Farm vs. Wild: Which meat is healthier?

Image: Flickr,Michael Coté, Deer meat, at Charles & Silva's, CC BY 2.0
Image: Flickr, Michael Coté,
Deer meat (venison), at Charles & Silva’s, CC BY 2.0

Is a deer in the supermarket worth two in the bush? Quite the opposite, actually. Wild game tends to have a number of nutritional superiorities over farm-raised meat.

Game are wild animals and birds. Farm-raised game are originally wild species of animals and birds that are now being raised domestically for sale under voluntary USDA inspection. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has jurisdiction over imported game.

Large native game animals living in America include antelope, buffalo, bear, caribou, deer, elk, moose, reindeer, and wild boar. Small game animals include alligator, rabbit, squirrel, beaver, muskrat, opossum, raccoon, armadillo, porcupine, and other species.

Game birds include grouse, guineafowl, partridge, squab (young pigeon), quail, pheasant, ratites (emu, ostrich, and rhea), wild ducks, wild geese, wild turkey, and other species. Rock Cornish hens — thought by many consumers to be game birds — are actually young domesticated chickens. R

NOTE: Game species raised on farms under appropriate regulations can be sold. Wild game species that can be legally hunted under Federal or State regulatory authority cannot be sold, but can be harvested for personal consumption.

One important difference between wild and farmed meat is fat content. Wild animals are naturally lean. Unlike commercially raised meats, game animals are not restricted to an enclosed space, so they get much more exercise. They also do not consume the fatty man-made foods fed to domesticated stock; these foods are crafted to add bulk to animals.

Creatures raised in the wild also don’t consume the hormones and other chemical additives that taint so much of the meat in the grocery store. They do, however, have something running in their veins that domesticated animals do not. E.P.A. (eicosapentaenoic acid) is a fatty acid that facilitates blood flow. Some studies link human ingestion of E.P.A. to reduced risk of heart attacks, arthritis and hardening of the arteries. E.P.A is formed in the blood of wild animals as a protective agent against cold. Farm animals just don’t make it.

Denser meat More tender meat
Harder connective tissues Softer connective tissues
More difficult to crisp skin Easier to crisp skin
Leaner Fattier
Smaller size per animal Larger size per animal
Older animal Younger animal
More flavorful Less flavorful
Variable animal to animal More consistent animal to animal

Comparing farmed beef with wild venison
In culinary terms, “venison” can be meat from deer, elk, moose, caribou, antelope, and pronghorn. However, when this meat is offered for sale, the name of the specific animal must be specified on the package label. We discuss deer below.

A 4-ounce serving of beef flank steak has more than 9 grams of total fat, and nearly 4 of those grams are saturated. Venison contains 3 grams of total fat and only 1 of those grams is saturated. A 4-ounce serving of venison or eye of round steak contains about 24 grams of protein.

Venison and beef are considered complete proteins because they contain all 10 of the essential amino acids. However, beef has more than three times more cholesterol than venison. A 4-ounce serving contains 20 milligrams. This same serving size of porterhouse steak contains 76 milligrams. The recommended daily intake for healthy individuals is 300 milligrams.

Four ounces of porterhouse steak contains about 310 calories, while this same serving size of venison contains only 125 calories.

Game meat is superior in terms of vitamins, too. Although lower in fat, wild animals have significantly more calcium, iron and vitamin B-2 (riboflavin) than their domesticated counterparts. So any way you slice it, the forest beats the farm.

Since venison is wild game meat, there is a small risk it can be contaminated by lead. Ground venison is also more susceptible to contamination than steaks. If you hunt your own game, use non-lead bullets to avoid risk altogether.