Irish research finds grass silage beef healthier and visually more attractive than corn silage beef

Staff report

CORK, Ireland: Research at the National University of Ireland found that beef produced with grass silage was superior in color and at least two major healthful aspects compared to that produced from corn silage.

The research by A. O’Sullivan, K. O’Sullivan and A. Moloney was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Animal Science.

In the study heifers were divided into three groups and allowed continuous free-choice access to one of three treatments: A diet of nothing but corn silage; a 50/50 diet of corn silage and grass silage; and a diet of nothing but grass silage.

Beef from the corn silage was found to have the poorest color stability whereas beef from an all grass silage diet had excellent color stability. The 50/50 diet was intermediate. A visual panel least preferred the corn silage group after two or more days of display. This has major implication for the retail shelf life of beef.

The rapid deterioration (oxidation or rotting) of the corn-silage-produced beef was due to its having the presence of much less protective Vitamin E. The grass-silage beef contained five times more vitamin E than the corn-silage beef.

Quality beef purveyors in the USA have found that the rapid oxidation of grainfed beef prevents the use of long aging to tenderize the beef.

While grassfed beef can be aged for 30 days with no significant visual deterioration, the same is not true for grainfed beef which quickly loses its red color.

This rapid oxidation problem is even bigger with grainfed lamb which can quickly develop an unpleasant smell if not quickly consumed or frozen. Many believe this is a reason Americans only eat 1/12 as much lamb as their British cousins who eat primarily grassfed lamb.

While Vitamin E protects meat from oxidation, it also may protect humans who eat foods high in Vitamin E.

Vitamin E appears to be a natural protector against noxious free radicals which have been implicated in human disease and aging.


Also in the Irish research the grass-silage-produced beef had nine times as much omega-3 fatty acid as the beef produced with corn silage.

Diets high in omega-3 appear to produce less heart disease and cancer than diets high in omega 6 fatty acid.

The omega-3 fatty acid is found primarily in the leaves of plants and the omega-6 is found in the seeds of plants. Animals are not able to create these essential fatty acids themselves and must get them from their diets.

Meat and milk from animals fed a diet solely of pasture or pasture silage are much higher in vitamin E and omega-3 than that from grain-supplemented animals.

Jo Robinson, co-author of The Omega Diet said the vitamin E and omega-3 differences between grass silage beef and traditional American grainfed beef would be even greater than that found in the Irish research because corn silage contains a considerable amount of green leaves mixed in with it.

“Those green parts add more omega-3 and vitamin E than are present in the corn itself,” she said.

She said the greatest difference would be between direct-grazed grassfed beef and grainfed beef. The omega-3 fatty acids are extremely volatile and some are lost once the grass had been cut and wilted.

Previous British research in Wales had found a significantly higher percentage of omega-3 in direct-cut, unwilted grass silage than in wilted grass silage.

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