Sunday, March 11, 2012

So you want to buy a half a cow…

Many people are getting more interested in purchasing their meat in bulk and often from local sources. If you are interested in purchasing your meat direct from the farmer, are interested in natural or organic meats, and wanting a to find a better value that purchasing at the farmer’s market, purchasing a half or quarter could be just the solution for you.

There are a few things to keep in mind when considering the purchase of a half or quarter beef.
  • Freezer space – when purchasing a half or quarter cow direct from the farmer you will need to be able to store all of it. The farmer will not store the meat for you. That means you need a freezer. A quarter of beef needs about 4-5 cubic feet of freezer space. A half or side of beef will need 8 – 10 cubic feet. You can often find a freezer big enough for a quarter of beef at a home improvement store for about $200 or find a used one for about $100 on craigslist.
  • Payment – Buying your beef in bulk can be a great deal but you will need to pay for it in full at delivery. Most farmers will require a deposit when you order your beef. Be ready to send in a deposit for up to half the price of the beef when you make your order.
  • Waiting time – Beef animals are 16-20 months old when they are harvested/butchered. So a farmer has to be planning way ahead of time when they are finishing them for direct marketing. This means you will need to order your beef in advance, usually several months in advance. Grass finished beef is only available seasonally – usually in the summer and thus will typically have the longest wait time. Grain finished beef can be raised year round and will have a shorter wait time.
  • Local – Local is a relative term. Depending on the type of beef (natural or organic, Angus or heritage) you are looking for, the nearest producer who is direct marketing their beef in this way may be a few miles – or few hours – down the road. You may need to make a road trip to pick up your beef.
  • Diversity of cuts – When purchasing beef by the half or quarter you will probably be receiving some cuts that you have never seen before. You will quickly learn that a side of beef only has one skirt and one flank steak for example. Use this as an opportunity to try all of these delicious cuts and you will enjoy the surprising diversity of cuts.
  • Beef Cuts
How much beef will you get?
This will depend on the breed of animal you purchase and the way that you choose to have it cut and wrapped. If you choose to have more roasts and steaks be kept with the bone, you will have more weight (and volume/space) of meat to put in your freezer.
Our beef halves usually deliver about 170-200 lbs of meat into the freezer. A quarter of beef will deliver 85 to 100 lbs of meat to your freezer.

So how much does a half cow (side of beef) cost?
That will depend on where you live and the type of beef you are looking for.
We sell Black Angus beef and we raise it “naturally” which means we do not use any additional hormones and do not treat our calves with antibiotics. Our cattle are pasture raised and grain finished. We sell a quarter of beef for $600 and a half of beef for $1150. That includes the processing and harvest fees (getting the beef butchered and meat cut and wrapped) at a USDA inspected facility and local delivery.  More details can be found on our website at
But you may not live near us. Some places the beef will be a bit more, or less expensive. Grass fed beef is more expensive and organic beef will also be more expensive. Some farmers sell their beef based on a hanging weight (which is the weight of the carcass with bone and trim and weights much more than what you will get in your freezer) and some charge the processing fee separately or in addition to the cost of the beef animal. But in general, a half a beef will probably cost between $1150 and $1300.
There is a great website to help you find producers in your area – You can search by product and zip code to find just what you are looking for. Good luck shopping! You may find just the combination of production practices, price and location that you are looking for!


Kim Ricketts said...

Loved this blog post!! home grown beef is the best!

Kim :)

The Durrer Family said...

This is great! I like to buy 1/2 a hog, too... Especially love that this diagram shows tri-tip cuts! A true CA BBQ must have!

The Coolidges said...

Great post! We sell some of our lambs as butcher lambs and people love them! It's so nice to be able to always have lamb in our freezer too and it's so much cheaper than buying in the stores & i know exactly what it ate and how it was treated. what do you do if you have a calf that gets sick & it needs to be treated with antibiotics? You take it to the sales yard after you treat it? hope it gets better on its own? or don't sell it as 'natural' raised? Just curious. You can email me your response if you want. :)

Shannon said...

@ The Coolidges - Great question. When calves get sick and require treatment before weaning we simply tag them accordingly so we know who got treated. At weaning they are sold as weaned calves into the commercial market. So we only keep calves for finshing that never got sick basically. Calves that get sick after weanng is not very common. This has only happened twice for us - footrot once and pinkeye the other - these treated calves are also tagged. They are sold to family or friends who are not concerned with antibiotics or kept for ourselves.
We fully support the use of traditional medicines and use them as needed. Those calves just don't get sold as natural.

The Coolidges said...

Perfect! I was just curious. Some people do it differently. I thinks it's always interesting to see how other people market their livestock. :)

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