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Munching on grass is what cows do best

By Lewis Taylor, The Register-Guard

According to a recent study, we make hundreds of tiny food choices every day. Itís no wonder I spend 12 minutes in the plastic bag aisle at Target. My brain is already full from all the decisions Iíve had to make.

Itís getting worse, too. Have you seen the offerings at fast food restaurants recently? They keep coming up with new items. By the time I read the menu, I'm so flustered I just end up ordering a hard shell taco or a flimsy cheeseburger.

And even though there are now 97 options to choose from thereís really nothing new under the sun. Itís still the same five ingredients, reconfigured in a new way to camouflage the fact that Iím no different from my dogs who eat the same kibbles every day.

The only solution, I guess, is to pack a lunch, except that opens up a whole other can of worms. Is there really a difference between seven-grain, eight-grain and 12-grain bread? And how many flavors of sliced turkey does a deli really need?

If you know of a way to reduce my food choices, or just want to ask the Food Dude a question, write to the address at the end of the column.

Dear Food Dude: Should I really care whether my beef is certified Angus, humanely raised, grass-fed steroid-free, organic with no steroids or antibiotics?       —RED MEAT

Dear Red: In a word, no, but that doesn'tít mean you shouldnít be concerned about what kind of beef youíre eating.

As with many other food products, when it comes to beef there are a lot of claims being made by a lot of producers and third-party certifiers. This question came up recently in regard to coffee. Most coffee brands now carry more stickers and logos than a NASCAR racer, which can be incredibly confusing to the consumer who has to wade through all of it.

As with coffee, your best bet is to find a beef producer you like and trust. If youíre concerned about where the product comes from, go ahead and ask him or her.

I did just that with my favorite beef producer, Alvina Butti, co-owner of the Knee Deep Cattle Company in Coburg. The company is Certified Humane Raised and Handled, and although that certification sounds relatively meaningless, itís actually one of the more useful certifications when it comes to beef. The Virgina-based certifying agency ensures that animals are allowed to engage in their natural behaviors with sufficient space, shelter and gentle handling with limited stress, ample fresh water and healthy diets without antibiotics or hormones.

Meanwhile, terms such as grass-fed beef and organic can be easily abused. The definition of grass-fed (which is not a legal definition) might mean a cow ate grass for most of its life and grain during its final days. A new standard being proposed by the U. S. Department of Agriculture would allow things such as leftover corn husks to be included in the definition of grass. The term organic might sound all natural, but it can also mean that a cow is fed organic grains. Donít know about you, but Iíd rather a cow be fed non-organic grass than organic Cheerios.

Buttiís farm is not technically organic, her cattle are not certified Angus and nowhere does she make the official claim that her cows are grass-fed.

But Butti and her husband, Mike Stevensen, do raise their mostly Angus cattle on free-range pastures containing grasses, clovers, mineral supplements and salt. The cows have no hormones or antibiotics added to their diets, their four stomachs never touch a cereal grain, and they are humanely slaughtered.

Thatís a much different picture than the one presented by many mainstream cattle producers who send their cattle to a feed lot at the end of their lives to be fattened up with grains loaded with all sorts of unholy stuff.

But, you might ask, who cares if weíre feeding cattle cheap food to make them fat if it means we can get a 99-cent burger at the drive-through?

Now, Food Dude used to be with you on this, and I still enjoy a fast food burger or three from time to time, but after tasting one of Buttiís burgers Ė which are readily available everywhere from Longís Meat Market to the Indigo district Ė Iíve changed my tune.

While most burgers taste like meat, these burgers taste like a meal. There are real flavors, real complexity and none of that smelly meatiness you get when you throw conventional ground beef into a skillet. Plus, itís nice to know youíre eating a cow that was raised just up the road on a pasture at the base of the Coburg Hills.

I asked Mike Wooley, owner of Longís Meat Market in Eugene, what made Buttiís beef taste better than other brands. Was it the lack of antibiotics and steroids? The fact that her cattle wereít cooped up in crates? The clover in the pasture?

ďYouíre tasting beef is what youíre tasting.Ē Wooley said. ďThe fat that weíre putting on (grain-fed) cattle is different than what they naturally put on (when eating grass).Ē

Wooley described that fat on grain-fed beef as more of a rind. The fat on the beef from Buttiís grass-eating cattle, in contrast, melts into the meat. And not only does beef from cattle raised on grass taste better, but it also contains heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, E and beta carotene, and itís lower in cholesterol, Wooley explained.

So, while you may not want beef with antibiotics or hormones, or beef that comes from a cow thatís been inhumanely treated, the biggest variable-at least in terms of taste-seems to be whether or not that cow was fed grass throughout its full life.

Of course, there are other factors to consider, such as what kind of cattle a producer is using and what kind of grass those cows are eating. But if youíre going to get a tasty cut of beef, look for the cow that ate grass, the way cows are supposed to do.

Talk to the Food Dude at www.registerguard.com/fooddude. Or, send mail to Food Dude, The Register-Guard, P.O. Box 10188, Eugene OR 97440-2168.

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