In the show ring, a diet with high protein content, carbohydrates and fats is common, as livestock handlers favor this diet because it helps animals quickly gain weight in a short time. A high protein diet makes the show animal look appealing by producing a leaner appearance. Common ingredients found in show food are crimped oats, cracked or rolled corn, protein pellets, salt and additive mineral. By increasing consumption, show animals can gain a half pound per day over two or three weeks. But, why isn’t there a natural diet option in the show ring business?
There are multiple reasons why sheep breeders, like David Braungardt, of Moscow Mills, Mo., prefer a grain diet compared to an all-natural diet. A grain diet contains more proteins, fiber and less fat. Whereas an all-natural diet has the same amount in both protein and fiber, but is significantly higher in fat.
“My family has been showing sheep for more than fifteen years” Braungardt said. “I think show sheep who eat a more protein type diet look better for show.”
Grain diets purpose are to develop frame and muscle without becoming too fat too soon. From a personal livestock showing perspective, I wanted my show sheep to follow this diet so they could develop the right amount of muscle over a good period of time. And, if my sheep gained too much weight, he would simply be fed fewer cups a day and his weight would eventually decrease to the show weight that I wanted him to be at. This is exactly the type of animal that many judges prefer to see in shows because the animal has a leaner look. In contrast, the all-natural diet focuses on fat development, which is best illustrated though grass-fed and grain-fed cattle.
Although they appear similar, the cattle types are very different. Compared to grass-fed cattle that live their lives on pastures, grain-fed cattle are only given a six to 12 month period to be raised on pastures until sent to conventional feedlots for slaughter. The goal of Conventional Animal Feeding Operations is to have animals in the feedlot gain as much weight as possible. In a short time span the cattle are usually fed hay and grain-based feeds made with soy and corn for months before slaughter.
Grass-fed beef has greater health benefits compared to grain-fed beef, according to an article by Jo Robinson of eatwild.com. It usually contains less total fat than grain-fed beef, meaning that, gram for gram, grass-fed beef has fewer calories. And, the composition of fatty acids between the two differs. In saturated fats, grass-fed beef contains slightly less. Grass-fed and grain-fed beef contain the same amount of omega 6 fatty acids. However, grass-fed has five times the amount of omega 3 fatty acids compared to grain-fed beef. In Conjugated linoleic acid, grass-fed beef contains about twice as much as grain-fed beef. This fatty acid is associated with reduced body fat, cholesterol and low trans-fat. CLA is known to help prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Grain-fed beef is loaded with vitamins B12, B3 and B6. It is also rich in iron, selenium and zinc. B vitamins found in beef serve a variety of functions for the body. They release energy for the body, aid in the formation of red blood cells and help build tissues. Zinc helps the immune system function properly and iron is used to carry oxygen to the blood. These vital nutrients are found in greater amounts in grass-fed beef compared to grain-fed beef.
Although animals fed with a more natural diet have increased nutrition, the meat is more expensive than that of grain-fed animals. But is it worth the expense? Many consumers may not think so. According to an article on CookingLigh.com, there is a distinct taste difference between an animal with a natural diet and a grain diet. An animal that has eaten a natural diet is often leaner with little fat. Grain diets often enhance the fat because it determines the meat cut.
Despite controversies, customers are beginning to agree that the most important thing is to eat “natural” food. Consumers should eat real food that eats real food; food that has consumed real food itself, like grass or corn. Animals that are on a natural diet have less fat, which appeals more to the consumer. Animals that are on a grain diet have more fat in their meat. It is shown by both producers and consumer that animals that eat a more natural diet have healthier meat, so consumers will receive health benefits and producers will benefit financially.