Beef butchering is over for another year. My cellar is empty of hanging quarters, once again, only having been empty a day between elk and beef. All that’s left as evidence of the beef is the reducing pot of stock on my stove and the high population of magpies in my back yard cleaning up the remaining bones. Two things are top of mind for me about this experience this year: quality, and economics.
Quality. This cow is this year’s calf, having fed on milk and grass only, so the meat nearly looks like pork when cooked it’s so light in colour. The copious fat has an exceptionally clean flavour. I harvest moose at this same age, and find similarities in that nearly every cut is tender and delicate in flavour. This stuff’s a joy to work with.
This is a drug-free cow. A cow that actually grazed on grass rather than having eaten trucked corn or some other feed it’s not built to eat. It wasn’t stressed by being trucked around to auctions and feedlots prior to slaughter. I’ve spent a good amount of time in the pasture where this cow lived, and know the farmers well. I’m not sure what else I could ask for when it comes to quality of product.
Economics. Here‘s my beef-onomics from last year. This year, same asking price from the farm per pound of hook weight: $3. Worked out to $2.40/lb for front quarter, $3.51 for hind quarter. 81 lbs front, 95lbs hind. A big difference this year is that they used a different processor and rather than $76.13 for kill/chill cost, it was $26.25/quarter. My all-in cost for the front quarter was $220.66 for 81 lbs, or $2.72/lb hook weight. Last year’s numbers were $263.63/75lbs = $3.51/lb. I had to look at that math a few times…23% lower cost. Most of that is simply lower processor fees, but part is due to an error in assuming 50% of the side was front quarter, when in fact this year it proved to be 46%.
Weight of wrapped/packed cuts: 64.4 lbs. $220.66/ 64.4lbs = $3.43/lb, not including bones. Including about 5 lbs of stock bones, the total’s about $3.18/lb. Substantially less than last year. Interesting. Yay for lower processing costs.
There’s a point here beyond simply understanding what my food costs are when butchering it myself. The point is this: local, antibiotic and hormone free, stress-minimized, milk and grass fed beef bought from a farmer that sells at a farmers’ market can COST LESS than conventional box-store meat. People often tell me: ‘yeah, but‘ and cite the high cost of local food as a barrier to eating local. I have a ‘Save-On Foods’ flyer in front of me, beef outside round oven roast is $3.49 a lb for meat that is from ‘Western Canada’, conventionally raised and fed, likely finished at a feed lot, and shipped here and there. For the cost-senstive would-be-ethical-eaters [this was me at one time], the big question is this: do you care enough about the meat you eat to buy raw ag product from a farmer and process it yourself? If yes, welcome to the world of high quality AND lower cost. If not, please don’t complain to me that local food is expensive – it certainly can be if you choose, but doesn’t need to be.
Preemptive strike on the ‘I don’t have time’ front. A quarter of beef took 2-2.5 hours in an evening, followed by some steak and lovely red wine. You have time.
While I’m at it, for the ‘I don’t know how’ that naturally follows: youtube. I didn’t know how either. It’s not hard, you just have to be willing to learn.
Do you have any tips for the “but I don’t have space” group? I live in a tiny downtown apartment and don’t have space for the butchering or to store large quantities of meat. I would love to bring my meat costs down, but haven’t figured out a local way to do that in small quantities.
There are a few more “but” arguments I could think of, however it is irrelevant if one is willing to go the extra mile.
It’s a complete mindset change I would argue. as you clearly demonstrate on this blog, it’s not just the cow one has to think of’ when eating healthy and local becomes the mantra.
We have become the generation of convenience. From Drive through everything, to ready made meals. Going back to the homesteading style of feeding our families as main stream movement may just take something more serious in our collective lives.
In the short few weeks since we arrived here in the French country side, I have seen some great local set ups and met some even more interesting people doing it all. The backseat that profit thinking is taking in this part of theworld over let’s eat well, is maybe more of a culture shock to me than the amount of offal being eaten here compared to back in North America.
I find a deer is about 4 hours per, maybe 5, for butchering. Where do they rank with you?
Don’t forget the packaging.
Buying the stuff from the store all at once would make a sickening pile of garbage, whereas doing it your way virtually eliminates (I’m guessing) packaging.
CH – INTERESTING. I believe it. Didn’t know you were in France. Where?
Andrew – yeah, about that. Beef and pork are easier as the connective tissue and fat aren’t an issue – you can leave them on. Game is more fussy and time-consuming.
Conrad – Good point. Pretty funny to think of all the styrofoam trays. Completely unnecessary. There’s still plastic bags and butcher paper involved, but I’d guess it’s far less an issue than the norm.
I’m a big believer in “there’s always time”. Anything I can make at home gets made at home and it’s amazing how having to be around to make bread almost daily actually forces you to be home more, therefore giving you more time to be more productive at home. So many people I know “don’t have time” but when they dig into it it’s because they spend so much time at the mall, or the grocery store, or just entertaining themselves. All things that cost money. I can honestly say I don’t remember the last time I’ve been bored at home, the more time I spend doing it myself the more enjoyable life becomes, and the healthier and more homey my home becomes.
also… okay so that’s moose, elk, pig, and now cow… how much meat do you guys eat??? lol
Hilda – wow, well put.
And good question. We ended up taking about 1/4 of the elk, 1 of the 3 pigs, no moose this year [didn’t get one], and a front quarter of beef. That will last us until next year. The balance goes to the friends and family that we cut meat with. Sounds odd, but it’s an enjoyable social occasion, and increasingly rare opportunity to get people close to us together for a number of hours with all the time in the world to talk. We don’t eat it all ourselves.
It doesn’t sound odd to me at all. We hunted for all our meat growing up (and still attempt to now) and I actually looked forward to butcher and packing day. I even remember spending a day with a friend at about 14 years old butchering the bear he shot out of a tree in his front year with a bow. Our little family of 5 now needs about 2 small deer to get us through a year, looks like we may have to turn to beef this year though.
It always amazes me when folks want to say the local farm produced product is “too expensive” when I do the math I’m with you it ends up cheaper than the box stores.
Speaking of game what happened to the elk post? I’d commented but then say it went into the ether.
Charente Maritime. st. jean D’Angely area.
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LOL, I know this is being picky, but (being a beef farmer) it’s not a cow unless it has produced a calf. We would just call it a calf if it was under a year old, then we would call it a steer or a heifer after that.
In the past, I think there has been some resistance to buying beef from farmers because you end up with everything that comes from a side of beef. People want more steaks than what a steer has, often, they have no idea of what to do with other cuts and bones. This year however, we are selling out as fast as we can raise them. I guess that’s good news.
Deb – I appreciate the nomenclature clarification! I’ve certainly heard that unwillingness to work with the whole animal – a shame, really. Glad to hear the tides seem to be turning for the better.
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Reading this brought up so many ideas regarding cost – and the e-mail I send you this morning about “yes you can afford to eat locally” etc… First, people have to know what they are buying and spending… and many with a comfortable income don’t know that – while those with a limited budget THINK they do and maybe are really not so aware of how much goes on meat, etc.
It would be an interesting process to go through – and a necessary one to make informed decisions about ones grocery budget. I think I am in trouble this year. I didn’t analyze or evaluate literally. I should have. So, I have 1/2 a pig in the freezer, 1/2 a cow in the freezer and 30 chickens as well as a ton of fruit and vegetables I have prepared for winter. I don’t even understand half of the labels on the bags and thought I was knowledgeable. Boy! This is going to be a steep learning curve for me. Stop laughing. I am upset with myself and pleased, at the same time, that I am doing this. For example – I thawed a sirloin tip roast yesterday. I had no idea what kind of meat that was. I only buy prime rib. I buy lots of cheap cuts of meat – but haven’t bought the gamete for years and years. As there are just two of us, and one carnivore, i cut it in half and roasted half as a pot roast. It was lovely and fine. Nothing like a prime rib. A lot of fat in the middle. I am learning important stuff. The other half I plan to slice for a stirfry and then for goulash. No longer do I decide what I want to make and buy the meat. The meat is here and I have to work with that. I feel so noble. HA! There is so much we all need to learn and I am so happy I have this meat in my freezer – but what a learning curve…. it is all from Natures Green Acres. I may be asking for decoding advice with some of the labels later on.
Bravo to you for all you do, Kevin. You set the bar high, but I am an eager student and not trying to compete. Your family is so loved and you are so fortunate have one another and to make these kinds of life choices.