In 2008 we purchased a quarter side of beef with a few friends. It lasted us nearly a year! Without looking at anyone’s grocery budget, I can 95% guarantee that your biggest expense is going to be protein. Well, if you’re vegan it may not be but you’re still going to need to purchase some sort of protein source.
With that, I knew we wanted to purchase beef from the farmer again to save on the cost AND to support a small business. Turns out my research was going to be a challenge.
I really wanted to purchase a pasture fed side of beef this time. My focus wasn’t even on organic because I know so many farmers follow the organic principles but can’t afford to or simply won’t pay for that USDA Organic certification (it’s a government thing that I could care less about). If a farmer was feeding his animal from a pasture, chances are the beef was being fed all the things we wanted it to eat from the earth and NOT from seed.
Now, I’m not writing this to convince you to purchase a pasture fed side of beef. However, if you do more research on your own you will see the benefits of eating pasture-fed beef are pretty amazing with the additional Omega 3 and Omega 6 properties. The farmer we eventually found also did have the organic certification and we didn’t even pay any extra for it. We didn’t even pay any extra for the pasture fed quality either (which is truly worth more).
I immediately went to EatWild.com. This is a site that I mention in the classes I teach. Many farms are listed here that offer all types of meat for sale. Since I was looking for pasture fed beef, that narrowed down my search quite a bit.
I made a list of the farms that were a potential (around 5) and started calling them. After I got into the third call, I was shocked that NO local farmers were selling their beef in bulk. The drought we experienced last year hurt many farmers. They either ended up with a smaller herd than normal. Or some were forced to get their cows ready for slaughter sooner since they didn’t have anything to eat (grass doesn’t grow very well without rain). That pretty much knocked out all the local options for me to consider.
So I kept calling. I ended up talking to the farmer’s wife of Providence Farms in Indiana. They were going to send their first set of cows to the butcher a month from the time I called and were already selling out. You see, which small farms, they have so many repeat customers. That’s how they stay in business. So, they always give customers first priority but luckily they had extra. I sent my deposit and got extremely giddy inside!
You can also purchase pasture-fed beef online if you don’t have a farmer close enough to you. Trust me, it’s worth the drive! I’ll explain why I believe that in the rest of this post.
The farmer’s wife was SO helpful with the different cuts of meat to consider. And even talked me into cow bones. Well, Balanced Bites had me convinced of that already, but the farmer’s wife was so knowledgable about what to do with the different cuts of meat to make the most of it. After our discussion, I said YES to cow bones AND the liver when it came time to talk to the butcher.
That’s another thing. The butcher is also super helpful when it comes to processing your cuts of beef. Depending on the processor, you can get ground beef packaged in various quantities.
Since our family of 5 typically eats 1.5 pounds of ground beef in dishes, that’s what I ended up having ours packaged up as. I also didn’t get many sides of rib since I just don’t cook them that much. We got lots of steaks and roasts. I know what to do with those!
To give you a visual, our half side of beef filled up 4 banana boxes. This is good to know for freezer storage space and picking your beef up from the butcher. You will need to have adequate space in your vehicle. THe boxes fit into the back of our van.
The farm we purchased from was 3 hours away from us! I was concerned about the meat thawing during that long drive. However, the farmer’s wife assured me that the drive wouldn’t be an issue whatsoever for the beef. In fact, she suggested we bring a few sleeping bags to keep the beef insulated fine during the drive. That worked! The beef was still frozen when my husband arrived home to place it in our used freezer.
We ended up paying $4.10 per pound. That was around $1200 for 1/2 side of beef with a hanging weight of 280 pounds.
This cost may seem like a lot if you just consider the ground beef price. Even now, ground beef is upwards of $3 and that’s not even the best cut. But for steaks and roast, that is a phenomenal price!
A few months ago when I was in Whole Foods, I wanted to do a price comparison of the organic beef prices in the store. The price of a beef filet that was only organic was 4 times the amount of what I paid! And it wasn’t even pasture fed! (again, that’s typically more expensive). I’d say we got a fabulous bargain when you look at it that way!
Planning is going to be key in paying for a side of beef whether it’s pasture-fed or conventionally raised. Just like I encourage saving money for Christmas, I would add this area as part of a monthly savings goal to ensure you have the cash to pay for the purchase.
If you order in advance, the farmer will likely require half of the total amount due as a deposit up front. You can then pay the remainder when you pick up your freezer beef. Planning in this way gives you time to prepare and save.
We had a quick turnaround since our side of beef was finishing early and would be ready in a month. Luckily, we had the money in savings to cover the entire cost. The purchase was a great investment since beef prices have been on the rise.
Another way to save even more on the purchase is getting a larger side of beef and go in with another family that may be interested. Once I shared the purchased with my friends at Crossfit, several others called that exact same farmer and wanted to place an order! Unfortunately they were sold out but the farmer was able to find another side of beef for them that was raised pasture fed and also following organic certifications. By splitting the cost, you can still get a smaller portion for your family at a great price.
Finally, you can see if the farmer will sell in smaller quantities. Our farmer gives discounts for larger order. So, it would have been 30 cents more at the time for just 1/4 side of beef. We were on the fence about getting 1/4 or 1/2 side. Honestly, the discount did convince me to go with the 1/2 instead. I knew we would use it in a year’s time.
Before we purchased on our pasture fed organic side of beef, I purchased a few packages from a local farmer that only sells in small quantities. I wanted to try the beef and see if it tasted any different being pasture fed. When we ate the beef, it was extremely tough and tasted gamey.
After talking to my friend about this, she shared some great information for me (as she always does). Sometimes animals are tougher when they are kept alive longer. If they aren’t “fat” enough, they may be kept on the pasture longer to increase their weight which does cause some of the toughness.
Improper cooking techniques can create that tough texture as well so proper preparation is something else to consider. Pasture fed beef needs to be cooked on medium heat and eaten as rare as possible. We don’t like to see blood when we eat our meat so that’s been a challenge but we at least try to eat the steaks this way.
A few weeks ago my husband prepared one of our steaks for dinner. After one bite I told him it was gamey and questioned how he prepared the beef. He cooked the steak in the oven and finished it under the broiler. I knew immediately why the gamey flavor was consuming the meat. It was overcooked according to how pasture fed beef should be prepared.
The steaks on the grill taste much better for some reason. Seriously, they are melt in your mouth delish! Some people are fine with the gamey flavor but I’m just not a fan. It’s good to know how to prepare a great cut of meat so it tastes perfect and to your liking. And now we know.
Well, since this is the second time I have, you probably know the answer – absolutely! But, I will also definitely purchase a pasture-fed side of beef when we do. My main reasons are:
And, the final confirmation from me was this:
Do you have questions about how to buy a side of pasture-fed beef?
Please leave a comment in the post below!
All image credits thanks to our Farmer, Providence Farm. Their site has a wealth of information on grass-fed beef and much more.