Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Buying the Cow

Over the past couple of years, Justin and I have changed our approach to eating a lot. We're making a lot more from scratch. We're paying a lot more attention to the ingredients in our food. We're more particular about our milk. But, although we both wanted to transition to buying grass-fed local beef, when we'd go to the grocery store and see organic beef at $5 or $6 per pound, we just couldn't do it. It wasn't even an option in the budget.

We've talked about buying a cow for years. Literally. But it's a rather large chunk of money up front, and it felt like that money was always needed elsewhere. I didn't know if we'd have room in our freezer. Plus, it felt really overwhelming to me, and I didn't really know where to start. This year around tax time, I hopped on Craigslist and was just poking around, trying to figure out how much we'd have to save in order to finally move away from the pink slime and towards a healthier option for our family.

I came across a listing for a local ranch that raises grass-fed, hormone-free, antibiotic-free Longhorn cows, which are not only much leaner than Angus, but they're also much smaller cows too (the Longhorns at this ranch are butchered at about 450 lbs, compared to sometimes 1200 lbs with Angus), which I thought might be more feasible for our first time buying a cow.

So, I sent an email to the ranch and basically said, "I have no idea how this works--tell me everything." They were wonderful, and within a few days, we were driving out to the ranch to meet the family and sample some beef (PS- I absolutely recommend trying before you buy. Grass-fed beef does taste different than Grain-fed beef, and you need to make sure you like it before you spend several hundred dollars on it!). Justin said that Longhorn beef tasted a little gamey to him (which he actually likes), but it just tasted like beef to me. So, we decided to go for it.

At this ranch, you could order 1/4, 1/2, or a whole cow. We ordered 1/4, which ended up to be about 95 pounds for hanging weight (you'll end up with a little less than this once it has actually been butchered). We paid $3.05 per pound (hanging weight), which included everything--the kill fee, as well as cut and wrap.

About a week after paying, the butcher called me and walked me through the possible cuts, and we talked about what sorts of things we used most often. At this particular ranch, if you buy a quarter, they pair you with another person who ordered a quarter, and you end up splitting the half--so you're getting cuts from both the front and back rather than just your quarter. However, because of this, there were a couple of specific cuts (like NY steaks) that the other person had already requested...but really, that wasn't a big deal to us because we're not super particular about our cuts of steak.

Another week later, the ranch delivered this to our doorstep:



I know this post is getting really long, but I want to also include a list of the final meat that we received, because it would have really helped me to see a post like this before we bought the cow, and I'm hoping that if there's anyone out there who has been on the fence, maybe this will be helpful!

We haven't opened up a ton of the meat yet, but I'm assuming that each pack of steaks has 2-4 steaks per package. We also requested roasts to be 3-5 pounds each.

-11 packs of ground beef (1.5-2 pounds each)
-4 packs of soup bones
-1 pack NY Steak
-2 packs of Round Steak
-2 packs of Sirloin Tip Steak
-2 packs Top Sirloin Steaks
-2 packs of Short Ribs
-1 Tenderloin
-2 packs Ribeye Steak
-2 Chuck Roasts (3-5 pounds each)
-1 Rump Roast
-1 Cross-rib roast
-1 Tri-Tip roast
-2 packs of stew meat
-1 pack of Carne Asada
-1 Beef Back Rib

We requested 1.5-2lb packs for ground beef because Justin pretty much requests "more beef" for any spaghetti/meatball/burrito/burger dish that's made. But next time, I think we'll definitely go for 1 pound packages instead just to stretch it out a little more.

Also, for those worried about freezer space, all of the above fits into one shelf of our upright deep freezer--I definitely think it could fit into a fridge/freezer with no problem, as long as it was a relatively empty freezer. Please do note that I'm talking about Longhorn beef here, not Angus.

Overall, it's been a really good experience, and it's nice to always have beef on hand. It's easy to toss a roast into the Crock Pot {Leah's 3-2-1 Beef with Black Butte Porter is still my go to recipe for roasts}, and then we've got shredded beef for sandwiches, enchiladas, etc for several more days through the week. I hope we'll be able to do this again and again!


  1. I know I sang the praises of grass fed beef on your Facebook page awhile ago but I can't help but say again you made such a good choice. The difference is so evident the first time you make a meal and I can honestly say we'll never buy from the store again and instead keep buying cows!

  2. awesome, informative post.

    and now i could really go for a cheeseburger. ;D

  3. Can I be super nosey and ask how much you ended up paying for it all? I *REALLY* want to do this as well but just curious how much we need to anticipate spending.

    And craigslist, here I come!

    1. Totally. It was $290-something ($295?). But again, Longhorns are MUCH smaller than Angus, so it totally depends on the overall size of the cow!

  4. Grr. We haven't made the plunge yet, but I really want to! So glad you find it a worthwhile choice!

  5. Thanks so much for sharing the details! I've been interested in buying a portion of a cow for years, but I'm just so intimidated by the process! I really need to look into it further though as it seems like a great investment.

  6. So glad you posted about this!! We need to jump in and do it again. Back when we were in so Oregon we bought part of a FFA pig and cow and it was DELICIOUS!! We need to do it again but I wasn't sure how to go about it. Never thought of craigslist!!

  7. Can you link up the recipe you mention? We buy a cow from my in laws about every 6 months to a year and have been for years. I can't stand store bought beef.

    1. Melissa--I think the link is also in the post above, but here it is!

  8. OH my gosh this is so cool! Thank you tons for sharing! We might actually try this...

  9. Thanks so much for posting this! I've considered doing this but it was too intimidating (confusing) to me before.

  10. I'm definitely going to look into this next year. We don't eat a TON of beef,so it might make more sense to just pay the astronomical store prices for grass fed beef, but I definitely need to research. I need to raise my own chickens -now that's a meat we use endlessly :)

  11. I've been considering this forever too. 1/2 a cow is too much for us... I need to contact my local meat market, where we get all of our grass-fed beef, to see if they do 1/4 instead, since we want both front and back quarters. Loved this post!


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