the nitty gritty

THE LOGO WINNER IS DECISIVELY THIS GUY.  Thanks for voting!  I’ll yell to you Thursday about sweatshirt options… still waiting on the printer to give me some prices.

TEXASnorthSTAR1

Em, mind if we go one step further on this whole beef thing? A few of you emailed to ask about the specifics of cost.  Alrighty.  Stick with me.  Let me preface by saying that I speak only from what I know personally. I cannot guarantee this is how all operations work or that my math goes beyond a 2nd-grade level.

PART 1 (our farm)

PART 2 (grocery vs. local)

So, we talked about how we raise Longhorns for the history of the breed. And then, we started having a LOT of bull calves, so we started selling beef to a few friends. How does that beef get from our pasture at 20 months and into their freezer? Good question.

First, we call up the butcher and schedule a pick-up date. We don’t have our own trailer to haul cattle, but the shop is happy to make the rounds and give our guys a ride for a very small fee.  Honestly, this helps me… I don’t think I could take them myself. It would just be too much for me to handle. I love my boys. I see them off from the farm and that’s fine by me.  They head down the road where they will stay the night in stalls at the shop with all the other beef that was picked up that day around town.

The next morning, the boys are put down and immediately dressed. This is where your pictures of a meat locker come in… tough guy in a white lab coat back in a freezer surrounded by sides of beef hanging on hooks.  Those sides you’re picturing are actually halves.  So, the two halves of a cow are hung together over the scale in the shop to get the HANGING WEIGHT.  When the halves are hanging and weighed they are missing (and forgive me, but I’ll just got through it) the head, the hide, the legs, and the non-edible organs.

Prices are all based on the animal’s hanging weight. This is when the animal is in its largest usable state but before the specific trimming is done for each customer.

When you buy a side of beef (a quarter, half, or whole), you pay the farmer a price for raising and feeding your animal, but you also pay the butcher for humanely and precisely processing that animal.

The butcher makes a note of each animal’s hanging weight and then calls the farmer. By the time the farmer calls the customers and the customers have placed their individual orders, the sides of beef will have hung in the freezer and aged for 10-14 days. This helps tenderize and flavor the beef.

Alright. So, the beef has been dressed and weighed and aged a bit.  The customers have all called in their preferences and everything’s packaged for the freezer.  Now it’s time to work out the cost.  Our farmer fee is $3.50 per pound (hanging weight).  Our butcher’s processing fee is $.40 per pound (hanging weight).  Add those two together and you get your total cost per pound, or $3.90 per pound.

EXCEPT. You don’t take all that hanging weight home. Remember, the price is based on hanging weight, but you don’t want to take all that weight home.  You’re still looking at the bones, the excess fat, and the tendons of the animal hanging there… no thank you.

In 2010, we bought a half of one of our steers.  That 20-month old steer hung at 480 pounds. When we brought our boxes home, Curt counted everything out before putting it in the freezer.  We don’t do this every time, but it’s been a great reference. Here’s the break-down:

quantity cut weight
48 Ground Beef 50
1 Brisket 4.25
5 Soup Bone 12.5
6 Loin Sirloin Steak 11
7 Round Steak 20.25
5 Stew Meat 6.5
1 Heel Round Roast 2.75
3 Chuck Arm Roast 6
2 Round Tip Steak 6
2 Chuck Blade Roast 3.75
2 Rolled Round Rump Roast    4.75
8 Short Ribs 9
11 Rib Steak 11.5
6 Loin Porterhouse Steak 7.5
8 Loin T Bone Steak 8
7 Chuck Roast 15
2010’s half    480# hanging weight 178.75

This chart represents a HALF portion, so the WHOLE guy would have put 357.5 pounds in the freezer- or 74.4% of the hanging weight after trimming and packaging. Excellent return.  Because longhorns are so genetically lean (90 to 95%) our steers lose very little fat in the trimming process.  This allows us to bring more meat home.

Let’s figure out the actual cost.  The out-the-door, pretend like I’m buying from Kroger price.

farmer fee: 3.50 x 480 hanging weight x half =  $840

butcher fee: .40 x 480 hanging weight x half =  $96

We paid $936 for 178.75 pounds, which works out to $5.24 per take-home pound. THIS is what you use to compare cost at the supermarket.  We paid $5.24 for ground beef, for roasts, for prime steaks. $5.24 across the board.

And, there you have it. The whole deal. It’s more than just a per-pound price on a sticker. There are people and time and feed bins and haul trailers and massive freezers and phone calls and preferences and a couple checks behind that number… which can be a bit daunting to the buyer. But, I hope this helps explain a little of what goes into those numbers and sheds a little light on the subject.

It’s a little more involved than just cruising by the meat counter at the grocery store, but it’s so very worth it.

The End

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About texasnorth

TexasNorth is a little farm in Western Michigan. It's home to 5 chickens, 25 longhorn cattle, a coonhound (Banjo), 1 barn cat, a husband, and 3 ridiculously funny children. The mom of this zoo has been known to mow the lawn in a skirt and roast marshmallows after dark. View all posts by texasnorth

8 responses to “the nitty gritty

  • Andrea Robinson

    Kate – When will there be beef available? I’m very interested! Andrea

    • texasnorth

      We butcher once a year… in January. So, our boys for this year are all claimed and hopefully in everyone’s freezer as of last weekend. But I’d be happy to get you a couple of roasts or some ground beef to sample until the next big portions are available! We don’t sell very much that way, but there’s always a little bit. Let me know if you’re interested!

  • Tif

    I love that I learn things from you!

  • Margie

    I’m super happy with your new logo (voting had closed by the time I got to it), but hope it is never worn against anything with a hint, hope, or whisper of orange…

  • MC

    This is helpful. We just went in on a little girl calf with some friends of ours and my friend did all the figuring, but I know we did the right thing. We’ll know we’ll have lots of really good beef for less than store prices!

  • Missy

    This whole process is a wonder to me. Wish I lived closer so I could buy from YOU, but, I’ll be looking into this more seriously up here our way. The logo rocks. Can’t wait to hear about buying options (and colors!).

  • Lisa

    As soon as we move back to Michigan, I want dibs on one of those steers! I’d feel so much better about the meat we eat if I had a clue where it came from.

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