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What is a Grass-Fed and Finished Bison?

What is a Grass-Fed and Finished Bison?

The Benefits of Eating Bison

You already know the benefits of eating bison. But is there any difference between grass-fed and grain-fed bison?

An infographic explaining the differences between grass and grain feeding in meat quality.

The short answer is absolute, grass-fed bison meat is better for you, the animal and the environment. But let’s dig a little deeper. First of all — what does grass-fed and finished bison mean?

A Natural Life

Well, it means that bison eat what they’re biologically supposed to (i.e. grasses) their entire lives. They roam their grasslands habitat from birth to harvest and are never injected with growth hormones or sent to feedlots.

Because bison are considered an undomesticated species, people tend to assume that all farmed bison live this way. But that’s simply not true. Sometimes, ranchers subsidize their bison’s diet with soy and grain from birth. More commonly bison are allowed to graze until the 90-120 days before harvest, when they’re shipped off to feedlots to be fattened up, according to the USDA.  (This is called grain-finished.)

One of the elders of the bison herd yells at a camera man.

Grass-fed and finished bison skip this step. They graze on the grasses of their natural habitat, sometimes subsidized with alfalfa or hay until they’re slaughtered. Which not only makes for a happy bison but for a healthier, tastier cut of meat.

In fact, there are numerous benefits of grass-fed and finished bison, including...

A sweeter flavor

Nothing gives away grass-fed bison more than the tender, natural flavor of their meat. There’s a subtle sweetness there that you don’t find in the cuts of their grain-finished counterparts and, equally important, there’s no fatty aftertaste.

A cut of bison steak, cooked medium rare, with steamed carrots on the side.

The fat in grass-fed hoofed animals is yellow in color, as opposed to white, which can be rather strange the first time you see it. Now, that yellow hue makes our mouths water.

A Higher Nutritional Value

Eating bison, already, is healthier than eating beef. It’s high in protein and iron, low in fat, calories and cholesterol, with the same nutrients found in all meat (b12 and zinc, for example).

A chart describing the nutritional value of different types of meat.

Pasture-raised bison have additional health benefits, including the fact that their meat will also be rich in omega 3s, a heart-healthy fat that’s been linked to improved brain health.

Grass-fed diets also enhance the Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLAs) levels in meat. CLAs are known to help with weight-management, some studies have even linked CLAs to reducing the risk of certain diseases, like cancer and heart disease.

A Healthy Environment

Bison that are kept out on pasture play a key role in protecting and preserving their grasslands habitat. Their grazing habits prevent the grass from overgrowing, while allowing native wildflowers to flourish. And the wallows they create form habitat for a variety of animal and plant life, including amphibians who seek refuge in the wallows that pool with water after rainfall.  

Feedlots have the opposite effect. No matter if they house beef or bison, they’re hard on the environment.

A Healthy Animal

A bison grazes on the ranch underneath a pale blue sky, with rolling hills racing towards the horizon in the background.

When bison are finished in feedlots they’re susceptible to the same problems industrially farmed cattle face — disease. In 2010, 66,000 pounds of bison were recalled for e-coli contamination that arose in the densely-packed lot. In 2016, there was another major recall. Allowing bison the space from one another dramatically reduces the likelihood of diseased meat.

So, go on, and enjoy bison the way you were meant to. You’ll be surprised by how delicious this healthy, smart choice can be.