Paleo Plan

Q&A: Can’t Find “Grass-Fed” Pig or Chicken…


The following is an excellent question and answer that came from our forums that I thought you all should see.

Q:

One thing that I keep bumping up against in the quest for Grass-fed meat is that question of Chicken and Pigs. I grew up on and around farms and I never recall seeing either one of these two animals graze on grass. In looking at chicken and pork in the grocery stores, even the organic type stores, I don’t see any reference on these items regarding grain/grass fed animals. Only Free Range Chicken Eggs. So my question is, do chicken and pigs eat grass or is this more of a cow thing? If it is more to cows, is it necessary to then buy organic chicken/pork or is it more important to make sure that they do not have hormones and antibiotics?

A:

Well-raised pigs and chickens are called “Pasture Raised”.
The term grass-fed generally refers to cows because their natural diet is pretty much exclusively grass and other weeds. You can find grass-fed beef or buffalo at many health food stores now. Pigs and chickens are different. They eat some grass, and it’s becoming more popular again to feed them grass, but they’re both opportunistic and they’ll eat a lot of different foods: vegetables, bugs, weeds, fruit, corn, etc… So they’re not called “grass-fed” – they’re called “pasture-raised” when they’re allowed to roam around a pasture and eat their natural diet. For more info on their natural diets, here’s a great blog post on pigs and one on chickens here.

Finding pasture-raised meats in the store is rare
I have yet to see any pasture-raised chicken in my Whole Foods. That’s not to say it’s not at Vitamin Cottage or other health food stores around the country (probably not at Trader Joe’s, though). I have seen it at my farmer’s market in Boulder, Colorado, and I know it’s available from local farms around the country and world. You can find more info on your local sources of all pasture-raised/grass-fed meats at www.eatwild.com. I have found local, pasture raised pork chops at my Whole Foods (just recently added to their selection), but I’ve never found pasture-raised bacon or sausage. I bought half a pasture-raised pig from a local farm this year because there was no option for it at Whole Foods at the time, and I wanted to save money. I bought mine for about $4/lb (all cuts), whereas I think the pasture-raised pork chops at Whole Foods go for about $8/lb.

What you’re buying at the store when you buy “Free Range Chicken Eggs” is perhaps nothing more than eggs from chickens who were not confined to cages. They could still have been in an overcrowded barn with no natural light, very poor air quality, being overfed GMO corn with no access to the outdoors. Same with “free range chicken” breasts or other cuts. You’re looking for “pasture-raised” and it’s hard to come by.

Except maybe pasture-raised eggs.
It’s now becoming more common to find pasture-raised eggs in the supermarket. We have at least 2 different brands that are local at Whole Foods and they’re organic, too, meaning whatever food they were fed was organic and not GMO. Those eggs are much more expensive than conventional eggs, but you have to put it in perspective. Even if you’re paying $5 per dozen and eating 2 eggs per meal, that’s still only $.83 per meal.

Is antibiotic and hormone free enough?
As for your question about whether it’s more important to buy “antibiotic and hormone free” animal products or “organic”, I think if the option is there, buy organic. Organic implies that it’s antibiotic and hormone free, plus the animals were only fed organic feed. That means no antibiotics, no hormones, and no pesticides for you. If the option for organic is not there, then yes, antibiotic and hormone free are worth something.

Do your best.
What troubles me about this whole thing is that every Paleo promoter out there is encouraging you to eat pasture-raised this and grass-fed that, including myself. I’ve tried to tell people how to go about buying and storing bulk, pasture-raised and grass-fed meats here: http://www.paleoplan.com/2011/09-26/how-to-buy-and-store-local-bulk-meat/. But other than that, most of the meat you’re getting at the health food stores is corn and grain-fed. I don’t like it. Buying grain-fed sausage and bacon is a concession I make in my diet because I currently don’t have any of my local, pasture-raised bacon or sausage, and it’s not like I can just go to the farmer and ask for a pound of bacon. You have to order it in bulk and only at certain times of the year. I make that concession because I think sausage and bacon are delicious and I want to eat it. And I think that eating meat of any kind is better than eating cereal or bread or tofu. As for other meats, I choose to just not eat chicken because I can’t find any that’s pasture-raised right now. I eat only pasture-raised eggs and grass-fed beef (I have a quarter of a cow in my freezer), but sometimes I make even more concessions and eat organic Applegate turkey (grain-fed) or grain-fed turkey breast cutlets.

I live in an epicenter of health food, and I still have trouble finding certain species of properly raised animal products in my stores. I can only imagine it’s even more difficult for everyone else in the country to do the same. My advice is to do your best. Order as much local, pasture-raised meat in bulk as you can afford. Ask your butcher where their meat comes from, or look up the brand of meat yourself. They all have websites and you can always call to find out what their animals eat and where they live. I do it, and if more people did, more meat producers might feel pressure to raise their animals better.

Please let me know if you have any other questions about this. There’s a lot more to say on the topic, but I’d hate to ramble on and bore you. Thanks again for the question! Anyone else have any comments or questions about this?

Neely

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13 Comments

  1. WriteLegends

    OK, so speaking of store bought sausage…I am having trouble finding any sausage that doesn’t list sugar and MSG in the ingredients. I am not in the epicenter of health food, and my nearest Whole Foods is an hour away from me. Is there a brand that’s well known and easy to find that doesn’t use sugar and MSG or am I just going to have to ingest the icky stuff?

    • @WriteLegends- Honestly, I’d say rather than eat the icky things, don’t eat sausage at all. When it comes to MSG, I don’t like to mess around, since so many people are sensitive to it. Check all your brands at your store for ingredients and see if you can’t find a better one. Otherwise, opt for chicken or some other kind of meat instead. That’s my opinion, anyways…

  2. mkocylowsky

    I love sausage and recently stopped getting store bought (all had added sugar and other icky stuff). I now buy plain ground pork from my local farmers market. Then I blend my own herbs and spices, add it to the plain ground pork, and I’m good to go.

  3. tlathr04

    The eatwild website is a great reference. I live in a small town in West Michigan and was shocked to find 10 farms I can go to within 30 miles from my house :) Thank you!! Also, thank you for explaining hormone free vs organic, that is something I was puzzled with and wasn’t sure which way to go.

  4. I raise grass fed beef and pork. If you are looking for healthy chemical free true grass fed meats send an email my way. bannie6200@yahoo.com

  5. Wenchypoo

    Chickens do not eat grass, but rather eat bugs while they’re roaming the pasture–this is what you want. Pigs will eat anything given to them, and I mean ANYTHING, so a pastured pig will eat whatever’s on the ground, like nuts, mushrooms, low-growing plants (not grass), dead carcasses, etc.–much better than what farmers put in their troughs. These animals are not ruminants, so they don’t eat grass–they cannot digest it properly.

    Grass-fed organic or pastured organic is the absolute best you can expect to do in today’s world.

    For the reader looking for MSG-free sausage: make your own with pastured ground pork and spices. Mix the two, and refrigerate overnight. My husband has to have low-sodium stuff, so I learned to make him some added-sodium-free sausage this way. For the spice, find a sausage spice recipe online, and omit the salt.

    I stumbled upon my own, using spices I already had. Since I already use heavily chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper, i just mixed equal amounts of each, and stored in a jar in the fridge (it’s humid here, and the spice clots). I also mixed together and stored (in the cupboard) equal amounts of “Scarborough Fair” ingredients (parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme). One day, I put about 2T. of both mixes (the refrigerated and shelf-stable) together in a bowl, mixed it with a lb. of ground pork, and threw it in the fridge for later cooking–next thing I knew, I had sausage patties rather than tasty pork patties.

    Now I buy the large-sized pork loins (from a pastured-meat butcher–about 5-7 lbs. each), and cut them into fourths. 1 of the fourths is dedicated to grinding for sausage-making, while the rest are zippy-bagged as “roasts” for future stew cube cutting, or slicing, or using whole as pulled pork. This sausage is also great for use as Paleo pizza crust.

  6. wenchypoo,
    i raise chickens on pasture, layers and broilers, you would be surprised at the amount of grass they
    consume. if you pull the crop when butchering you can see the various different things they eat and
    grass is on the top of the list. also in the winter i keep my layers in a hoop house and feed them hay
    along with unadulterated laying mash, they eat quite a bit of hay. i suggest reading Pastured Poultry
    Profits by Joel Salatin if you want to know more about pasturing animals and just good animal husbandry.
    thanks for the tip on spices for making your own sausage,we have been looking for just the right recipe
    as we want to eliminate msg and other harmful ingredients from our diet.

  7. Shawn Herman

    What about ordering grass-fed and free-range chicken and buffalo and elk etc.? There are many online now, seems like a viable way to go to me.

  8. We’ve been purchasing pastured raised chicken and pork from a local farm for about 6+ months now, but just recently discovered that the additional feed the animals get, is not GMO free (corn and/or soy) . The farmers have not been able to provide a percentage, since the feed is mixed for them by another company, and in their ingredients list it’s just listed as ‘grains products/byproducts’ – varying depending on prices at the time…
    We can see the animals graze outside, but still for chicken the supplemental feed is about 80% and for pigs it’s 60% of their diet
    So now we’re faced with the decision as to what is better – organic (apparently grain fed) from Traeder Joe’s/Whole Foods OR pastured and local chicken/pork. What do you think?

    • Krasi – Oh man – that sucks. We actually had the same thing happen when we realized our family farm raised egg hens were being given the same sort of feed, so we stopped going to them and started buying the local organic pasture raised ones from Whole Foods. But not everyone has that option for chicken meat. If I were you I’d go on eatwild.com and try to find a different local source of chicken. If you don’t find anything, then yeah, I’d rather be eating organic chicken from Trader Joe’s than chicken that’s being fed 80% GMOs any day. If they’re organic, they have to follow certain standards of care, but each place follows them to a different degree, as I’m sure you know. I’d figure out where those chickens from TJ’s are actually being raised, call them and find out how they live and see if you approve. Please let us know how it goes!

  9. If you are looking for a great source, Wagyu Grass-Fed beef has superior flavor and texture to other types of grass-fed meats, due to the marbling. Our farm in Florida (small, sustainable) is one of the few farms in the U.S. raising this type of meat. You can find us at Pasture Prime Family Farm if you Google it. We ship all over!

  10. Both chickens and pigs will eat a large amount of grass in their diet. They also enjoy legumes like clover, alfalfa, trefoil and other forages like brassicas, chicory, burdock, thistles, etc. We raise both pigs and chickens on pasture without any commercial hog feed grain. The pasture makes up the vast majority of what they consume. We also grow pumpkins, turnips, beets, mangels, apples and provide them with dairy (mostly whey from cheese and butter making). I’m glad you enjoyed my photograph (at the top of this page). To find out more about pigs on pasture visit my blog. A good entry point is http://SugarMtnFarm.com/pigs

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