The next step I am taking in my urban homesteading and simple living journey is buying a share of grass fed beef. Growing up, my parents always went in with my aunt and uncle to buy a hind quarter from a local farmer in Maryland. So the idea of heading out to the full size freezer in the garage and rummaging through all the butcher-paper wrapped packages to find the right type of meat is not new to me. Additionally, our household has grown to 6 people since my parents moved in. We NEED to find ways to reduce our overall food budget. It is getting out of control! I think my husband and I spent over $1,000 on grocery food last month (not including take-out days) AND my parents spent over $600. That’s $1,600 – $1,700 worth of food bills in a MONTH! Something has got to change.
Conventional vs. Grass Fed Beef
You already know the benefits of grass fed beef over conventional beef, right? With conventional beef, cows are given growth hormones, antibiotics and fed GMO corn and soy in order to bulk up faster. Those hormones, antibiotics and the pesticides used on the GMO feed are then passed to you when you eat the beef. No bueno! Grass fed cattle may take slightly longer to get to slaughter size, but then they build up more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which has been shown to fight cancer cells, reduce clogged arteries and delay the onset of diabetes. Grass fed beef has also been shown to have a better balance of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. We have been purchasing organic, grass fed beef for a while now and pay about $9 / lb for ground beef at the local grocery store.
Where to Find Grass Fed Beef Shares
With more mouths to feed, I wanted to see if we could save money by purchasing grass fed beef in bulk (i.e., by buying a share of a cow). I was a bit discouraged at first when I started looking into this. You see, I live in Southern California where the water situation makes it difficult and costly to raise cattle. I was not finding any local ranches online that provided quarter or half shares at a reasonable price. To find local producers of grass fed meat, eggs and dairy, check out Eat Wild. There were maybe one or two that I did find, but their price per pound was $11 or more! Or I could buy from a ranch in Northern CA, but then I’d have to pay for the expedited shipping. In search of some suggestions for where I could buy grass fed beef in bulk, I took to my local Urban Homesteading Facebook group. What happened next was more interesting than I could have imagined!
Not only did I get a couple recommendations, but I actually received a message from a local lady who was raising a handful of Dexter cattle on her small homestead. I did some research and saw that Dexter cattle are a miniature breed of cow about half the size as a normal cow. They convert feed to muscle and milk more efficiently than most other breeds, making them ideal for small farms and especially this lady’s homestead. She was looking to sell one of the steers soon.
Visiting the Farm
As she was local and I wanted to make sure I was truly getting grass-fed beef, I asked whether I could visit to look around at the animals and their feed system. She was more then happy to oblige. I even took my mom and the kids and made a whole expedition out of it. We saw where the cattle grazed and how the lady and her family grew fodder for their animals (remember the water/grass issues here).
It’s so nice to know EXACTLY where your food is coming from. I left her with a deposit on the steer and then she arranged for the slaughter date.
Working with the Butcher
I had never dealt with a butcher before, but everything was fairly straight forward. He recommended that we go with a “Standard Cut” since we had never bought beef this way before. If you already know that your family likes more roasts than steaks or more ground beef than roasts, etc., then you might have the butcher tweak some of the cuts. They will let you know where your options are. I went ahead with the standard cut, asking for my ground beef in 1 lb. packages (the option was 1 or 2 lb.) and asking for steaks to be 3/4″ thick and 2 per package. I forgot to ask for bones, though. Make sure that if you want the bones or organs, you ask for them upfront as they do not typically give them to you unless you ask.
What you Get
Our particular steer was small, even for a Dexter. The hanging weight was 265 lbs. Based on research I have done on how hanging weight converts to packaged weight, I approximate that we got 200 lbs. of packaged meat. Here is the breakout:
|Cut||# of packages|
|Sirloin tip steak||4|
|Sirloin tip roast||2|
|Top sirloin steak||5|
|Eye of round||2|
|Tri tip steak||2|
I took a couple coolers with me to the butcher for pickup. Everything was already frozen in vacuum sealed plastic with labels for each cut. Here you can see how everything easily fit in the back of my Jeep Grand Cherokee. Remember, what I got was the equivalent of a half share (or even slightly less than half) of a full-size steer.
The Cost Breakdown
I paid the lady a flat fee for her Dexter steer. In hindsight, I probably should have negotiated a rate based on hanging weight. She thought the steer would be over 300 lbs hanging weight, so my original math had a much better price per pound than what I ended up with. Still, I ended up better than grocery store prices.
$1,000 – flat fee for steer
$125 – slaughter fee paid to butcher
$292 – Butchering fee @ $1.10 per pound hanging weight
$25 – Travel fee for the butcher to go out to the lady’s homestead to pick up the steer
$1,442 – Total price for approx. 200 lbs of packaged beef
= $7.21 / lb. average price for grass fed “organic” beef
How Much Did I Save?
As I mentioned before, the grocery store carries grass fed ground beef for $9 / lb. Now, you are not going to get Porterhouse steaks and Filets for this price, so I am going to conservatively say we would pay about $11 / lb. on average. At 200 lbs, that would cost $2,200 and we paid only $1,442, saving us $758! The only thing yet to be seen is how long this meat will last us. I am going to guess 6-9 months.
Now the key thing is to ensure that this translates into less grocery store spending per month!
I want to highlight that the main moral of this story is to join and participate in your local homesteading Facebook groups. You never know what you’ll find!