Is all bison grassfed?


Warning message

Welcome to the site! This content is old and may not reflect my current opinions. I keep it up mainly for reference and because I hope at least some of it is still good, but I encourage you to check out more recent posts as well as my Start Here page

A friend asked:

Off the top of your head, do you know if buffalo raising practices are similar to beef?  I ask because I'm unsure if buffalo can be raised with soy/corn feed instead of their natural grass diet.  I also ask because there seems to be no grass-fed label for buffalo.

Unfortunately it is possible to fatten bison on corn and other grains and more and more farmers seem to be doing this. It's been happening for awhile too as this old piece demonstrates. So you can't just order bison at a restaurant and assume it's grass-fed. Union Square Farmers Market has true grass-fed bison on Saturdays, but it's increasingly hard to find.

Does it matter? Well, I think bison, grass-fed or not, is a pretty decent choice of meat. Ruminants, even "factory farmed" usually spend more of their lives outsides before moving to a feedlot. And in terms of fatty acid balance, feedlot lamb/beef/bison generally has less omega-6 than pastured chicken and often less than pastured pork.

Here is an interesting chart of fat breakdowns. BUT those are just from small samples, usually from conventional breeds and sources. Joel Salatin said his chickens varied substantially from the USDA data. Generally when eating out I chose pastured anything first, but if that's not available I go for beef, lamb, or bison.

Feed is more variable for pigs than for chickens. Since pigs will eat quite a lot of different foods without a problem, they are fairly versatile. Some farmers have insisted to me that they need grains, but my family's farm manager Dr. Andrew Lorand says:

Pigs need lots of stuff (variety), but they do not need grains. They are foragers by nature and can live well, healthy and long on roots, tubers, grass, herbs, veggies.

Much of the pork I eat is fed organic whey and acorns. If any of you will be at the Biodynamic Conference this week in NY, say hi to Dr. Lorand for me. I would go, but I'm heading to Santa Fe.

Honestly I prefer local pastured animals whenver possible. I think they are better for people and better for the world in general. But I'm not going to give up and order a tofu bowl when presented with the choice between that and conventional beef. It highlights a discussion (err...teasing?) my eternally skeptical roommate and I had tonight about whether my fresh uncured lamb sausage was "paleo." Um, paleo is eating meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables. Some meat is probably better than other meat, but you don't have to eat special meat to qualify as paleo and to get the overall benefits of including animal products and excluding neolithic foods.