Grass-fed vs. Grass-finished
There is a difference. The term “finished” in stockmen’s terms means that the animal has grown to the point where it has slowed its growth enough that it can put on fat. A finished animal has at least a light cover of fat over the back and hind quarters. For an animal to properly finish it must be gaining well and this fat is the proof. The animal must consume the highest quality forage for it to finish. If the feed is of poor quality then the animal will not grow properly nor will it lay on fat.
Don’t be scared of the mention of fat here. We’re not talking about gobs of fat that you see in the grocery on feedlot beef. The fat here is moderate and furthermore it’s healthful. That’s where the beneficial fatty acids are. No fat = no Omega 3’s. Furthermore, buffalo are still wild animals and as such they don’t marble their fat like domestic beef do. Their fat is mostly inter-muscular. It has a much different and more desirable texture and taste than the heavy beef and pork fats that most folks are accustomed to.
Grass-fed is just that. The animal has eaten grass. This grass could be old, moldy and dry. It can be of poor nutritional value. The term grass-fed does not address whether the animal is finished. Grass-fed only denotes what the animal ate. An old, poor-doing cow eating moldy hay can be rightfully termed grass-fed but she would not be properly termed grass-finished.
One more word on fat. Fat color matters. Fat color is an indicator of many factors that can affect meat quality and taste. A light color fat indicates a young animal (good) that has had access to high energy feeds (good). Grass is only high in energy when it is A-OK. Dark or yellow fat is usually an indicator that either the animal was old, in energy deficiency, in protein excess, sick or some combination of the preceding. The darker fats usually equate to off flavors and toughness. The lighter colored fats are preferred. Of course, when meat is dry aged the fats tend to darken some and this is natural.