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 such as 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 out 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 an 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 to 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 is my shortlist of suggestions:
  1. Ask the farmer from whom 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 about processing the meat. 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 do 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:OAMM Get Real Series

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:

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Sponsor:  Once A Month Mom

Guest Author: Vanessa from Chefdruck Musings


Join the discussion
  1. I used to buy one half of a steer every year or so but my source had to stop due to health problems. I’ve found some large suppliers but their order sizes or their prices may cut me out. I’m in NC about 30 miles west of Charlotte, if there is a supplier close by, I would love to find it. Thank you.

  2. Hello! I just stumbled across your post and thought you might want to hear about a new way to buy a quarter beef (or half, whole, etc.) online. A new service called RanchMeat just launched and it allows ranchers to list their animals in an open marketplace, and buyers can browse local rancher listings and do the whole process online–then either pick up at a processor near them or have it shipped. Check it out:

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