Pasture-based farms protect your health, promote the humane treatment of animals, and take care of the environment while producing the most flavorful foods possible.
The Important Health Benefits of Grassfed and Pasture-Raised Foods Are pasture-raised meats and dairy products really better for your health? The answer is yes, according to a growing number of health experts. First, animals raised on pasture eat what they are designed to eat. Like humans, animals that eat the proper diet—one that’s geared toward their unique digestive systems— and that are given room to roam, exercise and play, tend to be healthier than animals that are fed an improper diet, supplemented by antibiotics, and that live in crowded, stressful conditions. In fact, because of the attention paid to their diet and their living conditions, pasture-raised animals are better able to resist illness and disease, minimizing—and sometimes eliminating—the need to treat them with antibiotics. In addition, they are allowed to grow to a healthy weight—naturally—rather than being forced to gain weight at an unnatural rate with growth hormones. The result? Meats and dairy products that are cleaner and healthier for human consumption. Research shows that meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals raised on pasture have more desirable proportions of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They also contain higher levels of conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs), another fatty acid that has shown great promise in fighting tumors and breast cancer in laboratory tests. In addition, several studies suggest that grassfed meats and dairy contain higher levels of nutrients, such as fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, which are critical to good health. So, when you eat pasture-raised meats and dairy, you can be sure you’re nurturing your body with foods that are enhancing your well-being and improving your general health.
Promoting Animal Welfare (and Human Welfare) through Pasture-Based Farming Many of us have heard the stories of large-scale factory farms: Tens of thousands of chickens or hogs crammed into tiny, enclosed spaces, unable to move, denied sunlight and fresh food, living lives that many regard as intolerable. Is this the price that animals—and humans—have to pay for a modern-day food system? Hardly. Not only are animals raised on pasture healthier, they also enjoy a quality of life that is immeasurably higher than animals raised in intensive confinement.When animals are raised on carefully managed pastures, they are able to eat when they’re hungry, exercise at will, move into shade during the heat of the day, and rest when they’re tired. They can move to new grass and regularly enjoy clean and spacious environments. Mothers are free to suckle their young. As a result, they’re less likely than confined animals to suffer from stress, become ill, or contract an array of diseases.However, pasture-based farming is not just better for animals; it’s better for farm workers, too. Farmers working on grass-based operations are more likely to enjoy a healthier work environment than those who work on large-scale factory farms. They’re less likely to suffer from respiratory problems resulting from the dust, ammonia, and dangerously high levels of carbon dioxide so common in confinement facilities.1
Farming That Cleans Up after Itself Means a Healthier Environment There are good reasons why those who care about the environment support pasture-based farming. The pasturing of animals encourages biodiversity, improves soil fertility, and eliminates the waste-management problems associated with confinement-feeding operations. Feeding animals on grass reduces greenhouse gases in the air due to a process called carbon sequestration, wherein the grasses and legumes found in well-managed pastures are able to draw excess carbon dioxide from the air and return it to the soil as carbon. In addition, pasture-based farming consumes fewer natural resources. Although pasture-based farms are more labor-intensive, farm inputs, such as fossil fuels, are kept to a minimum.Most important, buying pasture-raised products from a farmer in your area helps keep an environmentally conscious farm in business. The more commercially viable your local and regional family farms are, the more likely they will continue as farms—and the more likely the land will not be turned into housing subdivisions, shopping malls, and parking lots. If you live in a region that is rapidly losing open space, consider that there are few better uses of wide-open spaces than small-scale family farms. They enhance the landscape, provide a local food source, and make good use of the land they occupy.
Well-Managed Pastures Provide Habitat for Wildlife Throughout history, farming has proved advantageous to wildlife. It creates a suitable environment for a wide range of wildlife, which, in turn, provides services to the farmer such as pollination and pest control. However, with intensifying pressure to increase food production, conventional farming activities are now proving detrimental to grassland birds and other wildlife. In fact, the shrinking populations of many ground-nesting birds are directly linked to the loss of grassland. Conservation and wildlife-preservation experts have become some of the most avid supporters of grass-based farming. According to a report issued by the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension, “Increased use of rotational grazing by dairy, sheep, and beef farmers has opened an opportunity to help increase the populations of grassland birds at little or no cost to the farmers.” 2 By protecting wildlife, we ensure a healthier ecosystem and preserve the aesthetic and educational values that wild game and birds afford. Through responsible farming, not only can farmers avoid the unnecessary destruction of life; they can also help grassland birds and other wildlife flourish.
Keeping Small-Scale Farming Healthy and Viable Often we are told that in business, bigger is better. This is not necessarily true of farming, particularly when farms grow to become factory-like operations. In fact, large-scale farming has actually taken a toll on our food system. It limits a farmer’s ability to make a living and compromises the environment and our quality of life. Pasture-based farms tend to be family-run operations made up of farmers who are passionate about the land they tend, the animals they raise, and the people they feed. Rather than being swayed by so-called efficiencies—which can limit a farmer’s choices—these farms are contributing to biodiversity by raising suitable breeds of cattle and pigs, as well as many other animals. While farming this way works best on a small scale, the pay-off in terms of health benefits and flavor is considerable. The June 28, 2004, issue of Time magazine reports that “Some consumers, concerned about the hormones and antibiotics used in modern factory-farmed cattle ... are turning to old-fashioned heritage beef. Taken from heirloom breeds of cattle—such as Galloway, Hereford, Devon, and Highlander— that are grassfed and raised on small family farms using traditional methods, the meat is free of hormones and chemical pesticides and tends to be healthier than cuts taken from corn-fed cattle.” Only independently run family farms are likely to engage in these types of farming practices. And they’re the only type of farms you want in your neighborhood.
The Flavor of Pasture-Raised Meats and Dairy Not only are pasture-raised meats and dairy better for your health, better for the animals, better for the environment, and better for the farmer, they also are better tasting than conventionally raised meats and dairy products. “The search is worth it,” writes Corby Kummer in the May 2003 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. “Grassfed beef tastes better than corn-fed beef: meatier, purer, far less fatty, the way we imagine beef tasted before feedlots and farm subsidies changed ranchers and cattle.” When raised and cooked properly, grassfed pork and lamb have a particularly rich and savory flavor. Grassfed beef tends to be lean and juicy, with a robust flavor. Pasture-raised chickens have a firm texture and a flavor that many older generations will remember from their youth. What gives grassfed meats and dairy their unique flavor and texture? The grass, for one. Wine enthusiasts have long heard about the influence of terroir on the flavor and characteristics of wine. Terroir refers to the unique elements of the soil, the landscape, and the climate that influence flavor. The same is true of grassfed foods. And just as the experience and expertise of the grower and the winemaker contribute to the quality of the wine, the experience and expertise of the farmer often means grassfed meat that’s unforgettably delicious. Flavor is also derived from the breed of the animal, the management of the pastures, the age at which the animal is harvested, and numerous other factors. The bottom line is that it pays to get to know the farmers who are growing and raising your food. Through them, you’ll find the meat and dairy products that taste best to you.
Endnotes: Shannon Hayes. The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook: Healthy Cooking and Good Living with Pasture-Raised Foods. Eating Fresh Publications, New Jersey. 2004. Grassland Birds: Fostering Habitats Using Rotational Grazing. Dan Undersander, Stan Temple, Jerry Bartlet, Dave Sample, Laura Paine. University of Wisconsin System. Cooperative Extension Publishing. 2000. The information on this section of our website is reprinted from the article The Great News About Grass. Published by: Eating Fresh Publications, 2004.