Buying a Whole or Half Cow: Pros and Cons

Howdy!

I just want to put a disclaimer out there that if you are a vegetarian/vegan friend, follower, co worker, or acquaintance, please totally skip this post.

It’s kind of ironic that after a few months ago of posting about how I would really like to transition into a vegan lifestyle I am now posting about the pros and cons of buying beef in bulk.  A few posts back I went into how I am/was trying to balance my hormones again and how including organic, grass fed beef that was locally sourced became vital to me.  I figured, “If I am going to eat meat again, I want to know where it came from and avoid buying from a corporation.”

There are still days that I think to myself about wanting to follow a vegetarian lifestyle again, and I eventually hope to get back to that place.  However, a few months back we up and made the large purchase of a half cow to split with other families.

Let me tell you, the process is pretty confusing if you don’t know what you’re getting into.  Here are a few tips I have for anyone who may be considering doing this in the fall (which, apparently, is the best time to do it), and I will also go on to explain some pros and cons I have experienced…..ANNNNDDD, IS IT REALLY WORTH IT?? 

Things to know before jumping into buying a cow

1.)  If you plan on purchasing a quarter, half or whole cow with other people, be sure they will NOT back out.  We had our other family back out last minute and we would have been stuck paying a full $1500 for a half of a cow for just the two of us had it not been for some of my family members jumping in to purchase some of the meat, too.  The farmer has already had your animal butchered, wrapped, and packaged and you BEST BELIEVE they are now expecting payment.  If possible, talk with your group at the beginning of the year (January) about purchasing sometime in September or October.  It is a large, upfront amount of money and all parties should be prepared to pay their portion of the bill.  Possibly decide among your group that you all put in a $200 deposit each by July or August to assure you will have the majority of the money come time to get the meat.  Pick your most “trusty” friend and let them hold onto the cash until it’s time and know that if you can’t foot your bill by September, you’re making the other members pay more AND you’re not getting your deposit back.  Maybe I’m a bee-yotch, but that’s what I would do next time.

2.)  Be sure you have enough freezer space!  Even just a quarter of a cow ends up being a lot of packaged meat.  Make sure you have the space BEFORE purchasing!

3.)  Do your homework on local farmers.  Ask about being certified organic, grass-fed, heck, even ask to go out to see the farm if they allow.  Anybody can honestly tell you anything over the phone or via email.  Be sure you’re getting what you’re paying for.

4.)  Save more money than you plan on spending on this cow.  This is what got us kind of in a pickle.  You can be told what the average hanging weight (we’ll get to that in a minute) of a “normal” beef cow is from your farmer of choice, but plan for it to weigh a little more which, in turn, is going to cost YOU extra money.  If your farmer says the average hanging weight is 400-500 pounds, plan for 550 or more.  You can’t tell a farmer what YOU want to spend on this because whichever cow they are choosing for you is the cow you’re getting.  You’re paying by the pound plus by the pound for butchering fees, too.

Pros and Cons

We have been using our beef now for a few months, and I figured I’d post about it….especially because right now all I smell is meat cooking in my crockpot and it got me thinking.  So, is it really worth it, you ask? 

PROS:

1.)  Easy access — It is SO easy to plan for meals when I know exactly what I already have on hand.  I use ground meat once or twice a week so on Sundays I take two pounds out and let it defrost.  I’ve got some go-to beef meals that Mike and I LOVE that I’ll have to share with you sometime!

2.)  THE PRICE, THE PRICE!!! — Yes, you’re paying anywhere from $1100-$1500 for half of a cow, but you’re usually averaging $3-$6 a pound of meat for the whole thing.  That’s $3 a pound for organic, grass-fed ground meat, roasts, steaks, ribs, and so on.  You can’t get that in a store.  If you’ve bought organic, grass fed ground meat from any major grocer in the last year, I would put money on that fact that you probably spent anywhere from $6 to $9 per pound and that could be the mixed meat of 40 different cows or so.  And, what DO you really know about the farm practices from those places??  Honestly, this is the BIGGEST pro on my list.

3.)  Your regular grocery bill can be reduced dramatically — Depending on how much meat and the quality of meat you consume on a regular basis, this could drastically change your weekly grocery bill.  Yeah yeah yeah….you’re spending a grand on this meat up front, but if you’re buying the best of the best every time you’re shopping at top top price, you’re going to save big.

4.)  You’re supporting local farmer’s with better farming practices — Another big one for me.  Do I feel guilty eating meat at times?  Yes.  When you reallyyyyy think about it, how could you not?  I wanted to continue eating meat because I wanted to continue to feel better (*****EVERYONE’S BODY IS DIFFERENT.  I UNDERSTAND YOU CAN STILL BE HEALTHY AND NOT EAT MEAT.****).  I, at least, wanted to know exactly where my meat was coming from and what the farm practices were before buying.  It bothers me to know what happens in factory farming to continue purchasing from those places would continue to make me feel upset and uneasy.

5.)  Free from hormones!!!  — Important!!!  I read a blog a while back that this girl was having horrible rashes and reactions after she’d eat beef.  Finally, her boyfriend said, maybe it’s the hormones?  They bought beef from a local farmer and she was freed from her horrible reactions and now they source as much as they can from local farmers to avoid unnecessary hormones and other additives.

CONS:

1.)  It’s a large chunk of change upfront — I would gander to say that most of us don’t just have thousands of dollars lying around to purchase meat.  It’s a large sum that could otherwise be put to other things.

2.)  You don’t really know how much you’re even going to pay until it’s all butchered and packaged — Again, the price.  Be sure to have enough to cover the biggest cow (which is what happened to us).

3.)  You’re technically not supposed to have meat frozen for more than a few months — For it to be the freshest, best-tasting meat possible, you’re not supposed to keep it in the freezer for a full year or more.  I have read various articles on this and have read that some people have had some of their beef for 2 years with no ill effects (but. like, no thanks).  Sometimes with the differing deep freezers and standing ones you’re going to get some freezer burnt areas which is unavoidable if you keep it for a long time.

4.) You’re going to get mostly ground beef — Of course you’re getting the BEST deal on cuts like Delmonico Steaks, Ribs, Briskets, but you’re not getting a lot of that stuff.  We somehow only ended up with one rack of ribs that looks to be about three ribs, a few steaks, and zero briskets.  However, now we wish we would have ONLY gotten ground meat (which leads me into the last portion of this…..)

WHAT TO ASK YOUR FARMER:  Taking steps to buying your cow.

When I get an idea in my head, I usually act on it.  Good or bad, I act on it.  So when I came home one day and told Mike, “We’re getting half a cow!” he just looked at me, shook his head, and said, “Why, when, and how much?” basically…..

I looked into two local farmers near Erie and one in particular was SO expensive that I thought in my head, “I’ve known people who have spent between $800 and $1200 on beef, how is this family charging this much?!” I asked a family member to put me in contact with a farmer.  The process began….

1.)  Live weight versus hanging weight (Ask:  What is the average hanging weight of your cows?  Also, what is the largest you’ve had?)— Time to get the jargon lesson out of the way.  Live weight is exactly that; what the cow weighs alive.  Hanging weight is the cow after the head, hooves, and other parts are removed before butchering.  We were told between 400-500 pounds but ended up having to pay for around 540-580 pounds (I can’t remember at this moment), and when you’re paying butcher fees (.50 cents a pound) on top of that, you’re adding up the money.

2.)  Organic/grass-fed/corn-fed (Ask:  What kind of feed are your cows given?  Are they given corn feed at ANY point in time?)  This is where we SHOULD have asked more questions.  Grass fed cows are going to be leaner (less marbled) with less fat.  The meat is going to taste gamey-er and you’re not going to have to drain as much fat from ground meat and so on.  However, if your cow is given corn feed AT ANY TIME, you’re going to have more of a marbled effect which some people prefer, but then your meat is no longer free of GMOs.  You are what you eat, and, if you’re eating corn in any way shape or form, you’re consuming GMOs.  If you’re trying to cut those out the best you can, this question is imperative to you.  Mike and I are under the impression that our cow was not fed an entirely grass-based diet due to the marbling we are seeing in our meat.  (More on that and pictures to come).  Also ask about what the farmer is using to treat the soil.  Grass and clovers treated with high nitrate based soils apparently make some of the best meat.  If your farmer is a professional, they’re going to have this info for you.

3.)  Butcher fees (Ask:  Do you utilize one butcher or do you have a few?  Can I please have the contact information for both?)  Not only are you paying for your meat TO THE FARMER, but you also will have a separate payment that goes TO THE BUTCHER.  Sometimes the farmer will be able to put you in contact with their butcher for rates and packaging options, but some may not be able to due to state regulations.  Contact any and all butchers to compare butchering fees.  Ours was .50 cents a pound for chopping, packaging, labeling, and all that good stuff.  Out of our total of $1500, $271 went to the butcher.

4.)  Age/Dairy Cows (Ask:  Do you only have beef cows or do you also have dairy?  At what age do you take the cows to slaughter?)  I have read two other blog posts by farmers to NOT ask these questions, but, if you’re shelling out over a thousand dollars, I think you deserve to have EVERY question answered.  Plus, if you piss that farmer off, you wouldn’t have wanted to buy from them anyway and go on to the next.  I read that one farmer would get pissed about this question because it wasn’t about age or weight, it was about fat content.  He made sure his cows were fully plumped before butchering and it didn’t matter the age.  However, most people buying grass-fed beef want a leaner meat to begin with.  I didn’t speak much AT ALL with the farmer we bought from, and my father pretty much told me he thinks we got an older dairy cow.  Now, that to me would be pretty shady and sneaky and not at ALL what I would have paid for so I choose not to believe that….I believe that a farmer should disclose all information with you before you decide to make your final decision.

So, how’s our meat and will we do it again?

Glad you asked.  I have LOVED the convenience of the ground meat, cutting out meat costs from grocery shopping, and knowing that only ONE animal had to have a bad day because of me.  However, our meat is some of the fattiest meat I’ve ever had when it comes to roasts.  Actually we’ve only made three and two have turned out to be inedible.  One of the inedible ones happens to be in my crock pot right now.

Judging by other blog posts, recipes I’ve found, and even just a quick Google image search of what an English roast, chuck roast, and butt should look like, our meat is SOOOOOO heavily marbled that our cow either A) was fed corn and NOT grass or B) was far too old and/or a dairy cow.

I’m talking inedible as in “every bite is fat” kind of inedible.  For a roast, most people do not trim the fat.  It keeps the meat moist and tender while slow cooking.  These roasts have such a hard, tough, chewy texture that I don’t even want to think about how a steak would cook up (plus, we’re not steak people).  At least with the ground meat I can drain of excess fat, and I really do love the flavor of it!  You can really tell a true difference.

The biggest question of all — WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN???  With this farmer, absolutely not.  Next year?  Probably not.  For two people, we have more than enough meat to last us a while but a large purchase like this was not necessarily necessary at this time.  Once we have a family, I could see this being a huge benefit, and I definitely would love to find another farmer in our area.  If you and your significant other are big meat eaters (3 times or more a week) I would say, GO FOR IT!  We keep our meat consumption down to 1-3 times a week so at this time it really wasn’t the best idea.

Well, that’s it for now…..I’ve gotta get BACK to the kitchen to make a cold quinoa salad with hummus for dinner now.

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