Lisa A. Mansperger gripped a cattle show stick in one hand as she hiked in a pair of muddy Nikes along a temporary fence separating her pastures.
She checked the fence for damage as she searched for her Scottish highlands. At the top of the hill, about 13 cattle -- with long, shaggy coats in brown, black, red and tan -- lazed under a cluster of trees. Horns protruded from the sides of their heads, and tufts of hair shaded their eyes.
Mansperger owns M&M Farm in Codorus Township, where she raises grass-fed beef. She has about 40 head of cattle, a few of which are angus that her children raise for 4-H. The rest are Scottish highlands, a heritage breed.
She bought her first two highlands -- a bred cow and a calf bull -- about eight years ago because she liked the breed and wanted to raise the animals as a hobby. She said highlands are docile and don't require a lot of care.
Mansperger eventually sold some halves and quarters of the meat. A rising interest in grass-fed beef led her to increase her herd. In February 2011, she opened a stand at Central Market in York, where she sells her meat and other all-natural animal products.
"It's just a more natural way to care for animals," she said. "It's the way they're meant to be."
The Hartman Group -- which provides global research on consumer culture, behaviors and trends -- predicted grass-fed beef as a trend for 2012. Although the specialty meat market accounts for only 3 percent of national beef production, that number continues to grow 20 percent each year, according to a 2010 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Proponents of grass-fed beef say feeding cattle grain is unnatural and that bovines are designed to eat grass. Many worry about health risks involved with large-scale beef production and the resulting environmental consequences. Most want to know how and where their food was raised.
However, experts in the beef industry say beef from grain-fed cattle tastes better and is of a higher quality -- not to mention, the nation doesn't have the space to raise enough beef on grass to feed the population.
Health, environmental concerns
Lucinda Morrisson, 56, of Dover said she and her husband, Larry, switched to grass-fed beef about a year ago. She likes the fresher, cleaner taste.
But ultimately, she wanted to rid her diet of anything that's treated with hormones or antibiotics.
According to estimates by the Union of Concerned Scientists, 70 percent of antibiotics produced annually are used as animal-feed additives.
Morrisson started with free-range eggs as she learned where to find all-natural food in York County.
"There's quite a lot out there," she said.
Morrisson, who works in food service, went to some seminars and researched the benefits of grass-fed beef and other natural animal products. She said she's concerned that hormones and antibiotics in food cause what seems to be a rise in human allergies, and she worries about foodborne illnesses that can quickly spread through mass-meat production.
"You shouldn't have animals in cages so they can't move," she said. "It all makes sense when you think about it."
Rory Kraft, assistant professor of philosophy at York College, works in the school's sustainability and environmental studies minor, which hosts speakers and shows films about various topics for students and the public. He predominately chooses grass-fed beef.
He touted grass-fed beef's advantages compared with grain-fed. He said most grass-fed beef tends to be locally farmed, which reduces hapless transport, and that it's healthier for the cattle, which aren't metabolically able to digest a steady corn diet.
Kraft said pasturing cattle and letting them graze freely on grass contributes to healthier pastures and enables microclimates to thrive. He said concentrated animal feeding operations that raise corn-fed beef do the opposite.
"To put it starkly, they destroy the local environment," he said.
Dianna Shrive, co-organizational leader of the York County 4-H Beef Club, said she only eats grain-fed beef because she prefers the taste.
"You need a certain amount of marbling -- that's where you get your flavor from," she said.
Greg Grim, who owns a cow-cafe operation in Paradise Township, said quality, tenderness and flavor of beef decrease when cattle are raised on grass.
He said feeding cattle corn and soybean products enhances performance -- or how many pounds an animal gains per day. A grass-fed steer gains about a pound per day, while a steer in a feedlot packs on about 21/2 pounds per day.
"They have to consume a lot more grass to gain a pound of beef," Grim said.
He said his cattle eat grass and hay because he only raises them until they're about 7 months old, when they move on to a feedlot program. Grim said there's a premium on high-quality beef when it's sold.
"The focus on quality of beef is so important," he said. "That's where you make your money."
Grim said farmers are no longer focused on supplementing cattle with antibiotics and hormones.
"We have been trying to produce more efficient genetics to produce more pounds of beef with less feed," he said.
From way of life to specialty market ...
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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