Grass-finished vs. grain-finished beef

You’ve likely seen various labels showing that beef is “natural” or “grass fed.” But what do these labels mean? All cattle spend a majority of their lives eating grass on pastures. But beef can be finished in a variety of ways, giving you choices when at the meat case in your local grocery store or at a restaurant.

Let’s explore the difference between grass-finished and grain- finished beef and some other popular beef labels.


Grass-finished cattle spend their entire lives grazing and eating from pastures. These cattle may also eat forage, hay or silage at the feedyard. As well, grass finished cattle may or may not be given FDA-approved antibiotics to treat, prevent or control disease and/or growth-promoting hormones.


Grain-finished cattle, like grass finished, spend the majority of their lives eating grass and forage in pastures. When beef is grain-finished, cattle are free to eat a balanced diet of grain, local feed ingredients, like potato hulls or sugar beets, and hay or forage at the feedyard.

Certified Organic

Certified organic beef, designated by the official label, comes from cattle that have never received any antibiotics or growth-promoting hormones. These cattle may be spend time at the feedyard and can be either grass-finished or grain-finished as long as the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service certifies the feed as 100% organically grown.

Naturally Raised

Naturally raised beef comes from cattle that have never received antibiotics or growth-promoting hormones. This beef may spend time at a feedyard and can be either grain-finished or grass-finished.