5 questions to ask a beef farmer

So, you think how your beef is produced is important, but how do you go about finding more information?

Well, if you buy meat directly from a farmer like Lipes Family Farm, Tweedcroft Farm, or Heartland Fresh Family Farm, you can ask them all the questions you would like, including some of the ones below.

If you buy your meat from the grocery store, you can ask your grocery store's meat department manager or read the labels for any of the key words below.

1. Are your animals pasture-raised and finished? Are they fed anything besides grass, hay, and grass silage?

Cows are ruminant animals, they digest grass and their natural diet is grass and forages. If they are eating anything besides grass, you want to know. It's pretty common that farmers feed cows corn to help them gain weight quickly. However, in larger feedlots sometimes the animals are fed feed-mixes with questionable ingredients and non-vegetarian diets. Diets high in corn and feed-mixes can make cows sick, necessitating the use of anti-biotics and hormones.

2. How do you treat sick animals?

Grass-based farmers will most likely answer this question by saying that they manage for a healthy herd and do not make a practice of using antibiotics. They manage the size of the herd, where they graze, what they eat, all with the health of the animals in mind. Sometimes they need to treat pink eye with antibiotics, but they often don't sell that meat in the same way as the rest of the herd.

3. How do you finish your animals?

Finishing is the process the animal goes through in the last several months (3-6 months) before going to slaughter. If an animal is finished on grass or pasture, it is "100% grass-fed." Many farmers will supplement corn in the diet the last few months, because they hear that customers like a well-marbled, fatty end product.

4. Are your animals ever given antibiotics, hormones, or steroids?

This is something many consumers want to know about, because they are concerned about negative health effects of antibiotics and hormones ending up in the final meat product.

5. Why do you raise cattle?

While this question is number 5, it probably should be number one. This question gets to the heart of what you are probably looking for - where does my food come from? Many conscientious farmers will talk about their lifestyle, liking working with cattle, they might also talk about soil health and producing healthy food. Listen for what you care about to see if you will be happy supporting this farmer/producer in their life's work of producing beef. If you are buying at a grocery store, this question is harder to ask. You might have to rely on the branding strategy or the "about us" portion of a package, if you are lucky.