Drovers recently received an inquiry from a college student conducting research for a public-health class project.  She sent a list of questions regarding the relative merits of finishing cattle on grass versus grain-based rations. Her questions, while somewhat biased, reflect common misperceptions of grain feeing and the kinds of question consumers are asking. For that reason, we have adapted the questions and answers into this article, to serve as possible “talking points” for our readers as you encounter similar questions from the public.

We’ll be posting the 13 questions, along with our answers, over the next couple weeks. Here is question 10:

Student

Why do you think other countries do not primarily feed cattle corn?

Drovers

In countries where grain finishing is not practiced, there can be several reasons including local traditions, consumer preferences, and in many cases, lack of infrastructure for transporting grain or cattle significant distances. Some countries that have traditionally produced grass-finished beef, Brazil in particular, are increasingly building a feedlot sector and moving toward more grain finishing to improve efficiency and meet demand among their export customers.

In some beef-producing countries, incorporating some grain finishing along with other modern production technologies could improve efficiency. According to a report from Oklahoma State University, two recent analyses of global livestock systems indicate that North American beef production systems and those in other developed countries have carbon footprints per unit of beef production 10 to 50 times lower as compared to many nations in Africa and Asia. These improvements, according to the report, are “driven by higher-quality (more digestible) feeds, lower impacts of climate stress (heat) on animals, improved animal genetics, advancements in reproductive performance, and the reduced time required for an animal to reach its slaughter weight.” Grain finishing is just one factor in the difference, but it can, in some cases, help improve overall production efficiency.

See question 9 from this series here