Sunday, March 15, 2009

To Make a Prairie--Part II, Grass-fed Beef

In the book I say a little about grass-fed beef and the role it can play in restoring grassland. A couple of years ago I asked Canadian Wildlife Service biologist Brenda Dale what consumers can do to help grassland birds and her answer was simple: buy grass-fed beef.

"If even 10% of people made the change to grass-fed beef it would make a big difference. There would have to become more grass out there in order to raise beef entirely on grass and that would be a change driven by consumers that could greatly benefit grassland birds."

Grass-fed beef, however, is not on the menu of most restaurants and you won’t find it at Safeway or Superstore. Virtually all of the meat and dairy products available at our supermarkets come from animals that have been fed a lot of grain. Even animals that graze in native grassland for their first year or two of life end up being "finished" with several months of intensive grain feeding at a large feedlot.

When it comes to ecological costs, of course nothing can pile it deeper and higher than a large industrial feedlot. With cattlemen now feeling the pinch of rising grain costs, though, conditions are ideal for them to see the virtues of finishing their animals on grass. But they will need some help. Policy-makers, political leaders and consumers have an opportunity to put grass-fed beef on the market and find new common ground between economics and ecology in grassland. One possibility would be a ten-cent per kilogram tax shelter for grass-fed beef from producers who have passed a certification process.

Creating an economic basis for habitat protection and restoration is only part of the value of grass-fed beef. In my next posting I will talk about the role grass-fed beef can play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, here is a link to a web page that lists several Alberta and Saskatchewan grass-fed beef producers. I encourage people to try the grass-fed beef source nearest where they live. We have bought beef from Leonard and Janet Piggott of Triple-H Beef who are listed on this page too.


  1. The following book might interest you. Speaks to the importance the prairie dog played in maintaining the grasslands of the American plains and their relationship to the survival of the bison. A romantic idea perhaps, but I'd like to see more bison on the prairies and a return to using them as a food source and as an alternative to cattle.

    The Prairie Dog: Sentinel of the Plains
    By Russell A. Graves
    10/2001. 133 pages.
    $19.95 paper
    Texas Tech University Press

  2. Trevor,

    Do you know a grocery store in Regina or surrounding area where you could buy grass fed beef? Or do you need to contact an individual producer?


  3. I have heard good things about that book. Here in Canada we have lost most of our black-tailed prairie dogs, which before settlement thrived in large colonies as far north as the South Saskatchewan River. Now they are reduced to a few colonies in and around Grasslands National Park. They were undoubtledly an important part of maintaining a grassland biodiversity because they foster a particular kind of short-grazed pasture that is attractive to certain birds, including the burrowing owl. Thanks for recommending that book.

  4. Jared--as far as I know, there are no stores currently selling 100% grass-fed beef in Regina, but you can find individual producers who will bring it into the city for customers. I am now going to go back into that post and revise it to include a link to a web page that lists some Saskatchewan grass-fed beef sources. The same page shows Alberta producers. Thanks for asking!

  5. Trevor, send me your address and I'll send you a grassfed steak for your review.
    Ross Macdonald
    c/o 98 Ranch
    Box 59
    Lake Alma, SK
    S0C 1M0


Share this post

Get widget