Cows eat GRASS, not corn or soy??

by Amy on 01/20/2011


Cows Eat Grass
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 Cows eat grass. Yes. GRASS. That is the appropriate diet for a cow. Why?

They are ruminants, a type of animal with multiple stomachs, built to eat grass and process the nutrition offered in that grass, nutrition that benefits us when we eat then eat the meat of these animals. Humans are not ruminant animals, but rather monogastric animals, meaning that we have one stomach and are not properly equipped to break down grass ourselves.

Why don’t cows eat corn or soy?

Corn and soy are very different than grass and thus are digested much differently. Many problems arise for the cows when they are forced to eat these products and they get sick and need large doses of antibiotics. They do not live a healthy life and they don’t live very long. Not to mention almost all corn and soybeans grown in the US are Genetically Modified Organisms (or GMOs) which carry extreme animal and human health, global, environmental and extreme agricultural consequences. Learn more about GMOs here.

What about other things commonly fed to cows?

Well, we don’t hold a very favorable view of the things cows are often fed- from bakery waste, stale candy (CANDY!), gum still in wrappers, donuts, chips (seriously), garbage (yes, garbage, that would otherwise be on the way to the landfill) to animal byproducts (leftovers from the slaughter house and that’s putting it nicely)- none of these things make for a pleasant life for the cow, nor do they make for healthy meat or healthy people. It’s absolutely ludicrous that this is even a common practice. It’s abuse.

Cows also need SUNSHINE. And they don’t need antibiotics or hormones!

In feedlots or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), the goal is to cram as many animals into as little space as possible. In these sort of operations, animals tend have little or no room to move and no quality of life.  More often than not, they rarely see the light of day, standing on concrete floors indoors. Animals are made, like humans, to be outside, in the sunshine, with fresh air for proper health and vitamin D absorption/production.

Since it’s a question of when, not if, these animals will get sick in these horrid conditions, they are pumped full of antibiotics.  Nearly 70% of all antibiotic use in the US is by the food industry for use in animals in industrial factory farms. This is a MAJOR cause of the outbreaks of antibiotic resistant germs, like MRSA. Feedlot animals are also often given hormones that force them grow much faster than normal and with terrible side effects.  Unfortunately, these chemicals get passed on to you when you consume feedlot meat, dairy from these animals or industrial eggs.

What’s the nutritional difference in feedlot meat vs. pastured meat? Is there a difference?

Pasture-based and wild meats are higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), Omega 3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, antioxidants, and vitamins A, D, E and C.  These are all extremely important nutrients.  CLA alone has been shown to combat cancer, prevent clogged arteries, and reduce the risk of diabetes. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential part of our diet, along with another fatty acid called Omega-6.  These two fats must remain in balance with each other, with 1:1 being the optimal ratio.  Unfortunately, the Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio of the Standard American Diet (SAD) is extremely out of balance, with a typical ratio of 1 part Omega- 3 to 20 parts Omega-6.  Consumption of feedlot/CAFO based meat is one huge reason for this imbalance.  Why?

Again it comes back to corn and soy. The corn and soy fed to cows in feedlots or CAFOs (where most supermarket meat comes from) are very high in Omega-6 fatty acids and so the meat is high in Omega 6 fats.  When people eat this high Omega-6 meat, then they become imbalanced, with a poor ratio of Omega-3: Omega-6 fats.

So what about grass-fed cows and the Omega ratios? When cows eat their appropriate diet of fresh, green grasses, their Omega ratio is much closer to the 1:1 that is ideal for human health.  This doesn’t just apply to the meat from these cows, but also any dairy products they produce. And, it’s not just cows, but all food animals. Chickens are also greatly impacted by a non-native diet (i.e. corn and soy) in place of their usual grass, seeds and insects. (Chickens are NOT vegetarians!) This issue extends to eggs as well.  Pastured eggs (eggs from foraging chickens) have that ideal Omega ratio of 1:1, but the corn and soy fed commercial eggs is at least 19 times higher in Omega-6 than Omega-3!

So how did this whole feedlot thing come about?

Due to the high demand of animal meats, eggs and dairy, the reduction in family farms that produce quality meats (and eggs, dairy) and the consumers demand for rock bottom prices, meat production has fallen to large food manufacturing companies and these companies have profit as their ultimate motivation. They want as many animals as fat as they can (more money per pound) as fast as possible to market. Corn and soy (and other grains and high calorie waste) pack on the pounds. It’s not healthy meat and a lot of value is lost to the consumer because a lot of the weight is unhealthy fat (unlike the healthy fat of grassfed cows), but the companies are paid dollars per pound of hanging weight. Thus, a fatter animal is more profit in the pockets of the large food companies. Human health is none of their concern.

What about the consumer? The cost? How does this affect ME?

The CAFO meat tends to be cheaper in the short run because of the shortcuts taken and mass-production.  This attracts many people who are always looking for a bargain or the best price. We have been trained to look for the best deal or which store offers the lowest prices. You do get what you pay for.

Pastured meats (and eggs and dairy) are more expensive because the animals are raised with more room to move around and thus production is a bit lower and because rather than externalizing costs, like large companies do, and paying their employees low wages for extremely hazardous jobs, family farmers support themselves, their families and are an important part of their local economy. When you consider the price your body will pay for eating feedlot meat and the medical bills that will surely ensue, the cost for pastured meats is much more justified.  It can be hard to see this when it comes time to purchase, but the CAFO meats are just so much inferior nutritionally and are actually damaging to your health with the hormones, antibiotics, and the GMOs.  Feedlots are also extremely damaging to the environment because of ineffective waste management, toxic runoff, the required growth of the GMO corn and soy and lack of the animals ability to participate in natural behaviors- grazing and fertilizing- that actually build the soil and land.

Bottom line?

For the sake of your health, the animals’ health, the environment and local economy, make it a priority to buy pastured meats and dairy from a local, responsible farmer.





Marcus Grodi November 25, 2012 at 9:26 pm

So, I basically agree with your reasoning, but practically: tomorrow my son and I are bring home two producing Jersey cows for our family farm. They come from a local non-grass fed dairy. Winter is approaching. We plan to feed the cows hay but with our last Jersey we augmented hay with dairy feed which contained mixture which included soy and corn. What must I add to the hay as winter feed to provide sufficient protein without giving grain, corn, or soy? Thank you.


Matt November 26, 2012 at 12:14 am

Hi! Thanks for your comment. I do not personally have cows and do not consider myself an expert on feeding cows. So, I would love to encourage you to reach out to farmers who ARE raising cows on pasture. From talking with friends who farm and have cows on pasture however, it’s my understanding that cows do synthesize some protein during their digestion of grass (and plants on pasture). Alfalfa (non-gmo) pellets can be given at milking time. I’ve seen people give a mixture of oats, molasses, beet pulp and alfalfa at milking time as well to increase production in the winter. Field peas are also an option. You can also feed sprouted grains, which makes them more digestible and this can certainly be done fairly easily for a couple of cows. Soaking the grains may also be an option, but I would personally sprout. I hope this has been somewhat helpful. I would seek out the advice of pasture-based farmers. Joel Salatin is typically very open and helpful with other farmers. For our goats, which are pastured, we give alfalfa at milking time, and will be using herbs and sprouted grains to increase milking when needed. Our entire farm is organically fed, soy-free and pasture-raised for the most part and everyone is treated holistically whenever needed. Hope this helps and congrats on your new Jerseys!! I would love to have cows someday if we can increase our pasture space.


Monique Trahan November 26, 2012 at 7:15 pm

No cows here, just goats, but I feel they do need more than just hay when lactating. Green, growing pasture may support them, but where there is snow on the ground and the grass isn’t growing, hay must be fed, and it doesn’t seem to support lactation as well. If you can get alfalfa mix hay (or plant some next year if you are making your own hay) that would be helpful. I feed my goats whatever fresh produce I can get my hands on, along with sprouted grains. I have a system of soaking and rinsing buckets over a sump hole in my cool cellar and sprout for the hens and the goats, so it would be doable for only two cows. I detail my method here:

Right now I am feeding chopped pumpkins, since they are readily available for free locally on Nov 1. I also devote some garden space for root crops and feed these in a good year. Beets are a favorite and increase fertility. Rutabagas seem to love my soil and are also good for increasing twinning in the small ruminants. I just increase any new food gradually and back off in the amounts if I see loose poo.

Later in the winter I am usually out of the produce, so it is just the sprouted grain. They seem to catch up just fine as soon as the grass starts growing again in spring. I do dry the girls off mid-late winter, mid-way through their pregnancies.


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