In Wednesday’s post, I wrote about why I eat meat and want to talk about it on my blog. Thank you to everyone who commented – I really appreciate everyone’s feedback and support! This is the article on buying grass fed beef that I had been referring to.
On Sunday, I got my very first order of grass fed beef straight from the farm.
As you probably know, I support eating healthy, naturally raised animal products becausethey are so nutrient dense and contain an abundance of nutrients essential to healthy acne free skin. However, getting your hands on affordable meat that has been fed its natural diet, treated humanely, and isn’t full of hormones, pesticides and antibiotics is not always easy or straight forward, especially if you’ve never done it before.
In the past, I have either gotten chickens and pork from a local farm (because that was what was easily available), or gone for organic meat from a grocery store, or at the very least, hormone and antibiotic free meat. While that’s the minimum quality you should be looking for in your meat from a health perspective, it’s still not ideal. Although ‘organic’ does mean that there were no hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides used, it doesn’t mean the animal has been fed what it’s designed by nature to eat, or treated well. If an animal doesn’t eat its natural diet and led a sad, scared life, it’s not going to be healthy and it won’t be as healthy for you to eat it.
Grass fed beef is an ideal meat – cows were meant to roam outside and eat grass (not cooped up in a feed lot eating grains). When a cow eats grass, its meat is full of vitamins and minerals and has a really great anti-inflammatory Omega 3 profile.
Buying grass fed beef at a grocery store, however, is a bit ridiculous. It’s rare if you find it, and if you do at a place like Whole Foods, the price tag is insane – it’s enough to scare anyone off, especially the price conscious among us (me!). Alternatively, you can buy grass fed meat by the piece from websites like US Wellness Meats, which is slightly less expensive than a grocery store, but still pricey.
The reality is that in order to have grass fed beef in your life for a reasonable price, you need to buy it in bulk direct from a local farmer. Not only is this fantastic because you can directly ask the farmer questions about how the animal was raised, but it also means that you will conveniently have meat on hand at all times, and you also get a wide variety of cuts to keep things interesting.
However, there are other challenges with this that I will be discussing; one is simply getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new (possibly the biggest reason I had yet to try it!)
Either way, if you’re curious about the availability in your area, the first thing I always do when I want to know something is turn to the ol’ internet! Get on google and type in “grass fed beef” followed by where you live and see what turns up. This is how I came to order my grass fed beef… there were two farms with websites that deliver grass fed beef to my area. The websites told me the price, how it works, and everything I wanted to know. Easy. (This is the actual farm that I ordered from).
If nothing comes up in google, the website “Eat Wild” is an awesome resource that shows lots of farms with grass fed beef all over the world, although it’s not entirely comprehensive. For example, I was doing some research because I was curious about how to go about getting grass fed beef when I return home to Canada. There are no farms with websites advertising grass fed beef in my isolated hometown, so I emailed my local farmer’s association and asked if there was anyone in the area who sold grass fed beef. Turns out there were lots just flying under the radar.
Things to know and consider when thinking about buying grass fed beef:
Grass Fed vs Grass Finished Beef
If you find someone who might have what you’re looking for – ie. they advertise or say that they have grass fed beef for sale – the first thing you want to ask them is whether or not the cow was finished on grains or finished on grass.
What I mean by this is that many farmers begin the cow’s life eating grass out in pasture up until 6 weeks before slaughter, and then will fatten the cow up with grains. Most of the health benefits of grass fed are then lost, yet they can still claim their beef is “grass fed”. So you must make sure to confirm with the farmer if the cow was finished on grass, and preferably didn’t eat any grains in its lifetime, otherwise you may be getting suckered.
Note: You can also ask the farmer any other questions and concerns you have, like how the animal is treated and slaughtered. Is it humane and ethical?
Organic Vs Non Organic
Once you’ve found some grass finished beef, does it matter whether it’s certified organic?
I would say no. The certified organic label can be difficult and pain staking for some farmers to achieve and therefore they opt not to get it, but it doesn’t mean their meat isn’t quality. Most farmers who grass feed and finish their beef are small scale ethical farmers who do not use pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. But of course, this is something that is a good idea to confirm with the farmer before you buy.
Their Minimum Order vs Your Freezer
Next thing you want to know is what’s the minimum amount you can order from them. While many farmers will sell smaller, more manageable packages to you, some farmers will sell you no less than 1/2 a cow (colloquially called “a side of beef”). Cows are huge animals, so for the average person with a dinky freezer that sits above their fridge, this just isn’t going to work. You need the full chest freezer to accomodate it.
To give you an example, a whole side of beef (approximately 225 lbs of finished cuts) will take up approximately 7.5 cubic feet of freezer space. And if you’re one person, it’d take you like 2 years to eat, and that is way too long to have it sit in the freezer.
One solution is to ask if your butcher will rent you freezer space, because some will, but it still means you have to make sure you can get through all your beef in the allotted amount of time.
The better solution to this is something calling cow pooling. If you can find friends or relatives who would be into getting healthy beef at a good price, you can split it. The butcher, on your instructions, can divide the side into however many portions, you all split the cost, and voila…. meat that fits in your freezers!
To give you a more manageable example of freezer space – 30 pounds (15 kg) of finished beef cuts is approximately the size of 4 loaves of bread.
The Cost Per Pound
Most farmers will usually give you the price as a cost per pound estimate. But be careful – there is some terminology you should know and understand.
The live weight is how much the animal weighs when it’s alive. Average for an adult cow is 1200 lbs.
The hanging weight is the term used to describe the weight of a side of beef as it hangs in a meat cooler with all the useable cuts intact. Average hanging weight of a side of beef is 300 – 320 lbs.
The finished cut weight describes the weight of the meat once the hanging side has been butchered and portioned into individual cuts.
It is usually standard for small farms to give the price as the hanging weight per pound plus a certain amount per pound butcher fee. For example, $3.50 per lb plus a .65 cent butcher fee per lb. Sounds dang good, right?
However, the catch is that in the butchering process, much of the extra fat and tissue gets discarded, so you are paying for a lot of stuff that you aren’t getting. So it usually works out to more than 4 bucks a lb, but it’s still a super good deal compared to buying it at the grocery store.
I can’t tell you exactly what an average price per lb is because it will differ depending on your location and currency. Somewhere between 3 to 5 dollars per lb is average, I think – the lower the better, obviously! If you have several options in your area, be sure to compare.
Weathering the Up Front Cost
Okay so now that you’ve found a farm, got your feezer space cleared out, I’ve told you the mathematics of the weight and price, and you’re ready to go – have you worked out how much a side would actually cost? Well if an average hanging side weighs 300 lbs, and an average cost per lb is $4 including the butcher fee, the total cost is $1200. Yep, $1200 for half a cow (remember though – that’s ALOTTA meat).
So, obviously, the up front cost of buying meat in bulk is a huge roadblock. That is another great reason to round up some pals or family members to share the meat and the cost.
For me, I got about 25 lbs of finished cuts for 195 Aussie dollars. In general, things are more expensive here, so I don’t know how that compares to American prices for beef. Either way, the idea of spending money up front for meat scared me (and if you’re not very good at saving money for a rainy day, it might just be impossible for you), but I realize that now I don’t have to buy much meat for a good long time, so it totally evens out.
Here is the video where I show you how much meat I got for my money. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you may not want to watch it:
Ask for the Organs and Bones
Since it is pretty rare that anyone wants to eat the organs, you can often get the “offal” (the official name for organ meats) with your meat delivery for super cheap or even free. If you are willing to eat these, it can seriously stretch your budget, plus take your nutrition into overdrive. I got all the organs for only 10 bucks! (Only problem: I didn’t realize how massive the organs were… you surely need extra freezer space for this).
This is another idea for you if you only want a bit of meat for the extra nutrient benefits and can’t afford to buy a bulk delivery of beef – call up your local farmers and ask if you can only get the offal the next time they do up a grass fed cow for someone. It’s likely that you will be able to get them for really cheap or free, and since they are way more nutritious than muscle meats, you totally win. If all of them won’t fit in your freezer, just take what will and give the rest to someone’s dog. I will do a video/tutorial sometime soon about how to eat organ meats without even tasting them.
As for the bones, you can simmer them into bone broth, another incredibly nutritious and healing food (and probably one that more of you can get your head around than organ meat). Tutorials on that will be coming soon too!
Other Animals Might Be Easier
I realize that all this sounds like a lot of work, and depending on the farm situation in your area, your freezer space, and your bank account – it very well might be. However, I’m really enjoying the experience and I am happy I went ahead and tried it out.
However, if beef isn’t your bag but you do eat meat, I’d encourage you to at least get out of your comfort zone a little and see if you can begin contacting some farms in your area and see what they offer. Getting pasture raised chickens from a farm is likely to be a heck of a lot easier on your pocket book and freezer. Smaller animals like lamb might also be an easier prospect to deal with.
Alright, that is all the info I can think of when it comes to buying grass fed beef. Does this sound like something you may do one day?