Buying Beef direct from a farmer.. - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 20 Old 10-26-2011, 11:45 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I am researching this for the first time and am trying to learn as I go.  I am not looking for organic, just healthy beef that has been raised well and treated well.  I am just wondering, what kind of questions should I be asking these farmers that I call?  Also, have people found this to be cheaper or do you mainly do it because of the quality aspect?

 

Thanks!

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#2 of 20 Old 10-26-2011, 12:38 PM
 
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We've researched this also and will be getting a 1/4 steer next season. A couple questions you should ask -

 

- Grass or grain fed? If grass, do they finish on grain and if so for how long?

- Do they use routine antibiotics and/or hormones, or do they only treat at signs of illness?

- Who does their processing? 

- What are the options for cuts you can choose?

- Do they age the beef and if so, for how long?

- Are the quoted prices live weight or hanging?

- How much lead time does the farmer need to reserve an animal for you and when can you take delivery?

- Will they deliver, drop off at mutually convenient place like a farmers market, or do you have to pick up at the farm?

 

I've found it can be cheaper than retail prices. I also think it's morally responsible to know who produces my food, and to support those people financially directly. Quality is also important - it's better than mass produced stuff at the store in terms of flavor and freshness.


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#3 of 20 Old 10-26-2011, 12:44 PM
 
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Those are great questions. I'd also ask if they can vacuum seal the meat, or if they package in just freezer paper. The meat will last longer and not get freezer burn if vacuum sealed. You can also ask if they do any smoking or seasoning. Some do, some don't.

We also have found it to be less expensive that store bought. In our area, it is around $4 a pound. For hormone free, antibiotic free, pastured beef, that is really good. You will get everything from ground beef to filet mignon included. You can also ask for offal like tails, tongues, cheeks, etc., and bones for broth. Just making broth, you can save a ton and add healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals to your diet. I personally prefer to know where my meat is coming from, how the animals are treated, how they are processed, etc. Knowing that the meat comes from humanely treated animals that are allowed the food nature intended for them means a lot.

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#4 of 20 Old 10-26-2011, 02:38 PM
 
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We've been buying a side of beef each year for many years.  Good points already made.  These would be my questions for a person from whom I'm purchasing freezer beef for the first time...

 

First of all I want to mention that where I live, the purchase of the beef is an actual purchase of the animal and the processing of it is separate.  What that means is that I pay the farmer an "on the hoof" price, and they are responsible for taking the animal to be butchered.  Then I pay the processing plant a separate bill for processing and packaging.  So this is the perspective I am coming from for this and is only from my personal experience.  Others may have a different experience and things may work differently where they live.  So, as a guideline...

 

1.  What breed is the animal and what will be the grade of beef?  Choice?  Prime?  This will help you know if you are getting a good price.  The grade determines the yield you will get.  That is, the higher the grade of beef, the better yield (and therefore a better deal).  Ask the age of the animal.

2.  Do they base the costs off of the market price the day the animal goes for butchering or do they have a set price per pound?  (That price will be "on the hoof", I've never heard of anyone doing it any other way.)  They may have established a price of, say, $1.25/lb. on the hoof or they may say that they will charge 20 cents per pound (again on the hoof) over whatever the market price was that day.  Definitely understand the pricing, as this will be the bulk of your cost.

3.  Unless it's organic, it most assuredly will be grain-finished.  This is to put WEIGHT on the animal before butchering.  Ask what they anticipate the weight to be before and after finishing.  If they are butchering at 900lbs. you are not going to get as good of a deal as you will if it is closer to 1200lbs.  1100lbs. is a good weight.

4.  The time of year they butcher is also key.  If it's in the Autumn, which (IMO) is the best time to butcher, then they have probably been eating mostly grass all summer.  I personally LIKE the flavor, but it *is* different than supermarket beef.  If it's in the Spring, they have been grain and hay fed over the winter and will taste less "gamey" than those butchered in the fall, but may have more fat (which isn't bad... this goes back to question #1 about the grade of beef).

5.  Ask about medicines used, of course.

 

Many of the rest of the questions will be ones you want to ask the processor, not the farmer.  The farmer won't know about this stuff except how they order their own beef.  Definitely get in touch with the butcher to find out the following:

 

6.  If not purchasing a side (if purchasing a quarter, for example), how are the cuts of meat divided?  For example, if you take the hindquarter, what do you get vs. if you take a forequarter.  Do they equally divide all the cuts of the whole side or do you get just the cuts from your quarter?

7.  Of course you'll want to find out the processing costs.  These are almost always based on hanging weight at the time of butchering.  The processing fee is how much they charge per pound to process your meat and it is based on standard cuts.  Around here, it's about 40 cents per pound hanging weight (which is after the feet, head, hide and entrails are removed, but is still on the bone.) If you want specialty cuts (for example Porterhouse, rib roasts or if you want to keep the filet whole), they may charge extra.  Research the cuts beforehand so you'll know what to ask for.  Also when asking about how long they age the beef, ask if they dry age or wet age it.  When they dry age, the total weight when packaged is reduced, but the beef is usually more tasty.  Most places age for 14 days.  If it's longer ask if you pay extra.  There will be a butcher cost on top of processing fee... find out what it is.

8. Ask about how the meat is packaged.  You can usually specify things like 2 steaks per package or 4 steaks per package.  1lb. of hamburger per package or 2lbs. per package.  How large you want your roasts cut.  They may charge you extra for smaller packaging and if you want your roasts or steaks deboned.  They will also want to know how thick you want your steaks to be cut.

9.  They will probably ask if you want certain cuts to be put into the hamburger (Arm roasts, for example)... I would do this if you use a lot of ground beef and prefer leaner beef.  I changed things up this past year and didn't get the extra ground beef and regretted it.

10.  Ask how long they will keep the beef frozen and what the cost is for that.  Sometimes if you don't pick it up within a few days they charge freezer rental.  This happened to me once when the person I buy beef from took the animals to a processor that was almost 2 hours away and I couldn't get down there for a week or so.  During butchering season, they schedule when the animals go to slaughter and sometimes butchers are booked up for months, which is what happened to my supplier that year.

11.  I'd also ask about getting some suet in addition to bones and specialty parts.

12.  Finally, I'd downright ask for a sample from last year.  Tell them that you want to try a pound of their ground beef from an animal butchered last year to see if you like it.

 

 

HTH!

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#5 of 20 Old 10-26-2011, 04:39 PM
 
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Some of the ranchers may process themselves...but it depends. My cousin's husband does the dispatching and processing, and has his own trailer set up for it. The meat is dry-aged for two weeks, then cut to order. It takes about three weeks total for processing. The rancher may also be able to provide other meats. Ask if they do meats like pork, chicken, lamb, goat, etc. I also like the grass fed flavor. It makes grocery store meat taste so bland.

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#6 of 20 Old 10-27-2011, 04:59 AM
 
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We just ordered a front quarter of 100% grass fed, organic beef.  It is to be processed by our area Ag school where they have a commercial/professional processing area for local farmers to use.  The meat will be cut and packaged to our specifications (for example, the amount per package and whether we want more of the cuts ground or kept whole for roasts) and all will be kry-o-vac sealed.  The price is just over $4/per pound, so it is actually cheaper than what is typically available for conventional ground beef in our local grocery store.  The farmer told us we would likely get 105 lbs. or so of beef.  He also guarantees satisfaction with the meat, or money back.

 

I had hoped to purchase like this last year, but there was a waiting list. He is a regular at our farmer's market and sells out what he brings to market every week, obviously caring more about quality and satisfaction than big production.  I started reminding him we were interested in a 1/4 back in the spring to get on the list for this fall :-)

 

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#7 of 20 Old 10-28-2011, 04:20 AM
 
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Originally Posted by cameragirl View Post

Some of the ranchers may process themselves...but it depends. My cousin's husband does the dispatching and processing, and has his own trailer set up for it.



Yes, I remember hearing about those trailers.  I saw these mobile butcher shops on a History Channel program (American Eats, maybe?).  That's pretty neat, and from what they were saying, it is much easier for the farmer.  I didn't realize that the ranchers/farmers did the processing themselves, though.  They were saying that they are USDA regulated and a certified butcher had to do the dispatching and processing.  I didn't realize ranchers could do the processing themselves unless they were regulated.  It certainly makes it more cost-effective for everyone.  That's good to know.

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#8 of 20 Old 10-28-2011, 12:19 PM
 
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Some do, many don't. They do need to be trained in specialized food handling, butchering, etc. If I remember right, he is certified to do processing, but they were waiting on organic certification because of cost. Some farmers also have the butcher come out, dispatch the animal, butcher on site, or take the carcass to their shop for processing. Personally, I think it is easier on the animal to be dispatched on site so that they don't have to go through the stress of being put on a trailer and taken somewhere unfamiliar.

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#9 of 20 Old 11-01-2011, 07:20 AM
 
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Actually this is what we do for a living. We raise longhorns for grass fed beef.

 

One thing that was forgotten to be mentioned is make sure the beef you buy is USDA certified grass fed. There are TONS of ranchers out there saying they have grass fed beef when in actuality they just have pastured beef and cashing in on the grass fed term. USDA guidelines for grass fed beef is NO grain whatsoever is given to the animal at any time in his/her life. That means no lick tubs, no liquid feed (which you don't want anyway, it contains urea), no range cubes to call up cattle. Ask them what they use as a protein supplement, if they say anything that contains grain, you are not getting grass fed and are not being sustainably raised. Hay and alfalfa is basically all that is used. You can use peanut hay as a protein supplement since it is a legume and not a grain.

 

When you go to farmers markets and buy beef, if it doesn't say grass fed, no hormones, never confined, etc on their label and it doesn't have a USDA seal on the label. There is no way in knowing what they are saying is true.

 

There are mobile processing units, they are scarce and you have to process a lot of animals to make it profitable to the rancher. We use a USDA processor who is tied to our label. He is the only processor that would let my husband be on the kill floor to see how the animal was treated. Most processors will not stress an animal because a stressed animal leads to a tough product.

 

Breed doesn't really mean much. European cattle breeds are pretty much all the same except for galloways which tend to be lower fat. Longhorns are the original beef cattle in the US. They are the lowest in calories, fat and cholesterol than all other breeds. They are actually lower in all those things than chicken.

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#10 of 20 Old 11-01-2011, 07:45 AM
 
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Originally Posted by txranchinmama View Post

When you go to farmers markets and buy beef, if it doesn't say grass fed, no hormones, never confined, etc on their label and it doesn't have a USDA seal on the label. There is no way in knowing what they are saying is true.

A label is not a fool-proof indicator of truth - if you're buying a product from a farmer you know and trust, you can be assured that they're not lying to you about how they raise their animals. We need to start putting our faith back into the people and families that raise our food, by getting to know them and their operations, instead of governmental organizations who barely set foot on the land that sustains us. 


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#11 of 20 Old 11-01-2011, 08:07 AM
 
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Unless you read what grass fed really means, educate yourself thoroughly, know the cattle industry and tour the whole operation of where the cattle are being raised you have no idea really what you are getting. There are five "grass fed" operations around me who have liquid feed and corn grinders on their property. You aren't getting grass fed. Finished beef is not grass fed. Finished beef is not raised sustainably. Finished beef lowers good omega fatty acids, Finished beef raises acid resistent E-coli in the gut of the animal. Grass fed guidelines are out there for a reason. Finished beef is grain fed beef.

 

Being USDA certified just means that the rancher went the extra steps to proove they are serious about what they do. That is how you should look at it. It isn't an easy process to get certified. As I said there are many ranchers out there that have jumped on this bandwagon when Food Inc came out. There are some ranchers that buy a 2 year old steer at a sale barn, take them straight to process and sell the meat for a premium as grass fed. I am not saying that is everybody, but I know of several that do this. A very reputable rancher near me (who I dearly love actually) sells their beef as grass fed. It isn't, They have piles of corn out there. If you want that, that is fine. But it isn't grass fed and isn't being raised sustainably.

 

I would love to be able to trust people, but when there is money to be made you honestly can't trust them. Plain and simple.

 

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#12 of 20 Old 11-01-2011, 09:26 AM
 
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Hi, where in TX are you? I'm in Houston and am looking for grass fed beef.

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#13 of 20 Old 11-01-2011, 09:31 AM
 
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I am about 45 miles south of Dallas. :)

 

Also, another resource to look at is localharvest.org. It is a way for consumers to connect with local raisers. But again, educate yourself and don't take what someone says at face value.

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Quote:
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Unless you read what grass fed really means, educate yourself thoroughly, know the cattle industry and tour the whole operation of where the cattle are being raised you have no idea really what you are getting. There are five "grass fed" operations around me who have liquid feed and corn grinders on their property. You aren't getting grass fed. Finished beef is not grass fed. Finished beef is not raised sustainably. Finished beef lowers good omega fatty acids, Finished beef raises acid resistent E-coli in the gut of the animal. Grass fed guidelines are out there for a reason. Finished beef is grain fed beef.

 

Being USDA certified just means that the rancher went the extra steps to proove they are serious about what they do. That is how you should look at it. It isn't an easy process to get certified. As I said there are many ranchers out there that have jumped on this bandwagon when Food Inc came out. There are some ranchers that buy a 2 year old steer at a sale barn, take them straight to process and sell the meat for a premium as grass fed. I am not saying that is everybody, but I know of several that do this. A very reputable rancher near me (who I dearly love actually) sells their beef as grass fed. It isn't, They have piles of corn out there. If you want that, that is fine. But it isn't grass fed and isn't being raised sustainably.

 

I would love to be able to trust people, but when there is money to be made you honestly can't trust them. Plain and simple.

 


I think overall we're in agreement here, but trust comes from getting to know the farmer. Of course one shouldn't just accept someone's word for it, just as one shouldn't accept that a label tells you everything you need to know. 

 

In our area, we're not buying beef from large ranchers. A lot of the farmers up here who sell beef on a farmers market scale are small family outfits, that maybe raise a few dozen head per year at the most. It's easy to talk to them, tour their farms - to see with your own eyes how the cows are being raised and treated, find out who their processor is. A lot of these types of small farmers can't afford the cost of certifications; that doesn't mean that they're not serious about what they do or that they don't raise a good, sustainable product. 

 


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#15 of 20 Old 11-01-2011, 09:52 AM
 
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txranchinmama, pm'd ya!


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#16 of 20 Old 11-01-2011, 10:20 AM
 
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It doesn't cost anything to become certified grassfed. You just have to be certified to be able to put it on your label.

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#17 of 20 Old 11-03-2011, 08:14 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by poorlittlefish View Post

Also, have people found this to be cheaper or do you mainly do it because of the quality aspect?

 

Thanks!



Both. 

 

One thing to keep in mind is that about 50% of your meat will be ground (give or take, depending on how you get it cut)  The first year we did a side, I was perplexed on how to use all the different cuts and all that ground beef.  It was a slight challenge because in the past, if I wanted steak, I went to the butcher and bought steaks.  With a half (or quarter), you get a few t-bones, a few ribeyes, a few filets, a certain number of roasts, etc.  My DH was really shocked by this.  I had to get on the internet and show him where the various cuts came from on the animal and how many a typical half yeilded. He thought we would have a freezer full of porterhouses!

 

I will be picking up a half in the next week or two.  Cost, from the farmer, is $831.25.  This is a large animal, right around 1200 pounds.  I can't remember the weight.  After it is processed, I will post the final cost.  The processor in our area charges more for vac-packing.  I have yet to have any problems with freezer burn so I don't spring for the extra cost.

 

I think total cost last year was $4.50 maybe?

 

Velochic's #6 is important to research if you are getting a 1/4.  I have heard from people in my area that they have been less than pleased with what their 1/4 yielded, like they were expecting certain cuts but were given others.

 

The first year we bought a half, I found a couple of different cutting instruction sheets on the internet via a quick Google search.  Our process is a local plant and when I call, they run down their cutting sheet and ask me how many patties per package? how many steaks per pack? How big do you want the roasts cut? and so on.  I like talking to the guys, they have given me really great advice. 

 


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#18 of 20 Old 03-27-2012, 11:24 AM
 
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So, where in the Chicago area can I buy beef on the hoof? Are there any local providers? Are there any in WI or IN?

 

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#19 of 20 Old 04-02-2012, 07:17 PM
 
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There are a lot to choose from - check out Local Harvest or Eat Wild - they list farmers by zip code and area. 


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#20 of 20 Old 04-05-2012, 08:04 AM
 
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Wow- I am shocked that anyone would get a front or hind quarter.  We have been doing this forever and always had the quarters split evenly by cuts.  How bizarre.  I have never heard of that!  Although certified organic for our crops- our beef and dairy isn't certified.  We don't see the need for paying the extra right now- but regardless it is organic.  Meat it seems like you should be able to get a relationship with a farmer so you know what you are getting without basing it on labels :)  But that is for small scale though.  


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