Forage & Grain-based Feeding Systems and Beef Quality

Background and Methodology
The feed consumed by cattle can modify quality beef quality through its effect on the quantity of feed energy available to the animal and through the nutrient composition of the feed. Despite the wealth of research, it is often difficult to isolate the true effects of forage and grain feeding on beef quality because the cattle involved have been slaughtered at carcass weights which vary widely within and between studies. This review examines the literature pertaining to the effects of nutrition (feed type) on beef quality parameters such as meat tenderness, juiciness, flavor, meat and fat color and the factors which contribute to these quality parameters. 

Fifteen experiments, which compared forage- and grain-finished beef at the same carcass weight or degree of fatness, revealed that the type of feeding system had no effect per se on tenderness, juiciness, lean meat color, marbling or pH. In eight out of twelve experiments where flavor was assessed, panelists could not distinguish an effect of diet on flavor. Effects on fat color were variable. In six of nine experiments where fat color was measured, grain feeding failed to “improve” fat color. It was concluded that there is little scientific justification for the claim that grain feeding is necessary to produce high quality beef. Beef of comparable quality can be obtained from cattle finished on forage-based diets (pasture).

Muir, P. D., Deaker. J. M. & brown M. D. (1998). Effect of forage- and grain-based feeding systems on beef quality: A review. New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research 41:623-635.