You’re sitting in the booth for dinner with your family when you scan the burger section. The description reads “grass-fed beef.” You, like many avid burger lovers, may not understand the difference between grass and grain fed beef. Here are 7 differences you should know:

1. The lives of cattle start out the same. Calves are born and live off of their mother’s milk, grass, and shrubs found in their environment. At about a year old, some cattle are moved to a feedlot where their diet changes to grain-based.

2. Grain fed cattle are fed a diet of grain-based feeds including corn and corn by-products. Because cattle are ruminants (mammals that can get nutrients from a special part of the stomach before digestion) they are also fed forages such as hay.

3. Grass fed beef does not mean a diet of strictly grass. Grass, shrubs, weeds, clovers, and leaves are all found in pastures where some cattle live. It can also include hay.

4. Both grass fed and conventionally (grain) fed beef are terms used to describe diet. It does not indicate other production practices used such as antibiotic free, hormone free, or free-range.

5. Grass fed beef usually contains less total fat than grain fed. Aka, it’s lower in calories.

6. Grain fed beef, or conventional beef has a higher rate of gain and makes it to market quicker. This is one reason it costs less to purchase at the store.

See the difference in marbling from grain-fed beef on the left to grass-fed beef on the right.
See the difference in marbling from grain-fed beef on the left to grass-fed beef on the righ

7. The grain fed to conventionally fed beef increases marbling (the little white flecks of fat in the middle of cuts of meat). This intramuscular fat makes the meat tender and adds flavor which many consumers enjoy.


ali seys

Ali Seys
Illinois State University student


  1. As cattle farmers I would like to clarify that your first statement is a little false. Grain fed cattle can begin eating forages any time after they hit 350 pounds, which is when the rumen is finally developed. This also happens around 4 months old. The calves are allowed to eat the same food their mothers are fed from day one. (Most calves can’t reach the feed at that age.) I also have never had a steak from any of my cattle that my butcher cut for me with as much fat as the one you have pictured on the left in your graphic. They all look more like the one on the right. I do agree with all of your other statements and I’m glad you shared.

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