Grass Guzzlers

US - Concerns about environment, penned cattle has some farmers returning to natural pasturing.
calendar icon 18 January 2007
clock icon 1 minute read
One popular image of the West is tranquil cattle grazing on vast expanses of golden green rangelands. Cue the cowboys and a sunset, and the stage is set for one of the most American of meals: beef.

The image used to be accurate. All cattle are ruminants – that is, grass eaters. Ruminants transform grass, which people can't digest, into meat, which is very nourishing for people – and generally considered delicious.

In the last 30 to 40 years, however, the majority of beef cattle in the United States have lived the last three to four months of their lives in a feedlot, or a confined animal feeding operation. There, they are fed grain – usually corn – in order to fatten them up quickly for slaughter.

American cornfed beef has developed a worldwide reputation for being tender, because it is marbled with layers of fat. It is also relatively inexpensive, since U.S. farmers grow a surplus of cheap corn, allowing feedlots to produce a lot of beef for very little money. Generally, the beef in a typical grocery store comes from a feedlot.

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