As beef consumers become more aware of cattle raising techniques and how different methods affect the meat quality, there has been increasing attention being paid specifically to what beef cattle are being fed. When it comes to the health and well-being of the cattle, as well as the nutritional qualities of the meat, the research and debates surrounding how beef cattle should be fed has grown to such an extreme degree that it can be helpful to explore these different techniques, and why some farmers choose certain methods over others.
In this context, we will be discussing corn finishing in this post, which refers to feeding beef cattle a corn-based diet as they mature and near the time to be taken to the slaughterhouse.
Before we dive into the specifics of corn finishing, it would be helpful to outline the different feeding methods that are used in the agriculture business, especially since the decision on which method to use directly affects the marbling of the meat, the stress levels of the cattle, the nutritional qualities of the meat, and the price at the store.
Basically, there are two main options available for finishing cattle: grain or grass.
While the majority of cows are are fed in feedlots, where their diet mainly consists of a grain diet, typically corn-based, some cows are raised by allowing them to still roam the land and eat grass, or fed grass in a feedlot. Corn feed is primarily used as a way to quickly fatten the cow up for quicker returns on investment, while grass-fed diets have been slowly becoming more popular as many animal rights advocates and health conscious consumers think it is better for the animal and produces more nutritional meat.
Ultimately, the main difference consists in the diet of the cow as it is raised and nears the end of maturity. Even though corn-based grain has historically been the predominant way to feed cattle, as the methods used to raise cattle have slowly been evolving, grass has become a huge turning point for the way we raise cattle.
What is Finishing?
Basically, as cattle mature and gain more weight, typically as they reach around 750-900 pounds, they are transitioned to a finishing phase of feeding. During this phase, cattle are fed consistently for around 150 days, gaining an average of 3 more pounds each day. As previously mentioned, cattle are either fed grain or grass during this phase; however, the majority of cattle farmers still use a corn-based grain diet in order to keep the process quicker, as well as to produce meat that is fatty, juicy, and tender.
When it comes to grain-based diets, the main ingredients include ground corn, corn silage, protein supplements, and minerals. Currently, the main split among farmers that employ grain-based diets regard the usage of whole corn versus processed corn. However, based on most studies, there is not a substantial difference when it comes to the health of the cattle and the price of the feed.
Even though corn-based grain has always been the most common way to feed and finish cattle, over the last decade, there has been a growing movement towards grass-fed methods, typically because its advocates claim that it is better for the well-being of the cattle, as well as improving the nutritional qualities of the meat. Despite these claims actually having some merit, the fact remains that using corn-based grain finishing techniques end up producing meat with a much higher degree of marbling, which delivers cuts of meat that are juicier and more tender, all while being the cheaper option.
Overall, the corn finishing method for raising beef cattle is still the most common technique used among agricultural farmers, precisely because it is the more efficient and produces fattier meat, which is usually desired more. Regardless of the method used, whether it be corn-based or grass-based, what matters most is that you are personally happy with the farming practices and quality of the beef you consume.