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The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association puts that number at 12 months, but most grain-finished beef cows don’t live beyond 18 months. that is going through feedlots is slaughtered at 14-16 months,” she says.

According to rancher and the author of Defending Beef Nicolette Hahn Niman, the real number likely falls somewhere in the middle. “They do grow fatter and faster if they’re being fed grain, so they’re going into feedlots at younger ages to shorten that time as much as possible.” In a feedlot environment, grain causes cows to put on about one pound for every six pounds of feed they eat.

But what exactly do we mean when we say “grass-fed”? It’s All in the Finishing “All cattle are grass-fed at one time in their life, until most end up in a feedlot where they’re finished on grain,” says Texas rancher Gerry Shudde.

Indeed, most cows spend at least six months eating grass, before they are “finished,” or fattened up, with grain.

And the rising popularity of meat CSAs and whole animal buying clubs is an indication of how dramatically this trend has grown in recent years.

With these options, consumers can talk directly to farmers to find out how their beef was raised.

You see a lot of beef labeled as ‘grass-fed,’ but whether or not it actually meets that standard is questionable.” Noble’s skepticism is rooted in the fact that, for the most part, the USDA allows producers to determine whether or not their beef meets the grass-fed beef marketing claim standard.Unfortunately, these regulations are, for the most part, a paper tiger.Missing Oversight Marilyn Noble of the American Grassfed Association argues that beef producers have little incentive to stick with those rules.In contrast, grass-fed cows are slaughtered anywhere between 18-36 months.“When you keep cattle on grass their whole lives, and truly have them forage for a diet that their bodies have evolved to eat, you allow them to grow at a slower pace,” says Niman.

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