We bought half a cow.
The first time we only bought a quarter. I expected to get twice as much meat. However, it was much more than twice the amount of meat.
The best part…it was less than twice the price.
I’ve learned a lot, unfortunately the hard way, about purchasing meat locally…So I thought I’d share.
The first thing I figured out the hard way was timing. It’s seasonal. I was ready for more meat before the farmers were ready. So you need to check around. Word of mouth is good way to find a beef to buy. Contact them as soon as you hear they sell beef. Some will have a waiting list they can put you on which may mean a wait for more than a year. Some will put your name on a beef and you’ll have to wait for them to fatten up, which could end up being just a few months. Make sure you ask when the beef will be ready. If you’ve missed out make sure you find out when you need to put in your order the next time. In our area it is typically January and February, however, it has been my experience that if you don’t have a beef snatched up in November, you aren’t going to get one in January. This last one I ordered in October and received in February. Your seasons will determine when your beef is ready.
Most farmers have a cycle they follow. They buy their cows at the same time every year or raise their own. Generally, they have new cows in the Spring or early Summer at the latest. Every year they will send them to the meat packer around the same time, before the coldest part of the Winter.
I chose to buy a smaller amount the first time around and was glad in the end even though I was back at the grocery store buying my meat before I could get more locally. My first time around wasn’t so pleasant. So do your homework. Talk to people who have purchased their meat before and ask questions about what will be expected as far as what you will get and what you will pay. Some farmers want you to pay processing straight to the packer while others will have you pay once and some even deliver to you. So make sure you know what to expect.
Ask who the meat packer will be. Or look in the phone book to find a meat packer if you haven’t found a seller yet. You can then call the meat packer and ask how the meat you are considering buying compares to some of the other meats he processes. Most of the time, the same meat packer is used repeatedly. My meat packer was actually able to give me a comparison not only to other meats but about the same farmer over the last ten years or so. I felt much better about my purchase after talking to the meat packer. Your meat packer can turn out to be a great resource when looking for local meat.
There are several things to consider when purchasing. And depending on who you are purchasing from, there can be hidden costs which add up and could end up costing quite a bit. The first time I bought meat like this, there were a lot of hidden costs. It ended up not being as good a deal. I’m not really sure what all happened since I was going in with other families and I wasn’t the one dealing with the seller, but I didn’t get much meat nor did I get what I ordered (too much fat in my ground beef, ewww).
The second time I used a different person and no middle man. This worked out much better for us. The farmer gave us a sheet to send to the packer for us to choose exactly what we wanted. If I were picking someone to buy from I would definitely ask how or if I get to choose how my meat will be packed. There were several different options such as how thick we wanted our steaks to be cut and how many pounds of ground beef should be in each package. This option will depend on the farmer. Some farmers I’ve found don’t want to deal with this extra step so they have all the meat cut the same and you get what you get.
Another important thing to consider is how much, if any, fat you want added to your ground beef. You will find that most non-grocery store beef is much leaner than we typically buy in the store. I used to buy 90/10 ground beef at the store, which still had quite a bit of fat in it in comparison to what I’m buying now. At the time, I thought that’s how it was supposed to be. Then I started cooking non-grocery store ground beef and found out just how lean it really could be. I choose not to have the meat packer add any additional fat to my meat . This means that you have to adjust how you cook it. Depending on what I’m making I might add some oil of my choosing, broth, water, or the juice from canned tomatoes. Sometimes I just stand over the stove and stir frequently to keep it from sticking. We also got our ground beef packed in 5 pound packages. I don’t typically use 5 pounds at a time, but that’s what my husband ordered. Yeah, whoever plans on cooking it, should probably fill this paper out, however, I was not around and therefore, my husband had to deal with this the best he could. The good news is that you can defrost a 5 pound package in your refrigerator and use small amounts and just pop it back into the fridge throughout the week. It will last so much longer than store bought because it’s much fresher than what you buy at the grocery store. I’m not sure how long it will last, I always use mine before it gets a chance to start turning brown, but it can easily make it a week for us. So in the end, it worked out well, even though this was not my first choice. I don’t have to remember to take ground beef out of the freezer each time I cook with it. I take one package out at the beginnning of the week and I’m done. One less thing for me to remember.
We chose thick steaks. I would probably choose thinner ones next time. My husband likes thick steaks. Our t-bones are so large, it’s almost impossible for one person to finish one. These would be the best steaks ever. And the easiest. A little salt and pepper and toss them on the grill and you’re done in under 15 minutes. Take that 30 minute meals. And my husband likes it more than a meal I’ve slaved over all day.
So now for the actual cost….I must warn you first though. When buying your meat at the grocery store, it’s much neater and tidier. It’s not always easy to think about the processing of the animals before it gets to your table. So proceed with caution. If you so choose you may scroll to the end to find out the final price that I paid. I won’t know that you skipped the next paragraph.
There are several ways they price meat. When we buy it from the grocery store, we are used to seeing a price per pound and a grand total for the weight of the package. When you buy live meat, you may be told a price per pound on the hoof, off the hoof, and possibly even a hanging weight price. On the hoof means before it’s slaughtered. Off the hoof means after it’s slaughtered and this is the meat you will actually eat. Hanging weight may or may not be mentioned. Hanging weight is after the skin, organs, and blood are removed but before the bones are removed.
We paid the meat packer separately and paid the farmer the on the hoof price, which was $1.10 per pound. This is an exceptional price. Just so you know. Not everyone can expect to pay this and honestly I’m not expecting the price to be this good ever again. This all-at-once purchase can be quite the blow to a grocery budget, but for us has proven to be worth it in the long run. You are eating a much higher quality of meat for a lot less than what you could buy at the grocery store. It cost us a little over $300 for the meat packer and about $700 to the farmer. When all was said and done, I had an overflowing freezer for a grand total of $2.49 a pound. A lot of this is ground beef, which is still a good price in our area. Our local Sam’s Club sells 90/10 ground beef for $2.99 per pound. And we have t-bones and fillet mignon. Can’t beat a deal like that.
Have you purchased beef somewhere other than a grocery store? What’s your best deal for meat?