Tag Archives: farmers


Grass-fed and grass-finished beef: How not to be fooled by beef industry tricks

One of the more fascinating aspects of the meat industry in the United States is the use and misuse of product naming and labeling by various purveyors. We’ve covered this topic a fair amount, quite honestly, because it is an area where we see so much manipulation and, sometimes, purposeful deception of consumers. This is most striking when it comes to grass-fed cattle and the designation “grass-fed beef” in particular.

Grass-fed AND grass-finished

One of the first things we discovered about quality grass-fed beef is how little customers know about the products they buy and eat.

There’s not that much to know, but, crazily, it’s still very confusing for the consumer. Grass-fed beef is expected to come from cattle that eat grass — or other green forage — while grazing in open pastures for their entire life. Seems pretty cut and dried.

However, transparency hasn’t always been the beef industry standard.

The fine print – Grain-fed beef

Confusion arrives with the use of labels such as “grass-fed, grain-finished beef,” which could trick consumers into thinking the meat they are eating is something it is not. Basically, “grass-fed, grain-finished” is conventional beef, the same thing as every cow raised.

Currently, 98 percent of beef consumed in the United States is grain-fed beef. However, every cow starts out the same way: It is raised the first six months on its mother’s milk and continues for about a year just grazing on grass (and hay or other “forage” as it is impossible to grow cattle on grass year-round in most regions of the country). After half a year, the majority of cows move to the feedlot where they are fattened on grains for the last 90 to 160 days before slaughter.

But some cattle continue to graze and feed on grass after those first six months. This is what people think of when they seek out truly grass-fed, grass-finished beef.

When a label says “grass-fed, grain-finished,” that’s just the same thing as every other steak or roast at any supermarket. They were taken to a feedlot, just like other cattle. Although, that’s not what the labeling is trying to imply.

You can even have grass-fed and grain-fed cattle on the same ranch.

An example of grass-fed grain-finished marketing (with the branding removed). This is what they want consumers to imagine the cattle’s life entailed.

Why aren’t all cows both grass-fed and grass-finished?

The entire system is built for grain-fed, not grass-fed production. Grain-finishing is more efficient and cheaper, and it adds weight a lot quicker to get the cattle primed for slaughter. It also gives the cattle the type of marbling and fat content that Americans have grown accustomed to in their beef. If you think about it, even the “quality” ratings we use to talk about our beef — choice, select and prime — are based on marbling and rapid weight gain.

Feedlots and grain-finishing

Beef sales have been on the decline for a number of years, and a big reason for that is because people think that steaks are unhealthy. The reality of what makes beef potentially unhealthy has to do with the artificial fattening of the cow. Not only do grain-finished cattle eat food that has not been a traditional part of their diet, but feedlot cows also have more antibiotics and hormones than those that grazed for their entire lives (that is until some stricter FDA rules were put in place in 2017 tried to limit this practice).

Studies have discovered that grain-fed, corn-fed, or grain-finished cattle do not have the same nutrition profile as grass-fed. Studies show that cattle fed grain lack as many good omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) as grass-fed cows. Both of these essential fatty acids have pretty great health benefits.

And yet, the system is structured in a way where grass-fed is just not an option for most cattle ranchers and beef producers. They have limited resources and must focus on making their cattle operations as efficient as possible. Letting cattle graze for their entire lives does not work for many beef producers.

An example of grass-fed grass-finished marketing.

Purposeful misrepresentation

Some nefarious producers still want the financial benefits of shipping grass-fed, natural beef. This led to the creation and use of the grass-fed, grain-finished label.

Mislabeling isn’t the only tactic that has confused consumers. We’ve heard a lot from people who’ve tried grass-fed beef before and didn’t like it, even saying that it tastes like shoe-leather. We cannot imagine how someone could think that tender grass-fed, grass-finished beef tastes anything other than delicious.

We discovered that at one point producers trying to get into the grass-fed market would sell dairy cows.  While most dairy cows are just fed grass, they are often old by the time they stop producing milk. In these instances, the product being sold was not beef raised with the intention of being high-quality meat, but that it was raised for dairy and got used for meat, under the implication that it was “grass-fed.” But as the market has grown, more and more companies have decided to raise grass-fed cows specifically for meat instead of dairy cows.

And so most of the beef on the market tastes a lot better than what people who remember eating grass-fed meat — but were actually eating dairy cow — have experienced.

This issues of misrepresentation and mislabeling have been a persistent problem for consumers who may have been unknowingly ignorant to the realities. When someone buys grass-fed beef, they think they are getting an idyllic cow grazing in a field. Too often that hasn’t been the case.

Finding real grass-fed beef

One of the challenges for the customer is that they have good intentions, they want to eat a quality product, and they want the benefit of eating a steak that’s better for them. But they can easily be led astray.

The key is for consumers to look for labels and brands that offer either 100 percent grass-fed meat or the grass-fed, grass-finished labeling. There are also a lot of organizations that offer to certify that products are indeed fully grass-fed. This includes the American Grassfed Association. However, the USDA, which only monitors certified organic beef, does not concern itself with grass-fed regulation. The story of how certified organic/grass-fed beef is labeled and regulated is the topic of another post entirely.

ButcherBox is a brand that stands against all this confusion. We partner only with the farmers whose interests are aligned with our own. We want to bring the customers the best quality meats without any surprises.

And, we are willing to scour the globe to do that.

We want to end the confusion about grass-fed, grass-finished beef. It’s time to be able to access high-quality, trusted meat.



Choose the right stakeholders: Why we never took outside investment

There are lots of different stakeholders involved in ButcherBox that play crucial roles in bringing delicious steaks or pasture-raised bacon to your plate.

There’s the farmer.

There are the facilities that are cutting the meat into individual steaks.

There is our growing number of employees, and there are all our members — whom we consider to be the vital part of our community.

The ecosystem involved in getting our boxes to the doorsteps of our members is quite robust.

From the start, we wanted to make sure that everyone in that ecosystem was getting an amazing experience. For some, like the farmers, we wanted to make sure that they can run a business and that they view our relationship as having high-value beyond that of a standard business partnership.

For instance, it is vital that the farmers we work with are well-supported. We want them to have the opportunity to invite their children to take part in the same vocation and be confident that they can pass down their farm to the next generations. We want young farmers to be able to grow a business utilizing humane and environmentally beneficial techniques.

More than anything, we want our members to receive a great product at an amazing value. A key to that is also making sure that they can trust that we have done everything possible to source the highest-quality meat.

The ability to continue to do all the above is made possible by a decision my co-founder, Mike Filbey, and I made in the early days of ButcherBox.

Even before the success of our Kickstarter campaign, we wanted those mentioned above — farmers, the supply chain, employees, and ButcherBox members — to be the only stakeholders to whom we answer.

Because of that belief, we haven’t raised money from outside investors. It is quite amazing, in the current climate, what we’ve been able to accomplish without money from outside institutions, even as we hit a new phase of growth for the company or face some unexpected challenges.

In the past ten years, startups have become trendy. Entrepreneurship is now the number one concentration at many business schools. People really want to get into startups and build a company. And that’s really great.

I think the uptick in entrepreneurship is going to spur innovation in this country, help the industry in the nation grow in unimagined and positive ways, and bring incredible new services to lots of folks.

The challenge in the startup world right now, unfortunately, is that everyone who is building these companies is obsessed with raising money from venture capitalists.

I continually talk with people interested in starting their own business, seeking my advice, and, generally, all they want to know is how to go out and raise venture capital. I’ve found that there are very few people focused on actually building a company that is interesting, enduring, and profitable.

In the current climate, too many founders and executive teams have their focus on trying to figure out how to get the next round of funding from venture capitalists.

This is something pervasive in startup world. If you look at the major tech news outlets right now, almost every single article about early-stage companies is about how much money somebody sold a company for or how much somebody took from a VC. There’s no real depth, no exploration of companies doing cool things; no one is interested in companies that are actually making money.

ButcherBox started with a Kickstarter campaign and $10,000 that I took out of my personal investment account. At the time, I thought that if this venture doesn’t work out, it would be a great experience and that I’d hopefully learn some valuable lessons, things that couldn’t be taught at business school.

I was willing to risk that money to create ButcherBox, and that’s all we’ve done. We’ve never raised money. We don’t plan on raising money.

I like to tell people that we are building ButcherBox the old-fashioned way. But the reality is that we want to build this company our way. That means that we aren’t beholden to stakeholders that are only concerned about a return on their investment.

There might be — I should say — a couple of instances when getting money from a VC is a necessity. The only two examples I can think of are if you have cheaply and efficiently found product/market fit and need some money to scale, or if you are building a very tech-focused company that requires funds up-front to help you build your innovative product. Otherwise, I believe venture investments can be not only quite bad for a business, but also a massive waste of time for the team who should be focused on building a great business.

And while good investors can help, they could also try to change the vision of what ButcherBox can be. The minute you get venture backing, you also get an investor that has his or her own motivations.

That person might want want to focus on when and how you will make more money or have some concern about a trendy metric, and suddenly the idea of building an amazing company for our employees, for our members, and for our farmers could change.

The only way to build ButcherBox the right way — that we could keep total control, have an incredible product, and deliver an awesome experience — was not to raise money and to just make a go at this ourselves.

And so far, so good.

To this day, we only answer to our employees, to our farmers, and most importantly, to our community of ButcherBox members.



How our search for the world’s best meat brought us to Australia

At ButcherBox, we are committed to delivering the healthiest, highest standard, direct-to-consumer ecosystem of meat procurement and delivery worldwide. We are also compelled by our passion to always innovate, and, if need be to rewrite the rules, to achieve the mission of being the most ethical, sustainable, and beloved purveyor of meat.

Part of that innovation involves searching the globe for the best meat for our customers, no matter where in the world it may originate.

Recently, we’ve observed one of America’s fast-food franchises making claims in their commercials that geographic proximity is a deciding factor in meat quality. Specifically, they imply that meat from Australia is inferior.

The problem is that this tactic ignores one major accepted difference between U.S. and Aussie meat: Beef from Australia is considered to be higher quality and better for you than the majority of meat from America.

In fact, Australian beef has a few very clear advantages over homegrown cattle.

For one, the vast majority of Australian cattle is grass-fed for its entire lifecycle. In the U.S., only about 2 to 4 percent of cattle is grass-fed and grass finished, as we’ve pointed out before. This difference is due to the advantage Australian farmers have in terms of having massive swaths of land for their cattle to graze and the number of cattle farms that can operate in the country due to climate.

Even when cattle are considered grass-fed in this country, very few are actually raised purely on pasture; most are raised on a diet of grass and forage —which is often defined in very broad terms. Language and labelling can also be problematic for U.S. raised beef as meat referred to as being “pasture raised” is oftentimes not what is implied.

At ButcherBox, we want to supply the best beef possible.

We’ve been to Australia and have been amazed by how vast some of the cattle ranches are. Whether you know it or not, the continent in the South Pacific is more than just surf breaks and Sydney. Most of the country is wide-open space that is more temperate for grass to grow. In the US, our outstanding farmers produce amazing grass-fed beef; however, the number of such purveyors is limited by geography and the availability of grazing lands.

Australian farmers don’t have the same limits. Literally, on one of our visits to an Australian farm, when we arrived, the rancher said, “Let’s go find the cows, I’m not sure where they are.” Where they were was roaming in open pastures.

We source some of our beef from Australia because their grassland and the quality of their beef is exceptional. Grass-fed beef in Australia undergoes a stringent grading process factoring in attributes contributing to tenderness and flavor that are not considered in the U.S.

Mike in Australia.
Mike Salguero (CEO) and Michael Billings (Head of Procurement) on a family run farm in Australia.

So we offer both US and Australian grass-fed beef because we think both are of the highest quality and meet our benchmark of being free from antibiotics and hormones, and raised with our environment and people’s health in mind.

Another difference between U.S. beef and its Australian meat is in the standards each is held to. Our American farmers take it upon themselves to raise their cattle by the standards we deem important. In Australia, there is a wide-reaching system in place to do that. It’s called MSA or Meat Standards Australia.

MSA is a grading system developed by the country’s own red meat industry to improve the quality of beef and other meat. The reason is explained on the MSA website: “The system is based on almost 700,000 consumer taste tests by over 100,000 consumers from nine countries and takes into account all factors that affect eating quality from the paddock to the plate.”

Basically, MSA makes it simpler to buy and cook Australian beef and lamb. Meat certified by the MSA is graded for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor, and is also labeled with recommended cooking methods. No such system exists in the U.S.; in fact, there are a number of grading and certifying agencies that actually make it much more confusing to buy the best quality meat here at home.

There’s more to producing quality meat than just making sure it tastes great. At ButcherBox, we strongly maintain that those who raise cattle (or other livestock) should do so in an ethical manner. And the Austrailian meat industry believes this as well.

The country has a system in place called the Australian Livestock Processing Industry Animal Welfare Certification System or AAWCS.

AAWCS does independent certifications of meat processors across the country. These audits check to make sure that there is compliance with best practice animal welfare standards for the entire meat industry. As the certifying organization states on its website, “Good animal welfare practice is a requirement of customers of the Australian meat and livestock Industry both here in Australia and around the world.”

This is important to our customers as well. We’ve already heard from a few who find the Austrailian standards reassuring that they will be getting certified 100% grass-fed meat from livestock that was raised humanely.

If we didn’t believe this was the right thing for our customers, the cattle, and our farmers (here and abroad), we wouldn’t be comfortable delivering our ButcherBox to our customers’ doors.

So, while we won’t stop seeking out and bringing our customers the highest-quality meat from farmers across the United States, we also want to make sure our customers have access to the best beef in the world. Whether that comes from Montana or Northern Australia, we strive to deliver the healthiest, most humanely-sourced meat we can find.

Stay tuned for more tales of our global travels to find you the best possible meat!



Meet farmer John Arbuckle

We have a dream of helping provide the healthiest, highest quality meat to the world — ranging from 100% grass-fed beef to organic free-range chicken and heritage breed pork.

It is widely understood that commercial farmers today raise and distribute cattle, chicken, and pork through processes that are ethically questionable, and, unhealthy for both humans and the animals. We’re on a mission to change that by working with farms across the world who raise the highest-quality meat, free from antibiotics and hormones.

We work with farms both large and small to change the food system for the better; John Arbuckle is one of the farmers that we work with that we believe makes ButcherBox so special.

We met John in a manner that is quite unique to entrepreneurs these days. At last year’s Paleo f(x) conference in Austin, we connected and hit it off while comparing recent Kickstarter campaigns.

Finding kindred spirits in John and his wife Holly, we thought it would be a grand idea to work together.

And, so, we include the Arbuckles’ Roam Sticks, snack sticks made with non-GMO and pasture-raised pork, as part of our ButcherBox subscriptions. Additionally, we use pork from their pasture-raised pigs in our breakfast sausages.

We love their delicious products, but, more than that, we are enamored with the passions that drive the Arbuckles: Love of adventure, family farms, and regenerative agriculture (pasture-based farming).

Pork grazing on the Arbuckle's farm.
Pork grazing on the Arbuckle’s farm.

John is a tenth generation farmer, a lineage that can be traced to Scotland, where ancestors raised wheat and lamb north of Glasgow. While living in Maryland, he grew organic vegetables as part of the business model that relied heavily on CSA, farmer’s markets, and farm-to-table restaurants.

But the itch for more wide-open space to roam was ever present. And so John and Holly packed up for what John refers to as “the-middle-of-nowhere” Missouri to raise livestock and their family. “You can stand on the roof and watch the dog run for three days,” Arbuckle said trying to explain the vastness of their space in the “The Show Me State.”

The greater expanse of Singing Prarie Farm lets John continue his passion for cultivating a wide array of delicious greens, and also allowed the Arbuckles to let pigs graze and forage peas vine, kale, and more. This alone is no small task. Pigs really like to eat. By John’s estimation, their livestock has consumed more than 100,000 pounds of kale.

Eventually, John and Holly decided to use their foraging pork to create a snack they’d feel good about giving their kids.

And so Roam Sticks were born. The sticks come in different flavors including hickory smoked pork with uncured bacon and hickory smoked pork with pineapple. John raises the grazing pigs and later naturally ferments and smokes the meat to create these healthy snacks.

The most rewarding part of these efforts is the understanding that they are not only helping people eat healthier, but they are also doing good by the planet, as John explained. John even uses sustainable farming techniques, including ecologically-friendly cultivation techniques. The entire farm is also 100% Non-GMO antibiotic free.