Monday, June 18, 2012

Grass Fed Beef

We recently read that the price of beef at the grocery store is going up to $5.30 in an article on Yahoo!  Can you believe that?  We raise our own cattle for beef and have even done it for the purpose of selling to others and for our personal use.  The Money Saving Queen recently posted an article about How to Buy Local Grass-fed Beef by another blogger that was awesome and very informative if you have never bought beef like that before.  Kyle and I got to talking and we came up with some more information that we would add to Once A Month Mom's post.

You can also find our guest post on Money Saving Queen.

Grass Fed Beef: Other Things to Consider

Lately a lot of articles have been written about buying beef by the quarter, half or whole from local farmers.  We have personally raised Angus –cross steers for our own use and to sell beef to others. Here are a few other things we thought you should consider to help you have a good experience with your purchase.  

Breed of Cattle - First is the breed of cattle.  Unless you want mainly hamburger, you need to avoid dairy breeds (Holstein, Jersey, etc) as they are bred for milk production and not high quality steaks and roast.  In most meat departments you will likely see something like "Certified Angus", and even fast food chains have jumped on the bandwagon with Angus burgers.  Angus is a breed of beef cattle that has been marketed very well, but you don't need to have the mindset of Angus as a requirement for good meat.  All of the beef breeds will produce good meat, some may take longer to get into good condition.

Conditioned Well - You also want to try to look at the live animals to make sure that they are conditioned well.  If you have never looked at cattle before, there are a couple of things that you need to pay attention to.  To start, make sure that animal is conditioned well, you basically don't want the animal looking like a long, lanky teenager.  Another thing is to look down the top of the animal.   You don't want the back of animal to like a “V”.  A flatter back is a sign of better muscle, and thus bigger steaks.

Grass fed versus Grain fed - Another topic is grass fed versus grain fed.  Grass fed means that the animal has not been given any grain/feed.  Grass fed beef has more of a yellow color to the fat versus the white fat that you are used to seeing in meat market.  Typically we allow our steers to run on grass and hay until 60 days before processing.  Feeding the steers grain for 60 days allows for the meat to get marbling without excess fat.

Aging the Meat - One key to tender meat is aging to meat while hanging on the rail.  Aging is not as common anymore and you may have to request that the processor do this.  Typically a carcass can hang for a minimum of two weeks and can hang longer, but the processor must check the meat daily to make that it does not dry out.  If you will pay attention to the menus at higher end steak houses, you will likely see "Aged Meat" somewhere on the menu.

Typical Average Cost - The costs can vary somewhat.  A typical average cost to purchase the beef from the farmer is $2.75 per pound hanging weight, with average rail weights around 600lbs , making a full beef around $1,650 to buy the meat from the farmer.  Grass fed purchase costs normally are going to be higher because it typically takes longer to get the animal to processing.    Processing costs will depend on how you have it cut and how you have it packaged.  We like to have our roasts and steaks vacuum packed to reduce the risk of freezer burn on the meat.  Processing fees will run around $0.60 per pound hanging weight, or $360 for a typically 600lbs rail weight.  Other fees that you need to ask about and maybe charged are kill fees and possibly a skinning fee depending on the processor.  Grass fed cost is going to be higher because it typically takes longer to get the animal to processing. 

Where to Find Beef – There are several ways to find beef for sale.  Every spring and fall 4-H and FFA youth show steers and need to sell their current show animal to purchase another one to show the next year.  You can contact your local County Extension Agent or the Argriculture teacher at your local school to find animals that are available.  Farmers will also run ads in the local newspaper and on Craigslist.  You can even check with your state or local food cooperative.  Two sites that you can search on is Cooperative Grocer Network and Coop Directory Services Listing.  For the state of Oklahoma, you can search the Oklahoma Food Cooperative

Additional resources
Retail Cuts of Beef – chart showing the different cut of beef
Buying Beef for Home Freezers – article by the Oklahoma Cooperative Services

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