Get Real: How to Purchase Local Grass-Fed Beef
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Three years ago I saw a friend put out a Facebook message asking if anyone was interested in buying a half or a whole cow from a local farmer. She had been purchasing from him for years and he happened to have a few extras that year and was looking to take on some new customers. I had always been curious so I started to walk down that road. I was so intimidated by the process that first year that I nearly backed out before I got started. I am SO GLAD that I didn’t though.
I had heard others say that buying grass fed local beef like this resulted in tastier cuts of meat. I didn’t believe them. Could beef really taste better? Oh my. I was in for a treat. Seriously, you are. If you know someone that has ever bought meat this way perhaps you could ask them to buy a pound of hamburger from them, your life will be changed! I do mean that. I have also been impressed with the quality of the cuts of meat that we get. When we brown ground beef we have little to no fat to drain off, ever. In fact, when I make tacos, I have to add quite a bit of liquid to even get the seasoning mix to mix right, it is that good.
I thought if the process was overwhelming for me, it is likely overwhelming for you too, if you don’t already know of a beef source or you haven’t ordered beef like this in the past. There are so many questions that need answers; thankfully, I had some wonderfully patient people to help me through the process. So here are my words of wisdom.
1. Determine Your Needs
The first thing you need to do if you are thinking of buying a cow is to determine how much beef that you feel that your family will consume in an average year. Yes, a year! We only buy it once a year; therefore, we need to have a good estimate. I usually suggest that you start by figuring about how many pounds of beef you buy a month on average (ground beef, grilling steaks, roast) and multiply that by 12.
Here are my estimates of the amount of beef that we received from our cattle the last few years:
- A half is about 400-500 lbs of cattle at “hang weight”. Once butchered this comes to around 120 pounds of ground beef and 100-120 pounds of other meat (roasts, steaks, etc). Obviously this varies by cattle size, etc.
- We are not able to consume that amount of beef so we kept 1/4 of the beef for ourselves and split the other 1/4 with another family (or split that 1/4 into 2 1/8′s). You can be as creative as you would like.
- Freezer space – 1/4 of cattle takes up about 25% of my 14 cubic foot chest freezer. So you should estimate approximately 4 cubic feet per 1/4 of a side of beef.
2. Find a Source
This can be one of the most time consuming parts of the process. Or can be hit or miss. Much of the beef industry has their cattle ready late April to early Fall, it just depends on when their cattle typically birth and when they are ready for slaughter. The county fair can dictate when some cattle are ready in your area as many area youth will want to show theirs in the fair before selling them to consumers. At any rate, here are my suggested ways for finding a farmer who has cows to sell.
There are farms that will sell lots of their beef but my preference has been to buy half or a whole and indicate the processing myself.
- Put out feelers on Facebook. Simply write, “Anyone I know buy a half or whole cow from a local farmer or know a local farmer?”
- The County Fair – Most county fairs have youth that show and sell cattle. You can contact your local Cooperative Extension or FFA Offices to get more information on buying through this process.
- Contact your local Cooperative Extension Office – they are usually connected to your local beef sources.
- How is the price per pound figured for the beef? Is there extra cost for butchering or is that figured into the cost?
- Are the cattle grass fed or grass and grain fed?
- If they are grain fed, what types of grain are they given? Are they given genetically modified grains?
- What are the conditions of the farm and land where the cattle graze? Are you able to come take a look at the property?
- Are antibiotics ever used?
3. Find a Butcher
- Ask the farmer from who you are making the purchase, likely they have a butcher they would recommend.
- Ask your local Cooperative Extension Office.
- Do a Google search for area butchers.
4. Cuts of Meat
When you call the butcher they are going to have a LONG list of questions to ask you. They are going to ask you about cuts of beef that you want, how thick you want them cut, how you want them sliced, how you want them packaged, if you want the bones, etc. etc. This can be an intimidating part of the process, but have no fear, you can navigate this!
Here are some things you will likely be asked or want to know when you call:
- How thick do you want your steaks cut – 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 inches thick?
- How many steaks do you want per package?
- How many pounds of beef/roasts do you want per package?
- For our family of 2 adults and 2 children I usually do 1 pound packages of ground beef and 2 pound packages of roasts. If I am having more people over to join us I will just be sure to defrost more than one package.
- Do you want ground beef made into patties? (This usually costs more per pound for processing).
- Do you want any roasts cut into stew beef? (This usually costs more per pound for processing).
- Do you want the bones?
5. Other Questions
- Is it the front or back of the cattle? It is actually a cross cut, meaning it is the left or the right side of beef so you get cuts from the front quarter and the back quarter. Of course, if you buy a whole cow then you don’t have to worry about this at all!
- How much freezer space to I need? As indicated above you will need approximately 3-4 cubic feet of freezer space to keep a 1/2 a cow.
- Is it really better? YES!
- Research a plausible source for purchasing local grass-fed beef this season.
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