Once upon a time, I bought ground beef on sale for 97 cents a pound.
We found our smoking deal at Walmart, and filled our cart with twenty 1-pound chubs o’ beef. We felt great about stocking up on that ground beef. Who could beat that deal?
It wasn’t until I became aware of what happens in CAFO operations that I knew I needed to change my choices. Even if you aren’t sympathetic to animals and are okay with how they are abused in places like this, you’ve got to feel a little bit squeamish about the health of these animals and the quality that comes through to your plate. Right? RIGHT?
I’ll be the first to admit that it took me a while to let my wallet bear the brunt of grass fed beef. I knew it was better than conventional meat, for sure. Before factory farming took over in the 1960s, cattle were raised on local family farms. Cute little calves were raised by their mothers, everybody ate grass and roamed in beautiful pastures. It took 2-3 years for a calf to reach market weight, which is a good amount of time. Growth hormones are now used in CAFO operations to speed up the process. But this slow process had its benefits, raising the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) levels in the beef. Good stuff!
High levels of CLA are known to fight cancer cells, reduce clogged arteries, reduce body fat, and delay the onset of diabetes. Grass fed beef also has a balanced amount of omega 6 and omega 3’s, while CAFO beef is way too high in omega-6s, a polyunsaturated fat brought on by stress in the animal’s environment. That gives your body a crappy dose of inflammation. It’s no bueno, that CAFO beef.
While it is completely natural that a grass fed animal is finished on grain for about 3 weeks before butchering, CAFO operations feed these poor animals a higher amount of grain and soy. Sometimes they are even fed chips and candy meant for humans. No wonder they need antibiotics constantly! And no wonder why E. coli is rampant and meat is often soaked in ammonia to prevent the disease spreading to humans. But when you get down to it, their living conditions just aren’t in their natural environment. Cattle need to graze on fresh grass to be at their best. Period.
I knew all that. But making the step to purchase better beef still took me a while to make. It’s probably because my husband is an insane frugal beast. Oh goodness, that man. It was him who found that 97 cent ground beef. If I let him, he’d probably do it again. He’s like a baby goat that wants to suck on a momma teat. He just can’t help himself.
To my shock and glorious surprise, grass fed beef turned out to be cheaper than I thought!
I found through personal experience that if you buy grass fed beef in bulk, you can save major moolah. It’s true, ya’ll. I’ve done the math and the math don’t lie. But before I show you my calculations, let me teach you how to go about buying beef in bulk.
Step 1) Find a local rancher/farmer by searching Local Harvest, Google “grass-fed beef + your zipcode”, cruise Craiglist, or simply ask around. If you can’t find one, purchase online at Tendergrass Farms.
Step 2) Don’t have a heart attack over the a la carte prices. Porterhouse steak and even CAFO porterhouse steak is gonna cost $15-$20/lb. Chillax. Look at the bulk prices.
Step 3) Get a freezer or split with a friend. 1/4 a steer is the smallest amounts farmers will sell in bulk. If you don’t want that much or just can’t afford a freezer, just split a 1/4 a steer with a friend. You’ll each get 1/8 of a steer and you should have room in your regular freezer for that much. If you organize it all really well, that is.
Step 4) Understand how the different sizes work. There are three steps that beef takes to go from animal to white packages of beef and at each stage the beef is weighed. The three stages are:
- Market or Live weight: This is the weight of the live animal, full grown and ready to butcher. Expect around 1000 pounds.
- Hanging or Carcass weight: This is the weight of the carcass, after it is butchered, skinned, de-headed, and gutted. This will be about 60% of the live weight. For example, if your live animal weighed 1000 pounds your hanging weight should be about 600 lbs.
- Take home weight: This is the weight of the actual, take-home-and-freeze meat. Beef is typically hung in a cold locker for about 3 weeks. Although it sounds weird, it being there actually increases the flavor and tenderness of the beef. The take home weight is about 60% of the hanging weight. If you go with our other example, if your hanging weight was 600 lbs. then your take home weight should be 360 lbs. Divide that into quarters, and purchasing a 1/4 a steer means you’ll be taking home about 90 lbs. of beef.
The most important thing to understand is this:
We purchased 1/4 of a steer.
Kevin had a friend at work who raised grass fed beef on his farm in another town. I called to check and the cattle he raised were fed a diet of primarily grass, and finished (for 3 weeks) on a mixture of oats and barley. Sounds perfect to me!
The farmer wanted to sell his steer at live weight of $1.37/lb. We told him we wanted a 1/4 of a steer and placed our order. A couple weeks later we met the farmer at the butcher, where we first paid the farmer for our 1/4 of the steer. The steer weighed 1240 lbs, so we paid the farmer $425 for our part. Next, it was time to place our order with the butcher. There were a couple things he wanted to know, like the size of our steaks and roasts. We didn’t really have to decide how much of ground beef we wanted and how much steak or roast we wanted. So we simply told him to butcher the beef in the best cuts it made naturally. Easy peasy.
We also requested to keep the suet (kidney fat), liver, and soup bones. We could use ’em for making more real food goodness. I would have asked for the heart, tongue and tail as well, but I totally forgot about it. Bummer, I know. And finally, we requested that it be hung or cured for 21 days to increase the flavor and tenderness. We left and waited for our call from the butcher. Three weeks later, we drove back and paid the processing/butchering/packaging fee for our 1/4 (which was $125). Our total cost for the 1/4 steer was $550.
|BEEF – it’s what’s for dinner.|
The breakdown and cost of purchasing grass-fed beef in bulk straight from the farmer:
20 – 1.5 lb. packages of ground beef (total 30 lbs.)
5 – 3.4 lb. packages of chuck roast (total 17 lbs.)
1 – 3 lb. package of rump roast (total 3 lbs.)
1 – 4 lb. package of sirloin tip roast (total 4.1 lbs.)
2 – 4 lb. packages of short ribs (total 7.51 lbs.)
4 – 2 lb. packages of rib steak (total 8.8 lbs.)
2 – 2 lb. packages of sirloin steak (total 3.42 lbs.)
1 – 2.4 lb. package of beef steak (total 2.4 lbs.)
1 – 2 lb. package of t-bone steak (total 2 lbs.)
4 – 2 lb. packages of round steak (total 7.43 lbs.)
1 – 2.5 lb. package of porterhouse steak (total 2.5 lbs.)
1 – 4.7 lb. package of beef arm rest (total 4.7 lbs.)
3 – 2 lb. packages of soup/stew meat (total 5.69 lbs.)
1 – 1.8 lb. package of brisket (total 1.8 lbs.)
Extras (for free, ya’ll):
1 – 6 lb. package of suet [kidney fat to render into tallow](total 6 lbs.)
1 – 8 lb. package of bones [for delicious bone broth](total 7.11 lbs.)
5 – 2 lb. packages of liver [for eatin’](total 5.57 lbs.)
Total pounds of meat = 99.35 lbs + extra goodies 18.68. Total cost from purchasing in bulk = $550
This means that we paid an average of $4.65 per pound. If I would have asked for the heart, tongue and tail, I would have saved even more.
Price we would have paid if we had bought grass-fed beef at the health food store:
20 – 1.5 lb. packages of ground beef…..at $7.50/lb……….$225
5 – 3.5 lb. packages of chuck roast…..at $8.50/lb……….$136
1 – 3 lb. package of rump roast…..at $8.50/lb……….$25
1 – 4 lb. package of sirloin tip roast…..at $12.00/lb………..$49
2 – 4 lb. packages of short ribs…..at $7.95/lb……….$59
4 – 2 lb. packages of rib steak…..at $21.00/lb……….$184
2 – 2 lb. packages of sirloin steak…..at $14.00/lb……….$47
1 – 2.4 lb. package of beef steak…..at $8.50/lb……….$20
1 – 2 lb. package of t-bone steak…..at $18.00/lb……….$36
4 – 2 lb. packages of round steak…..at $8.50/lb……….$63
1 – 2.5 lb. package of porterhouse steak…..at $24.00/lb………..$60
1 – 4.7 lb. package of beef arm rest…..at $8.00/lb……….$37
3 – 2 lb. packages of soup/stew meat…..at $7.50/lb……….$42
1 – 1.8 lb. package of brisket…..at $7.50/lb……….$13
1 – 6 lb. package of suet fat…..FREE
1 – 8 lb. package of bones…..at $4.95/lb……….$40
5 – 2 lb. packages of liver…..at $4.00/lb……….$24
Total pounds of meat = 99.35 lbs + extra goodies 18.68. Total cost at health food store = $1060
That means we would have been paying an average of $8.98 per pound.
Price we would have paid for regular ol’ CAFO beef at the grocery store:
20 – 1.5 lb. packages of ground beef…..at $2.97/lb……….$89
5 – 3.5 lb. packages of chuck roast…..at $6.99/lb……….$112
1 – 3 lb. package of rump roast…..at $6.99/lb……….$21
1 – 4 lb. package of sirloin tip roast…..at $10.99/lb………..$44
2 – 4 lb. packages of short ribs…..at $5.99/lb……….$48
4 – 2 lb. packages of rib steak…..at $12.49/lb……….$110
2 – 2 lb. packages of sirloin steak…..at $8.99/lb……….$36
1 – 2.4 lb. package of beef steak…..at $6.99/lb……….$17
1 – 2 lb. package of t-bone steak…..at $12.49/lb……….$25
4 – 2 lb. packages of round steak…..at $4.69/lb……….$35
1 – 2.5 lb. package of porterhouse steak…..at $11.99/lb………..$30
1 – 4.7 lb. package of beef arm rest…..at $5.99/lb……….$28
3 – 2 lb. packages of soup/stew meat…..at $4.49/lb……….$26
1 – 1.8 lb. package of brisket…..at $4.99/lb……….$9
1 – 6 lb. package of suet fat…..not available
1 – 8 lb. package of bones…..at $2.95/lb……….$24
5 – 2 lb. packages of liver…..not available
Total pounds of meat = 99.35 lbs. + 10.68 of bones. Total cost at grocery store = $654
Paying an average of $5.94 per pound.
It’s true, folks. Purchasing grass-fed beef in bulk is actually CHEAPER than regular ‘ol store-bought CAFO beef.
This is just one example how eating healthier can be affordable. It does take some effort to search for that beef of yours. But it’s just like anything else—you reap what you sow!
If you have an insane frugal beast of a husband like me, just show him these numbers because they don’t lie. If that doesn’t work, then let convince his taste buds with some grass fed meat. You haven’t lived until you’ve tasted real grass fed beef! Now, go forth and find that steer.
A Final Note: The 100% Grass-fed Beef debate.
Despite all the hype with 100% grass-fed beef, I still believe in the practice of grain-finished beef (NOT to be confused by CAFO beef).
Why is that, you ask? Many websites claim that all meat produced before 1940 was grass fed. The truth is that in traditional societies, beef was often finished on grain at the end of fall during harvest time. In fact, grasses, legumes, grains, and forage crops were all utilized during the life of a beef steer. This was all written about written in Elementary Treatise on Stock Feeds and Feeding (published in 1911), the Iowa Yearbook of Agriculture (published in 1904), the Annual Report of the Ohio State Board of Agriculture (published in 1886), the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents (published in 1853), and The New England Farmer (published in 1822).
“Our soils are very much out of balance, so incomplete proteins are made which go into the blood stream quicker if microbes and beneficial bacteria are not in sufficient number to utilize the protein. Soil has been degraded to the point that farmers have problems holding on to the right amount of energy to protein ratios in our pasture. Cows cannot travel to maintain the balance of energy to protein (new grazing grounds) as their Bison cousins did. The grain verses grass debate is not black and white. Both are a valuable part of a cow’s diet but not a complete diet in and of themselves.”
Grass fed beef that is grain finished means that the steer was raised primarily on grass, with supplementation of grain about 3-4 weeks before butchering. Animals who obtain their nutrition from fermentative bacteria in their rumen (like cattle) also have the ability to break down the antinutrients found in grains. Grains have their place in the diet of cattle and I believe can offer benefits if fed as part of a balanced amount.
Have you ever purchased grass-fed beef in bulk? Are you happy with your purchase?
Worried about your meat consumption? Read my article How Long Did Your Ancestors Live While Eating Bacon, Lard, and Whole Milk? for more insight!