We’ve since completely wiped out the beef we bought, and a few months ago we took delivery of two additional cows. Sounds like a bunch, but the cows were smaller than the other farmers. We went through the first side we bought in about four months.
This purchase should hopefully last us a full year. Our cost was $2.33/lb hanging weight which is a smoking deal. Most farmers around here are selling cows for $3-$4/lb.
Now that I’ve bought a total of three cows I’ve learned a few things about the process that I want to share with you. And now, with no further ado, here you go!
Shop Around For A Farmer
First, don’t be overly hasty when looking for a farmer to buy your cow from. There’s generally a bunch of different farmers to choose from, and you may find that the most prominent ones aren’t really the best choice.
Pick up the phone and talk to them. Depending on your situation, different things may be important. Price isn’t necessarily the only driver. You might want to pay a bit more to support a small farmer, or to choose a certain breed of cow.
I find my farmers on Craigslist, but there’s other options as well. Local newspapers are often a good source too. I’ve heard interesting things about Eat Wild, but haven’t ever tried it myself.
Ask What The Cow Eats!
If grass fed is important to you, make sure to talk to the farmer about the cows diet. Many farmers will gloss over it in their ads when the cows are grain fed. They realize that people want grass fed and avoid the topic.
Another common situation is that a cow is grass fed but grain finished (or supplemented) … certainly preferable to pure grain fed beef, but I personally prefer to go with pure grass fed.
But at the end of the day, the choice is yours, and it can come down to price as a factor as well. I know someone who would LOVE to have grass fed beef but can’t find it reasonably priced where they live. They’ve compromised on grass fed with grain supplement. At the end of the day it’s cheaper than store-bought and it’s damn well better than feed lot beef.
Consider Your Cut List Carefully
When you buy beef by the side, instead of by the cut, you get to choose exactly how the butcher cuts and prepares your meat. The process overall is pretty simple. They send you a list that you can choose from, and you tell them what cuts you want.
Choices to make include things like how much ground beef to put in each package, how heavy your roasts should be, how thick you like your steaks cut, how many steaks to a package, and so on. But it’s always tough to decide if you want rib roasts or rib eye steaks … our butcher is good enough to give us a bit of both!
Think about what you do and do not eat, and what types of things you eat. For example, we eat a ton of ground beef and stew meat, but we don’t eat short ribs. So instead of getting short ribs, we had that part of the cow ground up instead, adding to the ground count.
We’ve found that 2lb ground beef packages and two steaks to the package is the sweet spot for us. 3-4 pound roasts are also about right. Again, think about how much you eat at a time, and go from there. Careful though, aim for full pound amounts … we got some 2.5 lb ground beef packages with the first cow and it was a pain.
Change Your Dietary Habits
This is the fun part, and something that’s still pretty hard for us to do. When you buy a whole cow, you’re getting just that … a whole cow! (scale down from the whole cow to a side if that’s what you’re doing)
That means you’re not only getting the standard stuff that we all tend to eat like ground beef, stew meat, pot roast, etc … but also the fun stuff we usually consider a splurge … like steak. Lots and lots of steak.
So you have to change your dietary habits to include the splurges a bit more often, especially since they’re not really splurges at this point. We STILL have some steaks from the first cow we bought.
It’s a bit counter intuitive, but it’s HARD to work steak into your regular diet when you don’t usually eat it.
Cows Are Expensive When You Buy The Whole Thing
So depending on how much you get, you could be looking at anywhere from $900 to $1,800 or even more for your cow. Clearly a pretty big chunk of change to drop all at once.
The best way to handle things, I’ve found, is to set aside cash every month for your next cow as part of your monthly grocery budget. Depending on your financial status, you may need to ramp into it by buying a smaller part of a cow at first, but pretty soon you’ll have a whole cow covered.