I get lots of questions when I tell people Bill and I buy our meat in bulk. How much does it cost? Where do you get it? What’s the process? Where do you store it?
So I thought I’d share our beef purchasing experience with you since today’s the day I picked up our quarter of a cow and stored it in our freezer.
First of all, all farmers have their own process, but in general, you put in an order for meat way in advance, paying a small deposit, so they can raise your animal. In our case, last March we ordered beef, pork, and lamb from Lubbers Farm, which we visited last fall (in Grand Rapids, Michigan) so we could learn where and how the animals were raised. We were pleased with what we saw.
To find a farm that raises pastured animals where you live you can search on EatWild.com.
A few weeks ago I got a call from Mike at Mike’s Deer Processing in Allendale, Michigan. He said our cow was going to be slaughtered soon so he wanted to take our order for processing. That means answering questions like “Ground beef or stew meat?” “How many steaks per package?” “How many pounds per rump roast?” It does help to have an idea of the cuts of meat a butcher is referring to before having the conversation, so if you need a reference there are many charts and posters available online. But butchers are really good at walking you through the process.
So what’s a mixed quarter? Picture a cow (see above). If you want half a cow, you get all the parts on one side of the animal (not the front end or back end), but if you only want a quarter you would sacrifice certain cuts if you took the front right quarter or the rear left quarter. That’s why it’s called a “mixed” quarter, so everyone who’s buying quarters from the same cow gets an even distribution of the different cuts. It all fit into two boxes in the back of my car.
We chose to get a lot of ground beef because Bill makes a mean grassfed beef burger.
Everyone always asks, how much do you pay per pound? That’s because most of us have been raised to consider cost first on anything we buy. But for Bill and me, we draw the line at food. So here’s the breakdown for the beef:
One mixed quarter of beef: $336.60 (includes $20 kill fee)
Butcher’s processing fee: $87.80
Deposit paid in March: $25
Up front, that’s a lot of money. If you divide the total by the 113 lbs. of beef we received, it costs $3.98 per pound. That’s still a lot of money from many points of view.
But think of it this way: While our ground beef may have cost $3.98 per pound, so did our prime rib, chuck roasts, short ribs, rump roast, t-bones, sirloins, and porterhouse steaks. And in the long run, that’s good for our health because we know we’re eating healthy, grassfed meat, locally raised without stress, hormones, or antibiotics. So we might have fewer trips to the doctor’s office as a result. Plus, we don’t eat beef every day. We vary our meals with vegetarian options so the meat lasts quite awhile.
Where do we store 113 pounds of beef? In our 11-cubic-foot upright freezer in the basement (sort of like this one), along with the soon-to-come half a pig, whole lamb, and various chickens. It’s a bit smaller than those huge chest freezers that most people buy. We like an upright one for ergonomic reasons.
If you don’t have room for a freezer or a big enough kitchen freezer, consider these options:
- Store the meat at a friend’s or neighbor’s home and give them a roast or two for the favor.
- Share the meat among a group of people.
- Make room in the basement or garage by getting rid of that old rusty MG convertible that you’ll never drive and don’t have time to fix.
Hopefully, this information sheds a little light on how to buy grassfed beef from a local farmer. For more information about the benefits of grassfed meat, check out the NRDC’s Top Ten Reasons to Eat Grassfed Meat.