From February to August 2007 the effect of rearing system (confined (C) v. free ranging (FR)) and season (spring v. summer) was evaluated on behaviour, immune and blood parameters and beef production (experiment 1). From February to August 2008, the effect of rearing system was only evaluated on beef production (experiment 2). A total of 12 Podolian young bulls were used each year. They were slaughtered at 18 and 15 months of age in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Herbage mass and pasture composition were monitored during the 2 years. Pasture availability, in terms of herbage mass and composition, as well as its seasonal development, was similar in the 2 years. In the first experiment, FR animals spent more time walking (P < 0.05), feeding (P < 0.001) and standing (P < 0.01) and showed a lower number of agonistic (P < 0.05) and non-agonistic social interaction than C animals (P < 0.01). Significant lower concentrations of serum urea nitrogen (P < 0.001) and creatinine (P < 0.10) in FR animals indicated a lower protein nutritional status due to inadequate protein availability at pasture. As a consequence, average daily gains (P < 0.05), slaughter weight (P < 0.05) and body condition score (P < 0.01) were lower in grazing animals as compared with C bulls. Cellular immune responsiveness was higher in FR animals (P < 0.05). Similarly, antibody titre to keyhole limpet hemocyanin was higher in FR bulls at the 2nd and 3rd month after antigen injection (P < 0.05), whereas it tended to be higher at the 4th month (P < 0.10). In both experiments, grazing negatively affected meat colour in terms of lightness. Eighteen-month-old bulls also showed lower final weight, weight gain and body conditions when kept outdoor: a possible consequence of nutrient deficits, as suggested by the metabolic status of FR animals. The same animals, however, benefited from FR in terms of natural behaviour expression and immune responsiveness. When the experiment was replicated the subsequent year, on animals slaughtered at 15 months of age, no differences between the performances of FR and C animals were detected. The earlier slaughter age system was also proportionally less dependent on external inputs as grazing was not extended to the dry season when herbage mass availability was lower.