, and anything else you might have seen. This means that the animal has consumed this food, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing it has consumed nor does it denote the animal’s lifestyle. For example, hay is grass. An animal can be called grass-fed if it is in a small stall and fed hay its whole life. That same animal can be finished on grain (more on that later) but still be consuming hay/grass/pasture, so is technically still grass-fed.

Anything Ending in Finished

This is what the animal consumes for the last part of its life (typically 6 months) before it is harvested.

Referring back to our grass-fed animal, it can be raised on grass or pasture for the majority of its life and then given heavy amounts of grain to increase its weight and fat content.

An animal that is grass-finished means they were given only grass for the last 6 months, but could have received grain earlier in its life.

Grass or Pasture?

Believe it or not, there is a difference in this labeling.

Yes, grass is in pasture, but that’s not the only place you will find it. Grass grows in many places, including mountain ranges where a lot of cattle are raised from late spring through early fall or flat land that isn’t cultivated. (think open prairie/grasslands) There are pastures that are grass only and the farmers go through tremendous efforts to ensure nothing else grows there so they can be certified grass only for marketing.

Pasture, on the other hand, is typically cultivated with irrigation and seeding of a variety of herbaceous plants with grass. You will see things like clover, plantain, dandelion, alfalfa, chickweed, thistle, and more.

Putting it all together

Now that you have a better understanding of the basics, I’ll outline how you can understand each of the terms to ensure you are able to find exactly what you are looking for.

Grassfed – The animal ate grass (could be grazing or hay) for a good majority of its diet but could have other things in its diet as well.

Grass-finished – This animal was fed only grass for the last 6 months of its life before harvest.

Grain-fed – Could have small amounts of hay or grazing but mostly grain (think 4-H projects) for the majority of its life.

Pastured/fed/raised – Raised on cultivated pastures with a variety of leafy greens but could have other things in its diet as well, like grain.

Pasture-finished – The animal grazed in pastures for the last six months of its life and nothing else.

If you see only one of these terms, you are only getting part of the story of what the animal ate in its life. You are better off seeing how it was fed AND finished to ensure you are getting what you want. As you can see, there can be a lot of combinations!

Good, Better, Best

Here are our suggestions if we were to put beef, lamb goat, etc., which are all nutritious, in these categories.

Good – grass-fed/grain-finished or pasture-fed/grain-finished

Better – grass-fed/grass-finished

Best – pasture-fed/pasture-finished

When you are looking for pork or poultry, our recommendation is always pastured.

We hope this helps you understand labels better and gives you greater confidence that what you are buying is exactly what you are looking for!

With love,



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