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Get Real: How to Purchase Local Grass-Fed Beef

**This post is part of the Get Real series. Please remember that this is meant as a learning community. We know that many of you are passionate about what you do and we want you to express that, just please do so in a way that will be an encouragement and aid to others making a transition. We want this to be a “safe space” for participants to learn. For that reason, we reserve the right to delete any comments that are not handled in this manner.

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.
You should note that the farmer will likely charge you a certain price per pound of beef. This is a “hang weight” cost. Meaning, the cost of beef is figured based on the meat before it is processed, bones and all. Make sure you ask the farmer what the cost per pound is before making your final decision.
Here are some questions you might want to ask a farmer before making your decision:
  1. How is the price per pound figured for the beef? Is there extra cost for butchering or is that figured into the cost?
  2. Are the cattle grass fed or grass and grain fed?
  3. If they are grain fed, what types of grain are they given? Are they given genetically modified grains?
  4. What are the conditions of the farm and land where the cattle graze? Are you able to come take a look at the property?
  5. Are antibiotics ever used?

3. Find a Butcher

There is a good chance that the person you select to have your beef purchased from has a butcher they deal with and will recommend. In our case, the farmer actually has the beef slaughtered and taken to the butcher, the only arrangements I have to make are which cuts of meat I want and how I want them packaged. If you are buying your beef at the county fair or through a local 4-H student you will likely need to work out who the butcher is and how they will handle picking up and transporting the cattle.
To find a butcher here are my short list of suggestions:
  1. Ask the farmer from who you are making the purchase, likely they have a butcher they would recommend.
  2. Ask your local Cooperative Extension Office.
  3. 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?
For most butchers you will pay a cost per pound of processing, again “hanging weight”, not processed weight. You will want to make sure you know what that cost is before you agree to the processing. It usually costs more to have them cut your stew beef and/or make patties for you. You need to determine if the extra cost is worth your hassle.
When it is all processed they will contact you and let you know it is ready for pick up. They will have put it in the deep freezer so it will be pretty frozen when you go to retrieve it. At any rate, you need to have brought several coolers with you for the pick up, especially if it is in the heat of the summer. I estimate that you need 3-4 large coolers for every 1/2 a cow that you purchase.

5. Other Questions

These are questions that I can remember friends asking me when I was trying to figure out who was going to go in on half a cow with me. Perhaps you will find them of some use as well.
  • 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!


May Week 4 Action Item:

Each week we will try to give you some simple action steps to put this journey into practice. It is important that you start this journey by understanding yourself, your goals and perhaps your obstacles.
  1. Research a plausible source for purchasing local grass-fed beef this season.

May Get Real:

Please take a moment to thank our guest authors by clicking over to their sites and/or liking them on Facebook and/or Twitter.

Sponsor:  Once A Month Mom

Guest Author: Vanessa from Chefdruck Musings


22 Responses to “Get Real: How to Purchase Local Grass-Fed Beef”

  1. Lanna says:

    The only thing I wanted to add was that the hanging weight will very much vary by the farmer/location/whatever, so keep asking tons of questions. Last year we split a cow with some friends (we’re going to need a full cow this upcoming year!), and hanging weight was 220lbs.

    We were lucky in one regard though – we’d scheduled with our butcher to have them start cutting up our cow that morning we picked it up, so we got our meat nice and fresh and could pre-prep it (marinate in sauces, cut up for steak bites/more stew meat) before situating in the freezer.

  2. I am lucky enough to have a great source for Grass fed beef where I am at. I actually help my appliance repair guy, who raises the beef, sell 2-3 of his beef every year. For three years now. Our choice butcher is booked up a year or more in advance. So, I book 3 cow for the next year, a year or more in advance. He sells it to me by the cow (not by the pound) at a steal of a deal! I end up paying about $4.50 a lb of grocery cut meat, for all cuts.

    Around live weight is around 1,000 lbs for a whole cow. So, about 400-500 lbs for hanging weight, then 200-250 for grocery cuts. More weight if you get bones for making broth and soup or feeding to your dog. Also more weight if you get any organ meat, even if you feed it to your dogs. My sister raw feeds her dogs and I get all the bones and organ meat from all 3 cows that no one else wants and give it to her. The butcher will likely sell your organ and bones, so why not find a friend who can use them. :)

    You loose about 1/2 the weight at each processing point.

    You guys must have some MASSIVE cows to get that same amout out of a half of a cow??? That means a 1,600-2000lb live cow!

    • Tricia says:

      Your listed weights are similar to ours. I mentioned 400-500 lbs for a half, that would come to about what you said as well. Our cost is usually $4.20-4.50/lb processed so that sounds about right.

  3. great post! Some other website listings that can help you find local farmers is localharvest.org and eatwild.com

  4. Doresa says:

    Love this post! We haven’t worked our way up to a whole (or half) cow yet, but have a GREAT source for grass fed beef. When we are ready for a larger purchase they are there. However, we are able to purchase as much as we want from them (we are in the early stages of our whole food diet and I am slowly changing my freezer over). Definitely check any local farmers markets in your area – a lot of grass feeding farmers are there!
    I found the higher cost is worth it for the ground beef because I get much less “shrinkage” than with the grocery brand beef. Another benefit of finding a local farmer is that you may find other great products. We found a local farmer that does free range chickens! You buy them as chicks and they raise them (on a healthy diet) let them roam free on their property – the process them when they are ready! So, we are not only eating healthy beef, but healthy chicken as well!

  5. Leah says:

    I am so glad to have discovered this article! We are going in with a family member for half a cow & none of us have done this before, so this is very helpful! Thank you! :)

  6. Mia says:

    I really wanted to do this next year, but recently found out that my son has a beef allergy (I know who has that!) and have switched most of our beef to pork. Is there some advice you can give for buying a pig? Would it be similar to buying beef? Sorry to throw a wrench in the whole conversation!


  7. Amy J. says:

    Great post…thanks! We split 1/2 a cow and 1/2 a pig with friends last year. The pig was handled just like the cow, just much less meat and less expensive/pound. I can’t remember exact costs though. Next time we won’t split the pig, it went too fast.

  8. Melanie says:

    I grew up with freshly butchered beef from family that raised cattle in western Oklahoma. When I moved away from home, I found a real appreciation for what I had growing up! Now, I live in Ohio and have an excellent farmer that raises Angus and we get a side every year. The farmer brings the steer in for slaughter, and has them waiting for him. He says it keeps the meat tender because the steer isn’t waiting to be slaughtered and pumping adrenalin through it’s body. It was a little intimidating the first time I went over it with the butcher. Our butcher keeps a file of my orders and I don’t have to go through everything each year. I still make changes every year, though. Like this year, I had the steaks cut 1 1/2-inches thick. They are excellent! Better than a steak house! I always get the soup bones and make and can broth. The last two years, I’ve also gotten the suet. Since I don’t use shortening anymore, I render tallow from my beef. I still haven’t convinced my family to eat the organ meat (AKA offals), but I’m working on it! You can request to have some of your beef “fresh” or unfrozen. I usually get a good amount of ground beef fresh so I can brown some, make and freeze meatballs and meatloaf and make my own hamburgers. Next year, I’m just paying the extra to have them make my burgers since I have three kids 5 and under.

    This was an excellent post! Beef is what’s for dinner. :)

  9. Sarah says:

    I’m confused. I have been buying grass fed ground beef from my grocery store (Whole Foods, Wegmans). They offer other cuts of grass fed beef as well. This seems more convenient and cost effective to me. Is there a difference in what I am buying? Is it less healthy?

    • Kelly says:

      The biggest difference Sarah is that you know exactly where your beef is coming from when you buy from a local person. But not everyone has that option or luxury so buying grass fed at the store is the next best thing. And most stores now including Whole Foods have tracking on their packages so you can see exactly where the beef is from.

    • Tricia says:

      It is not less healthy. You do have more control over making sure that your beef source is local and from a place that you can see when you buy it as we are suggesting but there is also the convenience factor you mention. You have to have enough space, enough money up front, etc. So what you are doing is great. If you have an opportunity to buy more local in the future I would encourage you towards it. I would also encourage you to compare if you have a friend that buys a half or whole cow. It would be a good taste test experiment to do.

    • Sarah says:

      Thank you both! Will definitely look more into this!

  10. Robert says:

    If you’re looking for a grower in your state I would recommend you check out http://www.grassfedbeefdirectory.com – It has growers for nearly every state (I’m listed in Idaho) with phone numbers and emails so you can contact the farmers directly.

  11. Jaci says:

    Thanks so much, I’m looking into splitting a hlaf 4 ways with some friends, from antoher friend that slaughters there own grass fed and finished cattle! I was bombarding her with lots of questions about how much of what cut and such we could all get and this post has been very helpful!

  12. PDXPaleo says:

    I recently came home with 40+ pounds of veal from Heart 2 Heart 2 Farms in Sherwood, OR (near Portland). Unlike a transaction at the grocery store, this was an EXPERIENCE—one that will likely stick with me the rest of my life. This is because I helped in the slaughtering and cleaning process of the calf. I got to know the meat source in a deeper—perhaps even spiritual—way. It’s odd to think how few of us encounter the death of farm animals face-to-face and yet most of us eat meat. And unlike industrial farms, at Heart 2 Heart you won’t have to worry about antibiotics, hormones, and GMO’s in what you eat. If you’re in the area, it’s worth checking out: http://www.heart2heartfarms.com

  13. Tami Bowen says:

    We sell grassfed beef. I loved this page. The only thing I would like to add is in regard to the hanging weight. Our beef hang much heavier than what was posted. For instance, my average was close to 700 lbs. let the producer know what your budget is so your not surprised. They have a good idea what their beef will hang at. Our beef are finished properly so you will have a decent amount of fat, it’s just good fat! If a beef is raised right it can be 100% grassfed and still be tender and full of flavor. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! We deal with first timers all the time. I love walking folks through the process and seeing how excited they are to get my beef!

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