Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Our First Whole Cow!

Monday evening we picked up our first entire cow's worth of beef. We had bought an 1/8 of a pastured cow a year and half ago, and simply showed up and took our box of beef. It lasted us 3 months.

When the farm where we purchase our pastured eggs and raw milk mentioned that they had a cow left a few months ago, I jumped and told her we'd take the whole thing (planning, of course, to split it up with some other families). My hope is that 1/2 a cow will provide us with beef for the year.

In case you've ever wondered just how much meat you'd get from one pastured Angus, I thought I would post the breakdown here, along with costs.

To begin, typically you agree with a farmer on a price per hanging weight of the cow. As it hangs and ages (typically over 10 days or so) the meat shrinks. I think this is because the fat dries out, so the less fatty the cow, the less weight lost (but we all love beef fat and think it is good for us, so I was not looking for a lean cow).

Our cow had a hanging weight of 527 pounds and we had agreed to a price of $2.50 per pound hanging weight. The butcher said that our cow only lost about 25% of his weight (which was on the smaller side of weight loss?). That brought our grand total to $1,317.50 for the entire cow, which figures to about $3.33 per pound on average (though it also depends on your actual packages, some of my groupings have averaged under $3 a pound). Mind you this is for local, natural (not technically organic due to a some of the feed they get during winter), mainly-pastured beef. The equivalent in the grocery store would likely range from $5-$25 a pound depending on the cut. I am also unsure if the weight even includes all the items listed below under "other" as many people would not request those items.

What does that include, you ask?

Here's a photo of our upright freezer. I actually had already taken out a 1/8 portion + a little extra before the photo was taken, but you can see that it was full! I would say that 1 full cow just barely fits into a standard upright freezer.

This was our full inventory:

Tenderloin 3
Short Ribs 5
Stew Meat 6
Ground Beef 121 (1lb packages)

Roasts (3-4 pounds each)
Rump 3
Sirloin Tip 4
Cross Rib 4
Heel of Rump 4
Beef of Bone 6
Chuck 12

Packaged Steaks (1.5" thick, 2 to a package)
Tri-Tip Steak 2
Flank 2
Sirloin Tip 6
Rib 8
T-Bone 8
Sirloin 9
Round 17
Tenderized Round 17

Liver 6
Heart 1
Tongue 1
Oxtail 1
Soup Bones 9 packages
Dog Bones 4 large bags (these would not have fit in the freezer, but gratefully, they were not for us)

We found out that a few of the other organ meats (sweetbreads, and perhaps something else) have to be requested before the animal is killed. I think they have to be harvested immediately, and it also depends on the age of the animal. So, for this time, we were unable to get them.

I requested our steaks 1.5" thick. Theoretically, we might have had "more" individually cut steaks had I requested them 1" thick, but I find it easier to prepare juicy rare steak if it is 1.5" thick, and then, hopefully, you might have leftovers to slice and add into other dishes (like a steak-strip Caesar salad). The lovely thing about coordinating buying an entire cow, is that I got to make those decisions! I also had to attempt to fairly divide the portions up (into 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, and two 1/16 portions) and hope that our friends are all happy with their spoils.

I may have also found a contact for doing something similar with lamb (though our food budget will be quite tight for a while after stocking up!). In the past, I have also been part of bulk, direct-from farm, organic, pastured chicken buying. If you can find groups doing this, or take on the challenge of finding a good farm and other interested real foodies, it will certainly save you money and provide higher-quality meat in the long run. Spring is a great time to do this, as many people have a tax return to work with (however, the coordination work must take place earlier - during winter), but there are certainly animals being butchered all year round, so don't think you've missed out.

For contacts in your area, see the side bar of resources, or perhaps better yet, contact your local chapter leader of the Weston A Price Foundation.

This post is part of the Real Food Wednesday blog carnival hosted by Cheeseslave. For other stories, anecdotes, recipes, and posts relating to Real Food, go check it out!


  1. Boy does this make me with I had an extra freezer!

  2. Marianne, A couple of other links I've found helpful in finding local sustainable butchers or the option to buy whole cows or chickens etc...

  3. Believe it or not, we got that freezer for $25 on Craigslist!

    Sarah - Thanks so much for the links. I have Eat Wild, but I hadn't heard of the Eat Well Guide. I will add it now!

  4. I just found this link while searching for guides in purchase a whole cow. Thanks for the advice. Anything you wan to add to this post now that you are finished with this cow. Anything you learned
    through buying this cow?

  5. Hi Karen!

    Thanks for commenting and asking such a great question. I would add that in this cow purchase, I tried hard to limit ground beef and take every possible cut on the cow. What I learned was that some of those cuts (low-end steaks and roasts) are just so terribly tough that there is not a great way to prepare them. The roasts I can always make due with by puncturing them all over and marinating them in buttermilk for 3 days. Anything is tender after that! But the steaks were much harder, because if I punctured and marinated with buttermilk, they would hardly seem like a steak.

    We have since ordered another 1/2 cow to split with friends, and I requested that all the "beef of bone" roasts, "round" and "tenderized round" steaks, simply be put into the ground beef. I also never used the heart previously, so I requested that the heart be ground up and mixed into the ground beef.

    That said, our experience with our more recent beef purchase was not as pleasant. I felt like the butcher was sketchy. They couldn't tell me how much my final product weighed, so I had no idea how much weight it lost. They seemed rather hasty to get me out of their facilities. In the process, they forgot my bones and organ meats (and it was too far of a drive for me to go back and get them later). The worst is that we have found that the meat does not all taste the same. I am suspicious they swapped some of our good cuts with cuts from a less healthy animal (they can fetch a higher price from restaurants). So, my other piece of advice is to make sure your farmer has been working with their butcher for a long time and feels that they are trustworthy. Make sure you talk with the butcher up front and let them know you are interested in knowing what the final weight is and go over all of your order on site.

    Hope that helps!

  6. Thank you so much. The helpful hints I wrote down and will be ready when I talk to the butcher.
    That is too bad about your last experience. I have had that same similar situation with another butcher. They forgot my organ meat too. It just did not feel worth going back for it as it was an hour drive. I have never bought a whole cow but am sooooo excited. It is a big investment.

  7. Purchased a cow that weighed in at live weight 950lbs how much should I have that can be cut up..... weight wise

  8. Hi Anonymous - I am sorry to say that I don't have much experience estimating from live weight. I know hanging weight usually loses 25-30%. Perhaps you could report back?


Questions and Comments welcome! If you would prefer to contact me privately, please email mariannescrivner (at) gmail (dot) com.


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