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 meatMore tender meat
Harder connective tissuesSofter connective tissues
More difficult to crisp skinEasier to crisp skin
Smaller size per animalLarger size per animal
Older animalYounger animal
More flavorfulLess flavorful
Variable animal to animalMore 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.

  • SouthernPatriot

    Wild caught shrimp are much preferred, though 94% of all shrimp bought in the United States are not domestic wild caught (as Consumer Reports recently investigated) and have many hormones, anti-biotics, listeria, ecoli, and numerous things that can get you very sick or kill you. Foreign shrimp are generally not inspected, with most never inspected. Purchase of wild caught domestic shrimp will give you an unpolluted product which is far superior to the other 94% you find in the grocery store.

  • TJH41

    I’ll stay with Healthier Wild…..

  • jclbiz

    Critters in the wild also eat plants containing laetrile. So, back in the day people never got cancer. Domestic animals get zero laetrile. Hence, lots of cancer these days.

  • Dogly

    What of the 90% bykill? I mean the fact that for each pound of shrimp, 9 pounds of the fry, or young fish of other species are caught in the nets and killed. Then, the dead bodies are thrown overboard. In less than 30 years there will be no more fish in the seas. Fish and shrimp are unnecessary in the human diet.

  • David Stovall

    The better, more tender, and delicious any food is ,, the worse it is for you. The guy that beat you up in the 4th grade , is now sitting in his mother’s basement writing articles to make you feel guilty for eating great tasting marbled steaks. I like prime and I recommend you eat road kill and leave the good stuff for me.

  • alison

    Hi Caitlyn,
    I was wondering if you’d be willing to share the sources you used while writing this article? I’m writing a paper for my college class and would love to incorporate research about the health benefits of eicosapentaenoic acid.
    Thank you so much!

  • Yes, your right, and if you read up on the food laws in Lev. in the bible, you will see more of how right on you are.


    Nothing better than a good deer steak from the back strap. Unfortunately many Americans can’t handle the wild flavor. I have recipes that when served to people that say they can’t normally handle the flavor, they have no idea that it is deer meat. They are shocked when I tell them.

  • Snake

    And what people don’t realize is THAT bykill is the reason that coastal states force the purchase of salt-water fishing licenses and strict creel limits. They do this instead of preventing the actual offenders which are commercial fishermen who rape and destroy the inland fisheries and nursery waters. So in other words, the individual fisherman is paying for the irresponsible commercial fishing industry!