Is buying a whole cow worth it? A guide to buying freezer beef

News

Many sides of beef hang in a meat locker at Jones Meat & Food Services in Rigby, Idaho, May 26, 2020. (Photo by Natalie Behring / AFP) (Photo by NATALIE BEHRING/AFP via Getty Images)

Buying a whole cow’s worth of meat, or even a fraction is an expensive proposition. Whether or not buying beef in this way is worth the money depends on what factors you value most.

A few months ago, a friend posted on social media that his family’s farm had a share of a cow available for purchase. As I have long been curious about the process of buying freezer beef, I decided to go in for a mixed 1/4 cow purchase.

The price was $2.40 per pound hanging weight, plus $15 for my portion of the slaughter fee and $0.62 per pound for processing. At 224 pounds hanging weight, this means I paid $537.60 to the farmer and $158.08 to the processor, for a total of $695.68

Live weight vs. hanging weight vs. take-home weight

If you have never purchased beef directly from the farmer, you may be confused about some of the terms.

  • Live weight – This is how much the cow weighs while it is alive.
  • Hanging weight – This is how much the cow weighs after it has been slaughtered, skinned and gutted. This is the weight that freezer beef is typically sold at.
  • Take-home weight – This is the weight of the meat you take home, cut and/or ground to your specifications. Expect this to be around 60% of the hanging weight, depending on the cuts you select.

What cuts are available?

With a mixed quarter, I purchased 1/4 of the hanging weight of the beef, with cuts from both the front and back of the cow. If I purchased a half cow, I would have had a similar mix of items, just more of them.

I was given a cut sheet to fill out and return to the processor in order to specify what I want, and how I wanted it packaged.

With some cuts, like ox tail and brisket, only one per cow is available. For example, when I filled out my cut sheet, I requested brisket. I received a brisket, but it was the point cut of the brisket only, no flat cut.

I received the following cuts:

  • Brisket
  • Chuck Blade Roast
  • Chuck English Roast
  • Chuck Short Ribs
  • Ground Beef
  • Ox Tail
  • Porterhouse Steak
  • Rib Steak
  • Round Tip Steak
  • Soup Bones
  • T-Bone Steak

The meat I received seems to be trimmed of excess fat and well-marbled. Ground beef is packaged in sealed bags and other cuts are vacuum sealed. I received a little more than half the hanging weight in finished products.

How does the price compare to the grocery store?

From a strict cost perspective, it would have been cheaper to purchase the equivalent cuts of beef from a local grocery store.

Based on actual June 2021 non-sale prices for USDA Choice-grade beef at local Columbus, Ohio grocery stores, I would have spent about $40 less loading a big cart full of retail packaged beef.

What other factors are there?

So, buying beef directly from the farmer cost $40 more than grocery store beef. There are a couple other things to consider.

  • I know that what I purchased was raised locally and wasn’t imported from somewhere else.
  • Many people are of the opinion that locally produced beef purchased directly is higher quality than commodity beef purchased in a retail setting. The comparison above was made against base-level grocery store meat. A comparison against higher grade products would produce a very different comparison.
  • The meat came vacuum sealed and pre-frozen If I bought that much at the grocery store, I would spend additional time and money packaging for freezing.
  • Having a supply of freezer beef means I’m relatively isolated from volatility in meat supply and prices. A small change in the price of ground beef could flip the scales the other way.

If you value those factors more than having $40 in your pocket, then buying meat this way is worth it. It’s also important to note that a different cut selection might completely change the value calculation.

How much freezer space will I need?

You will certainly need more space than your kitchen has available. A dedicated freezer in a garage or basement is likely the way to go. Prices range from under $200 for a model capable of keeping a quarter cow, to over $800 for larger models.

When I picked up my meat, it fit neatly into a 125 (4.1 cubic foot) quart cooler. It fills a 5 cubic foot freezer close to the top. A half cow should fill 8 cubic feet, and a whole cow 16 cubic feet. This can vary based on the weight of the cow.

What questions should I ask?

There are a number of questions you should ask before committing to purchasing a whole cow, or a portion of one.

  • How much will the meat cost per pound?
  • Am I paying based on the hanging weight, or the weight of the finished products?
  • Is there a separate fee to process the meat?
  • How long will it be before the beef can be picked up?
  • How far do I need to drive to get the meat?
  • How long will it take your family to go through that much meat?
  • How long will the beef last in the freezer?
  • Do I need a bigger freezer
  • If buying a quarter, is it a mixed quarter, or just the front or back quarter?

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending on NBC4i.com

Today's Central OH Forecast

Get severe weather email alerts

Don't Miss

Local News

Full news conference: Ohio's chief medical officer discusses back-to-school recommendations

Updated Morning Forecast: July 27, 2021

Columbus council: New police contract ‘not perfect,’ will allow independent investigations into officer misconduct

Residents mixed on Ohio's mask recommendation for schools

Fire breaks out on apartment roof above Urban Meyers Pint House in Dublin

RAW: Fire on roof of apartment above Urban Meyer's Pint House in Dublin

More Local News