What is Finished Beef? A Complete Guide

Finished beef refers to beef from cattle that have completed the final stage of feeding and growth before being harvested and processed for meat. This finishing period impacts the fat content, marbling, flavor, and overall quality of the final beef product. But what exactly does “finished” mean and what are the different finishing methods used in beef production? This guide covers everything you need to know.

What Does Finished Mean for Beef Cattle?

In beef cattle production, “finished” refers to the diet cattle are fed during the last 4-6 months of their lives before they are harvested. Finishing is the final stage of feeding cattle to encourage rapid weight gain and fat deposition after calves have been weaned and backgrounded.

The goal of finishing is to produce beef with optimal fat cover, marbling, and eating quality. Different finishing diets create differences in the final nutritional profile, taste, and quality of beef.

Main Types of Finishing Systems

There are two main approaches used for finishing cattle to produce beef:


  • Cattle are fed a concentrated, calorie-dense diet high in grains like corn, barley, sorghum, or soybean meal.

  • Supplements like vitamins and minerals may be added to balance nutrition.

  • The energy-rich diet helps cattle gain weight rapidly and accumulate fat.

  • Grain-finishing typically occurs in a feedlot with hundreds or thousands of cattle.


  • Cattle remain on a forage-only diet of grasses, hay, or grass silage through finishing.

  • No grain is fed – the diet consists of 100% pasture, hay, or other grass forages.

  • Takes longer to finish cattle on grass vs grain, but results in leaner beef.

  • Provides access to pasture for grazing and exercise.

Duration of Finishing Period

The finishing period typically lasts 4-6 months for both grass and grain-finished cattle. Exact duration depends on starting weight and rate of gain.

  • Grain-finishing – High energy diet allows rapid fattening, so finishing may last only 100-120 days.

  • Grass-finishing – Slower gains on forage diet mean finishing takes 180 days or longer.

  • Target is to finish when cattle reach an ideal fat thickness and weight for harvest.

Differences in Fat Content

  • Grain-finished beef has more overall fat and marbling compared to grass-finished.

  • Grain diets cause cattle to pile on fat more quickly, especially unhealthy saturated fats.

  • Grass-finished beef is leaner with a better omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio.

  • Grain-finishing leads to high levels of oleic acid while grass-finishing increases conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which may have health benefits.

Effects on Beef Quality

  • Grain-finishing results in softer fat that starts melting at a lower temperature. This increases juiciness and flavor when cooked.

  • Grass-finished beef has firmer fat that requires slightly higher cooking temperatures. The fat has a more yellow hue.

  • Marbling is increased in grain-finished beef, improving taste but also driving up calorie and fat content.

  • Grass-finished beef has a distinct, gamey flavor preferred by some. The lower fat means slightly drier meat if overcooked.

Effects on Nutrition

  • Grain-finishing produces higher calorie beef with more total fat, especially saturated fat.

  • Grass-finished beef is lower in calories and fat overall but has higher omega-3s, CLA, and antioxidants like vitamin E.

  • Choosing grass-finished beef provides nutritional benefits, but keep in mind all beef is high in protein, B vitamins, iron, and other nutrients.

Benefits of 100% Grass-Finished Beef

Choosing 100% grass-finished beef offers some advantages:

  • Cattle live in their natural environment, grazing outdoors on pasture.

  • No grain feeding avoids unnatural, high-calorie diets.

  • Increased exercise, fresh air, and diverse forage may benefit cattle health.

  • Pasture access and grass-only diets meet animal welfare standards.

  • Avoidance of feedlots reduces environmental and sustainability concerns.

  • Meat has a lower fat content yet retains nutrients like omega-3s and CLA.

  • Subtler grass-fed flavor preferred by some beef connoisseurs.

Finding True Grass-Finished Beef

Be cautious when buying “grass-fed” beef – this label alone doesn’t guarantee 100% grass finishing. Look for “grass-fed and grass-finished” to ensure no grain feeding occurred. Direct communication with farmers or butchers can provide clarity on finishing protocols. Some key tips:

  • Ask if beef is from cattle fed grass from weaning to harvest with no feedlot use.

  • Check for credible “grass-finished” certifications like PCO or A Greener World.

  • Know that “grass-fed” labeling allows grain finishing, so dig deeper to confirm diet.

  • Check ingredient lists for a single ingredient: beef. No mention of grains or soy.

True grass-finished beef results from more natural, pasture-based finishing methods. While costlier, it provides health, ethical, and environmental advantages over conventional feedlot-finished beef.


Grass-Fed vs. Grass-Finished Beef: Big Difference


What is the difference between grass fed beef and grass-finished beef?

Simply put, grass-finished beef comes from cattle that ate nothing but grass and forage for their entire lives. Grass-fed, on the other hand, may be used to label meat from cattle that werestartedon a grass diet but have either received supplemental grain feed or are finished on a fully grain-based diet.

What is 100% grass fed and finished beef?

At Pre, we use the term “100% Grass Fed & Finished” beef because the cattle is raised on pasture for their entire lifespan, and never finished on corn or grain byproducts (which are unnatural for cattle to consume).

Is grass-finished beef healthy?

No studies have proven that grass-fed beef is better for your health. But pound for pound, it may have less total fat and fewer calories. Also, grass-fed beef has up to six times more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than regular grain-fed beef. Many people also believe grass-fed beef to be a more humane option.

What is the definition of finished cattle?

The finishing period is when beef animals are fed an energy-dense diet so that they will grow rapidly and add muscle/meat to their frame and optimise fat cover in preparation for slaughter.

Leave a Comment