Don't make this costly mistake!
More and more people are getting why grass-fed beef is a nutritionally superior and safer food over conventionally-raised, grain-fed, commercial beef. Locally grown, raised and processed, bought in bulk, you can usually find the best practices and prices.
However, one thing that many fail to do ( and which I failed to do, which can result in a costly lesson), is to compare, compare, compare. Even among local organic farmers. Compare.
Our costly mistake started by contacting a local farmer who has excellent breeds, clean pastures, feeds all grass and does not treat their animals with antibiotics or hormones. We know the family and have purchased their grass-fed meat, liver, bones and steaks in small quantities from their farm. Their 90/10 grass-fed ground beef is $5.00 per pound as is the liver. The steaks run from $8 - 25 per pound.
However, because buying in bulk can usually save quite a bit of money, we opted to purchase 1/4 of a cow at one time. We contacted the farmer, got on the list 6 months before the slaughter date (some farmers slaughter once a year, some slaughter several times per year). We asked all the right questions (we thought) and confirmed the animals were 100% grass fed on clean, chemical-free pastures, the cows were moved often to rotate the pastures and never given growth enhancers, hormones or antibiotics.
We were given our choices of cuts of our 1/4 of a cow and it was akin to holiday shopping! "Oh, I'll take 3 flank steak and 4 London Broil, don't forget the lovely livers and soup bones." I was giddy with anticipation for months.
One of the basic questions we asked before agreeing to purchase our meat package was price. Was it "hanging weight" (aka "carcass weight") "yield weight" or "finished weight." What we agreed to (unfortunately) was what our farmer offered, $5 per pound, based on "hanging weight." That means the price per pound we were paying was before cutting and discarding non-meat parts.
Of course we asked what the "finished" price would be (all inclusive end price), but since this price depends on the weight of the cow, even the processor cannot give that price until all the weights are calculated. Some farms will have you pay the set amount per pound for hanging weight and then a set amount per pound for processing (the latter you won't know until the end because the cow weights vary) and you add them together to get the finished price. Some will give you the price per hanging weight and your yield will be less (70% or so).
Our order looked like this:
We agreed on $5 per pound of hanging weight, the finished per pound cost to be determined after processing.
What we received was a whoppjng $7.14 per pound finished weight price.
1/4 cow hanging weight: 162
Yield weight: (about 70% which is a good yield) 113 pounds
Total price: $812
Breakdown per pound $7.14. Now, that includes everything from high dollar steaks such as filet mignon, NY Strip to roasts to 90/10 ground beef (the fat is from the same cow) to livers and a small amount (5 pounds) of free soup bones. Any cut, same flat rate. If you choose the steaks, this turns out pretty well. If you choose mostly ground, it's more expensive. Not a bad overall package to be sure.
Here is the kicker, driving home from the farm, I felt I had not made the best choice financially. Sure, getting the more expensive cuts and steaks for $7.14 per pound was a good price, but since a good portion of our order was 90/10 ground beef (my hubby's preference), we ended up paying more than if we just bought the ground beef in smaller quantities at $5.00 per pound.
I spoke to a local friend who buys grass-fed beef and asked who she recommended. I called the farm and asked the same questions and got excellent answers. This breed is recognized for its quality, meat and high yield. The family-owned farm employs very high standards and practices. I was VERY surprised and pleased to hear his package for 1/4 cow.
$4.00 per pound, hanging weight
Yield expected is 80%
No choice in cuts, each cow is divided equally (I can request which 1/4 to chose from and I can request all the organs, bones, fat and scraps from my 1/4 share).
So, if the hanging weight is 400 pounds, 1/4 would be 100 pounds and $4.oo per pound would be $400.00. However, only about 80% of that is the meat yield, so 80 pounds in meat, plus the free bones, organs, fat and scraps if I want them. That comes out to:
$400.00 divided by 80 = $5.00 per pound. That a whole LOT better than $7.14 per pound!
As you can see, both local farms offer excellent quality and similar packages for 100% grass-fed beef, but one is significantly less expensive! It pays to shop, ask questions and COMPARE!
Photo credit 1: By Alpha from Melbourne, Australia [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons