Last year we bought 1/4 cow and split it with another couple. Neither of us had ever purchased a portion of an animal before in this manner, so it was quite a learning experience for us. We both ended up very satisfied with the results though. For me, it was such an interesting way to expose myself to cooking cuts that I have never made before/probably wouldn’t buy in the store. There are few things that force you to stretch your cooking muscles more than a freezer full of stuff that you’re not sure how to cook! Regardless, it was something that we wanted to do again. But after The Great Freezer Failure of 2014, I bought a slightly larger chest freezer (went from 5 cubic feet to 7) and an alarm that goes off if the freezer hits above a specified temperature. Once I got the freezer situation figured out, I got into contact with the farm that we purchased our steer from last year and learned that all of their animals to be slaughtered prior to autumn were spoken for (sad trombone) and we were hoping to have something in the freezer during grilling season! As luck would have it, I was visiting my mother around that time and drove past a sign on the highway (this is actually how I found the beef. I know, right?) advertising “grass fat beef Blacksmith Farms” and the phone number. Feeling a little desperate and maybe craving a steak from a healthy animal, I set to researching the farm. I couldn’t find a great deal of information about them, but everything that I did find was overwhelmingly positive, so I got into contact with them and got breakdown on their method. As is noted in my post last year about the 1/4 cow, buying portions of steers this way usually goes thusly. Hanging weight (this is the weight of the steer after it has been slaughtered, skinned, and all of the internal organs have been removed – this goes to the farm that grew the steer) + Cut & Wrap fee (this is a fee per pound hanging weight that goes to the butcher that processes the meat) = Total. Now, this sounds simple enough, but the hanging weight is not your take-home meat amount. Here, let me give you our breakdown.
Hanging weight (half steer) 413lbs @$3.10/lb + $40 harvest fee = $1320 (this is what goes to the farmer)
Steer is then transferred to the butcher shop, where it spends 14 days dry aging. During this time, it loses a little water weight and the enzymes in the meat begin breaking down some of the proteins, making the meat more tender.
Hanging weight (at time of cutting after water weight loss) 401lbs @ $.80/lb + $20 size charge + tax = $370
Total for steer = $1690
Total weight of meat after cutting – 298lbs
Total cost per pound in the freezer $5.67/lb (Once we split the steer into the parts that we wanted, and subtracted the weight of the soup bones from that, we ended up with a total cost of $6.21/lb)
That is a far cry from the $3.10/lb that goes to the farm, and let me give you my disclaimer. With this farm/steer/butcher, we got very lucky. Last year, the steer that we purchased was smaller, and the butcher was less efficient. I can’t remember the specifics, but we ended up with something like a 60-65% hanging weight/wrapped weight. This year, the steer was huge, and the butcher that they use was very efficient, and we ended up with 75% efficiency. When we picked up the meat, the butcher even noted that this farm seems to have really big cows (and angus tends to be larger on average to begin with) that have good fat distribution (which tends to be more uncommon with grass fed). Additionally, the taste of this beef has been superior to last year’s. When buying and eating any grassfed beef, one expects a certain level of gaminess with it. It’s the nature of the beast. Last year’s steer was on the stronger side as far as gamy flavor goes. This year’s is a lot beefier and has a more toned down level of funk. It was a pleasant surprise. The specifics that I got from the farm is that our animal was a 30 month old angus steer, if that’s helpful to anyone reading this and doing information gathering.
Once again, we had a bit of a drive to get the beef. If we hadn’t hit traffic, it would have been about an hour and 45 minutes. If you live in a larger metropolitan area, you may be well-served to look for meat from further out. My experience has been that there is usually better availability and the prices are lower.
The half cow, in coolers (we had a long drive and it was very hot outside) filled up pretty much the entire back of my little Mazda hatchback. Once we got it home, the other couple came by, and we played the game where we divvy up the cow. First, everything got set out on our counters, and grouped by cut. We got a shockingly large amount of ground beef from this bad boy. 53lbs apiece, so 106lbs total. A third of the steer ended up as ground(which is fine with us, because who doesn’t love burgers, tacos, cottage pie, etc?). After that, we went through and took turns picking out the most “valuable” cuts. There was a little bit of negotiation. Our friends value T-bones pretty highly, and I’d rather have ribeye or sirloin. It worked out really well. Then I once again went through and weighed everything as it got put into the freezer. Having all of the cuts and weights not only made writing this blog post easier on me, but also makes meal planning much more simple. I can reference my spreadsheet to determine what I have, and how much of it I have. Once a cut has been eaten, I simply remove the line from the spreadsheet and the inventory of my freezer stays up-to-date.