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How does Forage Finishing Affect Product Quality?

In Canada, most cattle are raised on forages then finished on a high grain diet at under 20 months of age. Grain-finishing is typical because grains like barley and corn generally contain more energy than forages, and Canada’s relatively short growing season means that forage-finished cattle require stored forage in addition to pasture.

Forage-finished beef contains more omega-3 fatty acids and may contain more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than grain-finished beef, which has sparked interest among some health conscious consumers. However, current levels of omega-3 fatty acid and CLA in beef do not consistently meet Health Canada labeling requirements and research has found that increasing the levels of these unsaturated fats while maintaining meat quality is challenging.

Oxidation of unsaturated fats in forage-finished beef may negatively impact flavor and odor. This has led to concerns that some forage-finishing methods may yield a premium-priced product that does not deliver on the perceived quality or potential health benefits to the consumer.

A recently-completed research project funded by the National Check-off and Canada’s Beef Science Cluster studied the affect of forage-finishing methods on growth performance, carcass traits, eating quality and nutrient composition of beef relative to grain-finished beef. The study also evaluated breed differences in the aforementioned traits and examined how fatty acid composition of forages affected eating quality and nutrient composition of beef when the method of forage finishing was varied.

The study found that growth performance, feed efficiency and quality grades were lower with forage-finished cattle. Omega-3 was higher in forage-finished than corn-finished beef, but levels were too low to attain a Health Canada label claim for omega-3 content.

To learn more about this research, view the fact sheet (web version).

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Frank SchlichtingAugust 6, 2013

No surprize there the value added sector is more interested in adding a few more coins in their jeans than adding any additional value to the consumer. Same as all the other branded beef products. You have to admire their ability to pull the wool over some peoples eyes. If I told you 10 years ago that people would pay more for a burger that had Black Angus beef in it than one with Red Angus you wouldn't think it was possible, but they managed to pull it off. Never underestimate the power of marketing!

The sad thing about all this spin doctoring is that they have to step on everyone else's heads to rise "above the crowd" Now some consumers are wary of buying beef that was finished on grain, given antibiotics, not a certain color and whatever the spin doctors come up with next. Value added products are really dragging down the whole industry. All cattle producers should be working together to disseminate false information that groups like PETA and HSUS are putting out there and stand up for the industry rather than making false claims to promote their own little sector.


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