We all want “good” meat. Grass-fed cows are much closer to what our Paleolithic ancestors ate than those obese, corn-fed cows, right? It’s better for us. The same goes for pigs, chickens, turkeys, and whatever other animals you like to eat. They’re healthier for us when they are healthy, and that means they need to eat the right food. Their own “Paleo” diet, if you will.
You get it. But how on God’s earth are you supposed to find the meat, afford the meat, then store the meat in bulk in your house? Fortunately for you, I just bought my own pig and cow and I’ll tell you all about how I did that. I can assure you that you’ll be quite pleased with the price of everything. Here’s what I did.
Find a partner.
I found a friend who was as interested in buying local, pasture-raised animals to eat as I was, who had a bit of cash to spare. By doing that, I cut my cost down by half and still got a sweet deal on my meat by buying in bulk. As with most things, the more meat you buy, the cheaper it is. If you have a large family and/or a lot of freezer space, you won’t need a partner in this. Another way to avoid having a partner is to just prepare yourself to spend a little more money than you would if you bought twice as much.
Buy a freezer.
I went on Craigslist and bought myself a slightly used, energy efficient 21 cubic foot freezer, which breaks down to about 3 feet high x 3 feet wide x 2.5 feet deep. In other words, it fits in my dining room, but it’s sort of an eyesore. Yes, I put my freezer in my dining room because saving $643 on high quality meat was worth that much to me. If I had a basement or a garage, I’d happily put it in there. Even a large closet would do, or a mud room or something. I got the kind that opens up from the top, but my partner bought one on Craigslist that stands upright like a refrigerator. You could fit an entire processed steer in a full-sized upright freezer like his and I believe you could fit about the same in mine. I paid $140 for mine and he paid $80 for his (yes, he got a way better deal.). Both prices are not bad at all, though. Even if we only bought the two batches of meat we bought, we’d still save money. Hold on and I’ll tell you more about the price in a minute.
Find a grass-fed/pasture-raised meat provider.
I used www.eatwild.com, but you can also use the following websites or many others. Just google “grassfed beef (or other animal)” and you’ll come up with a ton of sources.
The other thing you can do is go to the farmers market if you have one in your area and ask the meat vendors if they sell in bulk.
Do a bit of research
There are tons of ranches and farms out there, some of which are better than others. Do your research to find out if what you’re buying straight from the rancher is better than what you’d find in your local conventional grocery store. Call them (you’re going to have to call them to place the order anyway) and ask the following questions:
1. What do your animals eat? You want them to say grass or other appropriate foods. For example, the cow I got was completely grass fed. It came from a ranch that is organic, but not certified so. In other words, they don’t spray their grass, but they didn’t pay the $10,000 or so a year to get certified, either. That keeps their costs down. If they say their animals were fed mostly grass and then corn at the end, you’re going to miss out on a lot of the grass fed benefits. And if it’s corn and it’s not organic corn, then it’s even worse.
Pigs, on the other hand, don’t live on just grass. They’re omnivorous like we are, and eat, among other things, roots, bulbs and tubers, leaves, insects, and even snakes sometimes. They’ll eat nuts, fruits, and eggs, AND grass. When we asked our pig source, www.beyondorganicfarm.com, what their pigs ate, they replied:
These pigs were fed organically from the day we bought them as 40lb
wieners, they have not had any vaccinations nor antibiotics and
although they are not “certified organic,” they have eaten a diet of
certified natural feed (all crops in it were certified organic except
for the millet which is certified natural), brewery grain given to us
by Twisted Pine Brewing, our own farm grass, and our leftover
vegetables. These pigs have lived happy lives outside in an over-sized
pen. This is far from conventionally produced meat and the taste
should prove that.
What about the “brewery grain?” You’ll find that a lot with pasture-raised animals. In the cold, snowy winters, it’s really hard for ranchers to get enough calories into their animals, so they use silage to supplement their diets, which is moist, fermented grains. It’s not the best situation, but it’s pretty hard to avoid. At least they’re fermented grains, right?
Here’s a website that describes the natural diet and living situations for the most commonly eaten animals.
2. What are their living conditions? You want them to say that they’re mostly outdoors grazing on pasture. The only time pasture raised animals usually come inside is in VERY bad weather. If they’re being raised in a place where there’s often bad weather in the winter, a lot of ranchers will move their animals to a more suitable place during that time. Like in Colorado, some ranchers keep their cattle up at higher elevation in the summer where it’s cool, and then bring them down to lower elevations in the winter. You can ask them all these questions. You just want to know that they didn’t spend most of their lives cooped up eating grass hay from a bale.
Other than that, if they’re social animals, as most of our favorite meats are, they should be raised in groups. Sometimes being isolated is the most unhealthy thing you can do to an animal. Again, check out that link from above to see how particular animals should be housed.
When I asked my beef provider at Circle Arrow Longhorns how their cattle lived, she said, “Yes, it is 100% grass fed. We do not finish on corn or anything else. They basically just roam around and graze as in their natural environment.”
3.Do they receive any antibiotics? If they receive antibiotics, they should not be sold to you. You don’t want to eat antibiotics. A lot of small ranchers will give their animals antibiotics if it’s necessary and then sell those animals to slaughterhouses or distributors who aren’t so concerned about those things.
Price it out.
We bought half of a side of a cow from Circle Arrow Longhorns. Yes, that’s a quarter of a cow, but for some reason they phrase it as “half a side.” Half a side was $471 total, with butchering and processing. That’s $2.69 per pound for 175 pounds of meat. You read that right. $2.69 per pound of organic, grass-fed beef – all cuts.
That means we’ll both get about 88 pounds of meat – ground beef, sirloin, roasts, ribs, the best fillets, and the organs and fat (for pemmican, of course!). If you were to buy even ground grass-fed beef in the store, it would be at least $6/lb. And that’s just ground. Good cuts go for upwards of $20/lb, but you know that already. If I ate 2 lbs of beef a week (and that’s a lot), that means my portion of the meat will last me about 10 months. It’s packaged to last about a year.
I figure if good beef is, on average, about $10/lb (for all cuts) and I bought it for $2.69/lb, I saved about $643 on my 88 lbs of beef. Even if I only bought organic, grass-fed ground beef at Whole Foods for $6.99/lb all year, I’d still be saving $378 on this local, grass-fed, organic beef.
As for the pig, we ordered half of a pig and got about 80 lbs of meat total. We were able to tell the processing plant exactly what we wanted – how much ham, bacon, ground, chops, etc. We were also able to request no sulfite/sulfates in the curing process (or not have it cured at all). The price with processing and packaging ended up at $3.42/lb, which is really, really cheap compared with grocery store prices for high quality pig. It’s hard to even find organic pork in stores, much less pasture-raised and local. If you buy pork chops from Whole Foods, they’re at least $5/lb, right? And if you buy bacon in bulk from the meat counter, it’s about $3.50/lb at least. So we got all amazing cuts of organic, pasture-raised pork for the same price as non-organic, non-pasture-raised bacon. Sweet.
Get your meat.
I am lucky enough to live in a place where high quality meat is a priority to a lot of people. So we just had to call these places up, place our order and then pick our meat up – no shipping costs at all. If you can do that, you’re in luck. Otherwise you’ll have to either drive some distance to get your meat or have it shipped, which can add quite a bit to the total. However, even if it’s shipped, you’ll probably save money.
It took us about a month to get the pig, from the time we ordered it. And about 2 months with the cow. With small farms like this they only slaughter at certain times of the year. Oh, and what does 20, 30, 80 lbs of meat look like? I actually only ended up taking about 20 lbs of the pig, and it filled a reusable grocery bag without a problem.
You can do this with any animal you want. Similar process, just different animal. I will do this again and again, and I feel a weird security knowing that I have all the meat I need in my freezer and it came from a place I totally trust. The only worry I have is my freezer giving out on me. Make sure to check your freezer every so often to make sure it’s working. Good thing mine’s conveniently located in my dining room, next to my kitchen, right? I can check that thing at every meal if I want to!
Happy hunting for your local, pasture-raised animals. If I missed anything here and you still have questions, feel free to comment and I’ll respond with an answer. Anyone else have anything to add on buying meat in bulk?