In Australia the majority of cattle and sheep are raised on natural pastures and this meat is described as ‘grass fed’, ‘pasture fed’ or ‘free range’. The breed type, as well as changes in seasons, can influence the style and quality of beef and lamb produced on grass.
Livestock grazed on pastures absorb a pigment from the grass called carotene, which can result in fat that has a yellowish tone. This has no effect on the eating quality; however some markets express a preference for a whiter colour.
It is said that grass fed meat has a complex flavour due to a varied pastoral diet.
In Australia, at any one point in time, approximately 97% of cattle are located in a grass fed environment.
Cattle are generally grain fed because the quality of grass at certain times of the year or during poor seasons (such as droughts) is such that it doesn’t contain enough nutrients for the cattle to grow to required weights. In addition, grain feeding cattle increases the red meat industry’s ability to produce a consistent product – yield, quality and supply.
In Australia, at any one point in time, approximately 3% of cattle are being grain fed. To be classified as grain fed cattle need to be fed more than 60 days.
Grain fed beef tends to have brighter white fat, more marbling in meat than grass fed beef resulting in a more buttery flavour. This marbling is a result of the type of feed cattle receive during their time in the feedlot as well as the breed of cattle being fed.
There is no agreed definition for grain assisting yet, however some farmers will supplement the grass diet of their cattle with grain fed to them in the paddock.