If you’ve never bought beef in bulk from a farmer or rancher, the process might seem a little complicated. As a beef producer, one of my jobs is educating people of the how and why. So let’s dive into how to buy beef directly from the farmer!
There’s different ways to do this and it’ll depend on your state rules. For us in Florida, you can buy beef shares or custom individual cuts. Beef shares means you’re buying a share (quarter, half, or whole) of a cow and then you have it processed (butchered and cut the way you want it.) If you want to buy select custom cuts, it needs to be USDA inspected and stamped. That costs more money and the farmer can end up with a lot of bulk inventory. Cost-wise, the best way for consumers to go is to buy a beef share.
First of all, where do you find local farmers and ranchers?
Check your farmer’s markets, if there are no beef producers there you can ask other vendors, they may know someone even if that farm doesn’t sell at the market. You can also ask the market manager.
Contact your local Ag Extension and see if they have a list of local producers. Most of them have a designated cattle specialist who works with local farms and would be familiar with their operations.
Look online. Facebook has local county groups for farming usually. If there is no beef advertised, look for people selling cows and ask them if they offer beef. In Florida we also have a Farm Finder page on Facebook that connects farmers with consumers and makes it a great place to find what you’re looking for in your area.
You could also contact your local Cattleman’s Association, or other association that is similar, they will have a list of members by area.
Grass Fed vs Grain Finished and Everything in Between
When you start contacting farmers you need to be a little familiar with feeding practices. Grass-fed means the cow has only eat grass or grass hay for it’s entire life. Grass and hay can be sprayed with pesticides so if you’re looking for non-gmo and all natural be sure to ask what their hay and pasture management practices are or where they source their hay. This can also include legumes, like alfalfa and clover.
Grain finished is a cow that has eaten grain for the majority of its life, or at least during the finishing stages. This cow may have been started on grass as a calf and then brought into an area where it was grain-fed until butchering.
We feed a combination of grass and grain on our farm. Our calves stay with their mamas for 6-8 months and in addition to milk, they begin eating grass and hay. Once they are weaned we start feeding them very small amounts of grain. It takes their digestion time to get used to the grain so we start small and build up as we go. For the last 6 months or so of their lives they live on grass pastures with hay in the winters and are grain fed twice a day. We use grain more like a supplement to the grass and hay than a complete feed. We also source a non-gmo grain.
You’ve found a farmer to buy beef from, now what?
Each farmer will have their own process for buying beef shares but most of the time it is pretty similar.
First, determine if you want a quarter, half, or whole. I’ll cover approximate weights below. This is a question you can ask the farmer as well, he will have a ballpark idea of what they will weigh.
Next you will pay the deposit. That reserves your beef share.
You will most likely pay on the hanging weight so when the cows are dropped off at the butcher, they will let the farmer know how much the hanging weight is. The hanging weight multiplied by your per pound price, minus your deposit, is what you will owe the farmer. Some farmers include butchering costs into their price, others you pay the butcher separately. This is another great question to ask so that you know all of your costs up front.
You will either fill out a cut sheet with the farmer to order how you want your meat cut and packaged or you will work directly with the butcher. I’ve seen it done both ways. And they will help you decide, they are very good at knowing their cuts and can advise you .
The processor will hang the beef so that aging can occur for 2-3 weeks. This is an important step! Be sure to ask how long it will age for, the minimum is 14 days.
Once it’s finished aging, the butcher will process and package your beef and deep freeze it. You will have your pick-up date at the time of ordering your cuts and on that date you will go to the processor to pick up your beef. Some farms and ranches do offer delivery, shipping and some have on-farm pickup. So just be sure you’re clear on that. If you’re picking up be sure you have coolers to transport your beef home in.
How Much Meat Will You Get?
The hanging weight is approximately 60% of the live weight. Hanging weight is the amount after the animal has been dressed and cleaned. So let’s use a 1,000 lb cow for an example. Its hanging weight would be 600 lbs. That would be the weight you are charged for when buying a beef share (most of the time.) And that is what I recommend, that way you are paying for exactly how much you are getting.
Cost per pound varies greatly by area, economy and demand so I’m not going to cover that in this article because it’s always changing.
Your take home weight is about 60% of the hanging weight. With the example we were using that would be 360 lbs in final custom cuts.
And that’s it! Your beef will keep in a freezer for up to a year and you can now enjoy your fresh local beef!
Now that you know how to buy beef directly from the farmer, comment below and let us know if you’ve done this before, what has your experience been? Do you have other questions? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll be happy to answer them!