Currently, there us confusion (much of it intentional) about natural food production.
Terms such as "natural," "organic," "free-range," "heritage breed," "pasture-based," "grassfed," and such, do not necessarily mean that a production prototype that mimics Nature's image was employed. Here you will find questions to ask in order to more accurately determine exactly how the food you are buying was produced. Grassfed products not only offer inherent health benefits, but also offer the very finest of flavor and eating satisfaction. Like artists, the best producers know how to manage a wide number of variables to create products imbued with their spirit, time and abilities. In a natural production prototype, breed, season, type of grass and soil minerals will affect the flavor and eating qualities of the animal product in much the same way as varietal, season and soil enhance fine wines. Sophisticated consumers enjoy grassfed meat and cheese "tastings" just as wine enthusiasts do.

In purchasing quality grassfed meat and dairy products, it is important to understand the nature of these products. The consumption of various grasses, forbs, and legumes will lend their flavors to the end product. Cheese connoisseurs in Switzerland, for example, have identified 75 different flavors in grazed cow milk. Everything the cow, sheep or goat eats adds subtle flavor changes daily to the milk. This results in no two days' cheeses being identical. Similarly, subtleties will be found in grassfed meats.

Pastures that are managed to maintain high legume stands and are rotationally grazed produce higher levels of animal performance and daily weight gain, which significantly affects the eating quality of meat. In climates with hot summers, seasonal annual grasses must be used to maintain product quality. Consumers need to be aware that there will often be significant quality differences after mid-summer and particularly the fall. Typically, the very best grassfed beef will be produced in late spring and early summer.

Why avoid grain-fed animal products?
Nature did not intend for animals such as cattle, bison, and sheep to eat grain. Ruminant livestock have difficulty digesting grain and frequently develop liver tumors and other disorders as a result of grain feeding. After World War II, feeding grain to animals solved the problem of how to dispose of excess grain due to farm mechanization. And, it was an easy way to make animals grow fat faster. However, even minimal grain feeding upsets the balance of healthy omega-3 to omega-6 ratios. Grassfed products are less likely to be contaminated with acid-resistant forms of E. coli bacteria. Research has shown that high-grain diets make E. coli more virulent by making it resistant to the natural protection our stomach acids provide.

Was the animal ever given hormones or antibiotics?
Organic Certification is your best guarantee that animals have not been given growth hormones or antibiotics. Some producers raise their animals on Certified Organic pastures, which does not guarantee the lack of hormones or antibiotics. Many producers who are not Certified Organic have signed affidavits that they do not use these products. Ask your farmer about this.

Was it raised on all grass, up to and including harvest?
We believe that ruminant animals should only be fed direct-grazed grass and legumes, and the dried hay or ensilage of pasture. This is what Nature intended for these animals. Some claims of "all natural," "grassfed" or "organic" emphasize how cows are raised in lush green meadows...right until the end when they go to feedlots or fattened on grain. Insist 100% grass for true grassfed products.

Why is grassfed better than organic?
Jo Robinson, editor of eatwild.com explains it best: Organic meat, poultry, and dairy products are now available at most supermarkets, which is a change for the better. When you buy organic, you know your food will be free of pesticide residues, synthetic hormones, genetically modified organisms, and a long list of questionable additives. You also have the satisfaction of knowing the farms that produced that food are eco-friendly. But organic is not enough. In fact, if I had to choose between organic animal products and grassfed animal products, I'd choose grassfed every time. Why? The main reason is that grassfed meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products are nutritionally superior to organic products. This comes as a surprise to many people who have come to equate "organic" with more nutritious." Alas, this is not always true. For the most part, the term "organic" is simply a guarantee of what the food does not contain. You know the food won't contain residues from pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, or any of those six syllable chemicals you can't pronounce. But organic food may still be deficient in nutrients or loaded with sugar and "bad" fat. For example, there are organic cereals on the market that are overly sweet. You may be consuming fewer pesticide residues when you choose these, but you'll still be consuming too many simple carbohydrates. An organic label does not guarantee good nutrition. Organic but grain fed beef, lamb, or bison will be "cleaner" than ordinary feedlot meat, but it won't be any more nutritious. When a ruminant animal is taken off pasture and fattened on an artificial grain diet, it loses its stores of vitamins E, beta-carotene, CLA, an omega-3s. It doesn't matter whether the grain is organic or not. Feeding large amounts of any kind of grain to a grazing animal makes the meat less beneficial for human consumption. In order to have the healthiest meat, the animals need to remain on their natural diet of fresh pasture. Compared with grain fed meat, grassfed meat has as much as four times more vitamin E, five times more cancer-fighting CLA, three times more heart-friendly omega-3s, and twice as much beta-carotene. It is lower in calories, total fat, and saturated fat. Finally, grassfed meat is likely to be free of the most undesirable elements even when it is not organically certified. When grass farms lack organic certification, it's usually because nitrogen fertilizers are used on the fields or the animals are treated with medications to rid them of parasites. Eggs from a free-range hen will be higher in omega-3s, vitamin E, and vitamin A than eggs from a hen raised in confinement and fed organic grain. The free range hen will also be spared the indignity of suffocating in the ammonia fumes and fecal dust. All this said, I believe that the best choice of all is buying products from organically certified grass farmers. When ruminants are raised on organic pasture and when pastured pigs and poultry are supplemented with organic grain, you have the best of both worlds- pure food that is also highly nutritious, just the way Nature made it. If I have to pay more for the privilege, I'm willing to do it. But until more consumers some around to this point of view, there will be many grass farmers who cannot afford to go 100 percent organic. Until that time, I'd urge consumers to choose grassfed over organic every time!

Is the meat marbled?
Flavor and most of the health benefits of grassfed beef come from the fat. Marbling occurs only in a truly "finished" animal, one that has been harvested at maturity and has gained over 1.7lbs/day for the last 60 to 70 days. This level of gain requires excellent forage quality. With most English beef breeds (Angus, Shorthorn, Red Devon, Murray Grey, Hereford) this will typically be after 18 months for males and 13-15 months for females. Other breeds can be successfully grass finished but will often be somewhat older. Be wary of producers advertising "lean meat". This is often a sign the animal was not properly finished. The healthy properties of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and omega-3 are concentrated in the fat of the animal, not in the proteinportion. Although there are many factors that can influence the flavor and tenderness of meat, marbling is the best indcator of flavorful, juicy meat. With lamb, every breed has a distinctive flavor. Fine wool breeds (Rambouillet or Merino) and coarse wool (Dorset) breeds have stronger flavor. Hair sheep (Kathadin, St. Croix) have a milder, "beefier" flavor preferred by most americans. Older lambs are more flavorful than younger ones. We prefer our lamb to be over a year old.