Lauren Cobello » Budgeting » Frugal Living » Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Buying Farm-Raised Beef
Lauren and I have mentioned a few times that in an effort to eat healthier, we try to use grass fed organic beef. Buying healthier meat is one of those things that I think is always a great idea. I’m not going to make a moral issue out of this because I don’t believe that it’s wrong to buy meat from a grocery store. We’ve done it quite often, but we are simply trying to consume better ingredients more often. Sure, you can buy the organic grass fed beef in the store, but there are a couple issues with this:
Because of the above 2 reasons, we buy in bulk from a local farm. It is cheaper and we know where it’s coming from.
I’m glad you asked! We just purchased our second half cow, I’ll share some tips, how much we ended up paying, and what we’ve learned through the process.
I have to be honest – it is relatively easy where I live in upstate New York. There are many farms as close as 20 miles from my house… but unless you live in a very urban area, or in the desert, chances are you can find a cattle farm pretty close to you too. But you have to ask around. Most small farms are family operations and don’t have websites, so you have to ask actual people… not Google. You can also to to EatWild and search for a farm in your area.
I also recommend that you go out to the farm to visit. Most local farms would love to have you come to take a look and chat about the process. Not interested in seeing that cow walking around that will soon be in your freezer? I completely understand, but I still think it’s a good idea to see the farm and talk to the cattle raiser in person. If you have kids, they would love to visit too!
It can cost anywhere between $3.00 and $9.00 per pound. Because of that I won’t be able to say it will cost $x per pound since it depends on several factors:
Our first half cow we bought in 2012 was certified organic. But it was also expensive. And since 2012, beef has skyrocketed in price… so this time, we did not go with an organic farm. However – did you know that it is a TON of work and money for the farm to claim the USDA Organic designation? Many smaller farms just don’t have the resources and time to deal with it, but still provide amazing quality beef that would pass the organic certification with flying colors if they jumped through the hoops. That’s another reason why I recommend visiting the farm, and talking with those who feed and raise the cattle.
When you call the butcher, they will ask you lots of questions about how you want your beef cut. Be prepared ahead of time so that you get exactly what you want. Want some tips? Well… I am kind of a beef and meat nerd (you didn’t know that existed, did you?). Here is how I get mine cut:
It typically ends up to be about 75% hamburger, 25% steaks and roasts. One more tip – it might cost more to get it vacuum sealed in plastic, but it is well worth it. Even if you have a vacuum sealer at home, I can almost guarantee you that the commercial grade one that your butcher has will do a better job.
If you’ve never had grass fed (and finished) beef before, you should know that it is different in flavor, size and texture than your typical mass produced corn-fed beef.
Around here, the cows are usually slaughtered in the fall, before it gets cold. It’s mid October right now, so if you want one – GET ON IT! For next year, start looking around in the summer or earlier. Many farms sell their cows a year in advance, so make sure that you plan ahead!
Obviously, you’re gonna keep this meat frozen. But there is a big difference between a nice chest freezer and the freezer in your kitchen. Most standing freezers are self-defrosting, or auto-defrosting. This means that the freezer never builds up frost on the inside walls, which for the most part is a good feature. But not for longer storage of meat. Here’s why – self-defrosting freezers work by way of a heating element in the walls that melt any ice build up several times a day. This is fine for most applications, but the slight raise in temperature will cause foods stored near the walls of the freezer to slightly thaw and freeze over and over again. For meat storage of just a couple months, this is fine. But vacuum sealed meat will last much longer in a non-defrosting freezer, at least up to a year, maybe longer.
My advice – get a non-defrosting chest freezer. They’re cheaper than you think. We have a 8.0 cu ft freezer that we only paid about $280 for brand new.
A half of a cow is PLENTY for us and will last us a year with no problem. But, the farm usually sells cows as a whole, so your best bet would be to find a friend who is also looking to buy some beef in bulk and split it.
We LOVE our beef. It’s healthier, it supports local business, and we prefer the flavor. Best of all, it is a bargain compared to buying it in the grocery stores.