Tag Archives: beef

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.


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


lettuce continue

Alrighty… since we started this conversation on beef, let’s go ahead and wrap it up, eh?

It’s not necessarily cheaper to buy local beef in bulk any more. You’ll remember from last time that the industry has become so efficient that it’s nearly impossible for a local farmer to be able to match grocery store prices.

We are a society that links convenience with choice with quality. Unfortunately, those three things are seldom found in the same package.  We walk into a store and expect socks, crackers, and motor oil to all be available… and on sale.  When we scream through the produce aisle, we want bananas and tomatoes and peppers all the time… seasons be damned.  The meat counter is no exception.  We want family-packs of chicken breast- 12 pieces. That’s 6 birds in one package, folks. Doubtful they came from the same farm. We want our ground beef the same way: in bulk and on sale. The problem is, the beef you’re looking at? Those beautiful steaks? All from different cows from different farms with different programs and weather and feed and families. That’s not choice, Friends. That’s supply.

Which is FINE if you’re ok with less control over your food.  There are really good options at the store.  But there are really good options right around the corner, too.

What if you could pay the same amount for your beef… maybe slightly more… a have it all cut exactly to your preference? Be assured the ground beef you are eating is from one cow, from one farm as opposed to a combination of hundreds of cows from all across the country? Know the farmer and the family and the lifestyle of that food your fueling your life with? Yes. I would pay for that.  I would. I do, now. Honestly, before we started this whole farm, I’d never really given it much thought.

beef cuts

You have a choice… a real choice. You can look up a local farmer who has a little extra to sell… just like our family. You can make a decision based on distance and feed options and plain ol’ personality instead of blindly tossing a plastic-wrapped package into your cart.  I bet there’s food nearby you didn’t even know about.  These websites will help you out:

There are some negatives, of course.  You have to pay up front. You won’t have an endless supply of porterhouse steaks like the grocery store.  The butcher prolly isn’t right around the corner, so it may be a drive to pick up your order.  And, of course, you have to be able to store the meat you buy.  A quarter of a cow fits in a freezer the size of the one that came with your fridge- about 5 cubic-feet of space. And a quarter of a cow will easily feed a couple or small family for a year. A quarter from our farm costs about $500 and gets you about 100 pounds of beef. (Remember, longhorns are slightly smaller than traditional beef cattle.)  That works out to $9 per week- for steaks, for stew meat, for ground beef… all cut and packaged exactly how you like it, from one animal.  Three-pound roasts? No problem. Two steaks in a package, one-inch thick? Great. Pre-cut hamburgers? Absolutely.  All from one source- that you hand-picked.

THAT is choice, Friends. 

I think it’s an easy choice. It’s not an easy transition, what with the planning ahead and the interviewing famers and buying a little freezer and everything. I know.  It does take a little effort initially. But, it’s worth every penny. I don’t want you paying supermarket prices for a sub-par product.  Next year, take that same amount of money… everything you spent on meat for one year, and put it into a local farmer’s operation. You’ll get better meat and more peace of mind.

PLUS, some of those farmers? They’re really fun people, and you’d be glad to know them.

Next week, we’ll talk real quick-like about how the pricing actually breaks down. It involves spreadsheets and division for the nerd in all of us.

Some of you were interested in how longhorn nutrition compares to other meat.  Here ya go:

nutrition table