Author Topic: Buying a whole cow from a farmer  (Read 7909 times)

Kaplin261

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Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« on: November 24, 2015, 07:32:51 AM »
Has any one did this? In my area I can buy a full cow for $5 a pound dressed weight. This is grass fed semi organic beef(not certified but seller claims organic). Processed from a USDA certified processing facility. I would make a investment of probably 2 freezers off of craigslist of $50 a piece. Use one all year and the other as needed but probably 6 months out of the year. This would about 400 pounds of beef so $2000. The freezers use $45 for the one used year round and $22.50 for the other the one used half a year.

I don't think my 2 adults and toddler family will be eating 400 pounds of beef a year. We may end up selling/giving some of it to friends and family.

Red Beard

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2015, 08:06:57 AM »
I've never done a whole cow, but for years we got half of a cow from a local farm and thought it was a great deal. It gave us a chance to try all of the "fancy" cuts of meat at a not fancy price as well as plenty of staples such as ground beef and stew meat.

We don't eat near as much red meat anymore, but if we did, this is the route I would go.

snacky

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #2 on: November 24, 2015, 08:10:11 AM »
I've bought whole animals from farmers, and split the cost & meat with a neighbor. i'm not buying a new freezer to accommodate more meat than I could eat in a year. ;)

the cost + quality are better than I could get in the store. I highly recommend going this route.

nereo

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #3 on: November 24, 2015, 08:23:09 AM »
We've done a 'cow share' - splitting the total amount of beef among four couples. 
The quality was excellent and the price was much better than I could get from CostCo.

One piece of advice - if you grind your own meat ask them NOT to grind any for you.  IMO burgers taste better when the meat's been ground the same day.

GoldenStache

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #4 on: November 24, 2015, 08:31:05 AM »
+1 to everyone saying split it up.

Split it with a neighbor or 3, save from buying and running an extra freezer. 

Save a ton if your power goes out and 400 lbs of meat goes bad.

Ceridwen

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2015, 08:33:43 AM »
+1 to everyone saying split it up.

Split it with a neighbor or 3, save from buying and running an extra freezer. 

Save a ton if your power goes out and 400 lbs of meat goes bad.


That would be my major worry. 

slschierer

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #6 on: November 24, 2015, 08:34:16 AM »
We sell cows to people prior to taking them to the butcher.  I think buying a cow straight from the farmer is a great deal!  We do, however, always advice against doing a whole cow unless our buyers have a very large family.  Too much goes to waste as you want to have the meat eaten within 12 months for quality reasons.  We actually sell by the 1/4 to people.  I would strongly suggest finding another family to go in with you on it.  With 2 adults and 2 toddlers you need no more than 1/2, but, frankly, 1/4 may be enough.  That being said, 400 pounds for a whole cow isn't a real big cow (I think ours usually run 500-600 after processing) so maybe 1/2 would be okay for your family.

GuitarStv

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #7 on: November 24, 2015, 08:37:46 AM »
+1 to everyone saying split it up.

Split it with a neighbor or 3, save from buying and running an extra freezer. 

Save a ton if your power goes out and 400 lbs of meat goes bad.


That would be my major worry. 

If your power goes out your freezer stuff should be fine for a couple days as long as it's packed tight and you don't open it.  Do you often have multi-day power outages?

Spork

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #8 on: November 24, 2015, 08:54:24 AM »
I've done whole pigs, whole lambs and 1/4 cows.  If you can find a supplier you like, it's a good way to go.

As to power outages, a small generator is really not bad insurance.  We have enough outages that it is a nice thing to have.  We are on a leg of the grid that has 4 houses on it.  Whenever there is a storm that knocks us out, we are at the bottom of the list for restoration.

edit: HOW DID I FORGET LAMBS?
« Last Edit: November 24, 2015, 09:23:52 AM by Spork »

Jack

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #9 on: November 24, 2015, 09:05:19 AM »
I've done whole pigs and 1/4 cows.  If you can find a supplier you like, it's a good way to go.

How does one go about finding such a supplier? I wouldn't even know how to start looking -- is there a website that lists and reviews farmers?

Spork

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #10 on: November 24, 2015, 09:10:11 AM »
I've done whole pigs and 1/4 cows.  If you can find a supplier you like, it's a good way to go.

How does one go about finding such a supplier? I wouldn't even know how to start looking -- is there a website that lists and reviews farmers?

Sadly, I've never been the "finder."  I was always just the "benefactor of someone else's finding."

We have a local charity organization that raises cows (and used to raise lambs) that are pretty awesome.  I found them through a friend's recommendation.  Sadly, the ag director quit and the quality dropped (and they stopped raising delicious lambs.)

My sister in law also raises pigs about every 2nd or 3rd year (when she forgets they're a pain in the ass from the last time.)  Her pigs are probably the best pork I've ever had.  And I can go by and scratch them behind the ears and feed them cookies for many months before.  I know they're being raised humanely.

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #11 on: November 24, 2015, 09:14:43 AM »
We raised and butchered our own grass fed/60 day grain finished steer.  The beef lasted us 2+ years.  It was decent beef, but had very little marbling (even with the grain finish), and had a touch of venison flavor.  Be aware that a beef animal is around 10% steaks (not counting round or chuck steak which I consider roasts) and 90% roasts and/or ground.  Every animal is different, get a sub-par steak at the grocery store and you move on, get a sub-par whole cow (mom and dad ended up with one that was like shoe leather) and you are stuck with it for the next 2 years.  Big difference between a spent dairy cow/aged out brood cow, and an 18-24 month old beef breed steer. 

nereo

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #12 on: November 24, 2015, 09:22:20 AM »
I've done whole pigs and 1/4 cows.  If you can find a supplier you like, it's a good way to go.

How does one go about finding such a supplier? I wouldn't even know how to start looking -- is there a website that lists and reviews farmers?

we just contacted the farms nearby that sold grass-fed beef at our community farmer's markets and local green-grocers.  About half had info on their website, the others it was just a 5 minute phone call to ask about price and availability. 

From my (limited) experience, some farms will only sell 'quarters' (which can weigh 100+ lbs) and not do all the butchering themselves.   Any place that caters to hunters should be able to cut your quarter and package it for freezing.

slschierer

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #13 on: November 24, 2015, 09:24:59 AM »
We raised and butchered our own grass fed/60 day grain finished steer.  The beef lasted us 2+ years.  It was decent beef, but had very little marbling (even with the grain finish), and had a touch of venison flavor.  Be aware that a beef animal is around 10% steaks (not counting round or chuck steak which I consider roasts) and 90% roasts and/or ground.  Every animal is different, get a sub-par steak at the grocery store and you move on, get a sub-par whole cow (mom and dad ended up with one that was like shoe leather) and you are stuck with it for the next 2 years.  Big difference between a spent dairy cow/aged out brood cow, and an 18-24 month old beef breed steer.

That's the truth!  Our cows are beef cows (usually an Angus/Simmental mix).  They're big and you can tell when they're ready to go to the butcher just by looking at them.  They should appear well-filled out.  We generally take ours in to the butcher when they're about 18 months old.  Much older than that, and they aren't good for much more than hamburger.  Grain finished cows tend to taste better and have more consistency in flavor.  We keep our cows on pasture all year round, but they are given corn daily for the last 6-9 months of their lives.  This will help with marbling and consistency of flavor.  I saw that the OP was looking at grass fed.  If you're used to eating grass fed, go this route.  If you don't usually buy grass fed, you probably aren't going to like it.  The flavor is just different.

I did note that the quote above mentions keeping the meat for 2 years.  The quality of the meat drops off significantly after 12 months, and at 2 years, it's pretty bad.  I wouldn't try to plan for 2 years of meat.

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #14 on: November 24, 2015, 09:34:49 AM »
In searching for such a supplier, you might use the term CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) - "meat CSA" or "beef CSA" with the name of a major city or your state (if you aren't specific, you'll likely find mostly vegetable growers - but they may be worth trying too). Beef CSAs often sell by the whole, half, or quarter - pork, goat, and lamb CSAs often sell by the whole or half, chicken CSAs often sell a subscription to a whole chicken per month over their season. Larger farms might be more flexible about availablity dates and share sizes, smaller farms might provide a less industrialized food chain. Many producers that operate CSAs also sell directly in smaller quantities (at higher markups), so you can often try some of their product before committing to a share.

Ceridwen

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #15 on: November 24, 2015, 09:37:04 AM »
+1 to everyone saying split it up.

Split it with a neighbor or 3, save from buying and running an extra freezer. 

Save a ton if your power goes out and 400 lbs of meat goes bad.


That would be my major worry. 

If your power goes out your freezer stuff should be fine for a couple days as long as it's packed tight and you don't open it.  Do you often have multi-day power outages?

At least once per year.  In Quebec, where we get a ton of snow, the power lines are very conveniently above ground instead of buried.

robartsd

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #16 on: November 24, 2015, 09:43:06 AM »
At least once per year.  In Quebec, where we get a ton of snow, the power lines are very conveniently above ground instead of buried.
If winter storms are the cause of the outages, keeping the chest freezer in an unheated space should greatly extend the length of time it can hold food during an outage.

Easye418

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #17 on: November 24, 2015, 09:47:26 AM »
I'm not a vegetarian at all and I enjoy a nice piece of steak/hamburger/red meat a few times a quarter, but it still makes me uncomfortable the whole idea of slaughtering a nice, friendly, and defenseless cow for meat.

Kaplin261

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #18 on: November 24, 2015, 09:49:43 AM »
We raised and butchered our own grass fed/60 day grain finished steer.  The beef lasted us 2+ years.  It was decent beef, but had very little marbling (even with the grain finish), and had a touch of venison flavor.  Be aware that a beef animal is around 10% steaks (not counting round or chuck steak which I consider roasts) and 90% roasts and/or ground.  Every animal is different, get a sub-par steak at the grocery store and you move on, get a sub-par whole cow (mom and dad ended up with one that was like shoe leather) and you are stuck with it for the next 2 years.  Big difference between a spent dairy cow/aged out brood cow, and an 18-24 month old beef breed steer.

This is what I'm worried about. I have to put a lot of trust into the farmer and the Processor who cuts the meat up. Who is to say the farmer swaps the cow that I'm suppose to get with a old dairy cow. Or the guy butchering the beef steals parts of the beef that are premium and substitutes with hamburger.

Then figure in the cost of the freezer, the risk power outages or appliance failure and sq ft sacrificed for storage.  This sounds like a risky endeavour.

robartsd

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #19 on: November 24, 2015, 09:56:06 AM »
I have to put a lot of trust into the farmer and the Processor who cuts the meat up. Who is to say the farmer swaps the cow that I'm suppose to get with a old dairy cow. Or the guy butchering the beef steals parts of the beef that are premium and substitutes with hamburger.
Most people who look into this are interested in trusting farmers that they can meet rather than a faceless industrial food system.

Cpa Cat

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #20 on: November 24, 2015, 09:57:41 AM »
We did a half cow and it took us forever to eat all the meat. The steaks were overall poor quality. Stringy, hard to chew. But the roasts and ground meat had a good taste. Grass fed/grain finished.

The next time we did a quarter share. This one was grass fed and grass finished. The meat had a poor taste (gamey - which it turns out can happen with grass fed) - and we were stuck with many pounds of meat. The steaks were good quality, but we had to seriously marinate them in order to make them taste good. It took us even longer to eat this meat than the half cow before, because of the taste. We became vegetarians before it was done, and gave away the rest of the meat to friends. Not a winner in the cash department!

That's the problem with buying a share of a cow - if you get a bad cow, you're stuck with it. In the normal distribution line, you rarely end up with a bad steak, because quality control eliminates that. And if you do by chance get a leathery steak, you know that next time you go to the store, it's going to be a different cow-piece.

Fishindude

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #21 on: November 24, 2015, 10:02:53 AM »
Be careful on this and know what you are getting in to.  I've bought freezer beef like this on numerous occasions when we had a house full of kids, and really don't think it is all that good of a deal.

You pay the producer $5 per pound dressed weight.  "Dressed" means guts removed only so you are still paying for lots of hide, hooves and bone that won't be edible meat.   Generally the processor also charges a fee on top of the producer to process and package the meat.  Will you have this fee also?

When you buy a whole cow a large part of it is not steaks and hamburger.   You will get a lot of arm roasts, flank steak, possibly ribs, liver, tongue, heart, etc. that you may or may not want. 

In the end I always felt like we got pretty economically priced steaks that were not always as good quality as what you would look at at the grocery and pick out, and high priced hamburger.  then a bunch of other stuff we had to get creative with and figure out how to use.   Also, a whole beef is a huge amount, should probably consider splitting it with another family or two.

The whole "grass fed" thing is a bunch of BS too.  Good meat is fed a bit of grain to get a little marbling or fat throughout the meat.  Grass fed beef isn't as good, nor as tender.

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #22 on: November 24, 2015, 10:07:43 AM »
How does one go about finding such a supplier? I wouldn't even know how to start looking -- is there a website that lists and reviews farmers?

Try here.

robartsd

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #23 on: November 24, 2015, 10:11:45 AM »
Perferring grass fed over grain fed is often a environmental and/or nutritional choice rather than a flavor (though this is a matter of individual taste) and/or economical choice. The flavor will likely depend on the grasses in the pasture the beef was rasied on (and the preferences of the particular animal in selecting from those grasses). The meat of pastured beef may not be as tender as feedlot beef because the animal gets more excercise.

nereo

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #24 on: November 24, 2015, 10:34:16 AM »
This is what I'm worried about. I have to put a lot of trust into the farmer and the Processor who cuts the meat up. Who is to say the farmer swaps the cow that I'm suppose to get with a old dairy cow. Or the guy butchering the beef steals parts of the beef that are premium and substitutes with hamburger.

Then figure in the cost of the freezer, the risk power outages or appliance failure and sq ft sacrificed for storage.  This sounds like a risky endeavour.

If you're thinking about it in economic terms, your total 'risk' is the amount that you pay for a quarter/half cow (approx $500-600 for a quarter).  This risk decreases as you consume meat in your freezer.  Your potential reward is what you'd save - in my experience 30-50% off what you'd pay at CostCo, or a savings of ~~$150-250.    You can tack on the extra energy of a chest freezer if you want (~300 kw/year, or ~~$30).

AS for risk associated with power-failure, meat inside a well-stocked and closed chest freezer will be fine for at least 48 hours.  It varies location to location, but how likely are you to experience a power-outage exceeding 2 days?  It certainly happens, but in most places it's rare (especially outside of winter).

As for worrying about the meat being swtiched - if you don't trust the farm selling you the meat, find another one.  If you buy quarters and have them processed yourself, take them to a reputable butcher.  Most will divide the meat up right in front of you if you care to stand around and watch for 10 minutes (really, it's amazing how fast these guys can turn a 125lb quarter into a few dozen steaks, some rounds, some ribs and a lot of chuck).  hunters tend to be a skeptical lot, so they're used to people watching over them.

If the flavor isn't what you hoped for you can make more burgers and stew and chili which doens't suffer in the least.  OTOH, I've gotten steaks that were far superior to the ones I could pick up at my local Safeway.

Whether it's worth it to you or not... only oyu can decide.  Personally, I got more satisfaction in knowing that I was supporting small, local farms than BigAg - the money saved was just a minor bonus.  We met the owners, knew exactly where the farm was and could see the cows develop.  we paid for a cow up-front, which got us an even better deal but added a bit of risk should somehting bad have happened (fire, disease).

ultiamtely - your call. It certainly was worth it to us.



dcozad999

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #25 on: November 24, 2015, 10:41:32 AM »
It's been said several times on here, but I will agree that you should go with a quarter side if they sell it that way, or share it with 3-4 more families.

A quarter side is a LOT of beef.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #26 on: November 24, 2015, 03:34:59 PM »
Haven't done beef before as we like pork almost as much and good pork is 1/3-1/4 the price of beef here. In general, it's a good idea to buy a few "retail" cuts to audition the farmer first.

Grass-finished beef can be truly excellent, but you need to relearn how to cook it. It also varies by breed. Currently the breed considered the gold standard around here for 100% pasture is Piedmontese.

An additional factor in "toughness" complaints above is that grass-finished carcasses are often cooled too fast, because the processor is used to handling corn-finished beef with its significant extra fat.

The fears about farmers or processors tricking you are just bizarre. These folks depend nearly 100% on word of mouth, goodwill, and return business. They have far less incentive to trick you than faceless factory meat producers.

If the $5 includes cut and wrap, your final meat price is still ~1.33x5 because of average loss when butchering, but I've seen reports of loss approaching 50% and there's no guarantee until they start cutting.

A whole cow is a LOT of meat. I'd be inclined to buy at most 1/4 or 1/2. Wrapped in paper it's fine for a year, in vacuum plastic 2-3 years is okay.

use2betrix

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #27 on: November 24, 2015, 05:06:39 PM »
400lb would literally last my fiancÚ and I about 6-8 months at best, and we've even cut back to where we used to be (used to be closer to 3lbs/day)

While not mustachian, we are very into fitness and high protein diets are necessary for our goals. I also have at least 6 eggs a day (some days 12) and 4 scoops of protein powder.

Unfortunately we live in a 5th wheel so a huge freezer is not a viable option.

OneCoolCat

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #28 on: November 24, 2015, 07:46:20 PM »
400lb would literally last my fiancÚ and I about 6-8 months at best, and we've even cut back to where we used to be (used to be closer to 3lbs/day)

While not mustachian, we are very into fitness and high protein diets are necessary for our goals. I also have at least 6 eggs a day (some days 12) and 4 scoops of protein powder.

Unfortunately we live in a 5th wheel so a huge freezer is not a viable option.

It doesn't matter how much you are into fitness, that much red meat is terrible on your arteries.

use2betrix

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #29 on: November 24, 2015, 08:06:25 PM »
400lb would literally last my fiancÚ and I about 6-8 months at best, and we've even cut back to where we used to be (used to be closer to 3lbs/day)

While not mustachian, we are very into fitness and high protein diets are necessary for our goals. I also have at least 6 eggs a day (some days 12) and 4 scoops of protein powder.

Unfortunately we live in a 5th wheel so a huge freezer is not a viable option.

It doesn't matter how much you are into fitness, that much red meat is terrible on your arteries.

I guess I should have specified. We eat that many lbs of meat in 6-8 months. Only about 1/2 to 1/3 or so is red. My mistake.

Fishindude

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #30 on: November 25, 2015, 05:43:32 AM »
Here's another thing regarding buying beef like this.
When you look at a steak in the grocery store, you can see how thick it is, how much bone is in it, and pretty much know if it's going to a be a good steak or not.   When you buy the whole beef, it's like unwrapping Christmas presents each time, because you don't know what your steak is going to look like.

I've had some we were real happy with and others, not so happy.

Wild game is similar.  I usually process myself, but when elk hunting out west the last several years we just took it to a processor for convenience.   In 2014, the processor took detailed butchering instructions and did a great job with my elk, just the way I wanted it done.  This fall a different processor was given the same instructions, and botched it all up.  he didn't leave the tenderloins whole, I got darned few steaks, and the steaks I did get were super thin.

Kaplin261

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #31 on: November 25, 2015, 07:54:44 AM »
A lot of great information in this thread, thanks for all the advice. So it looks like the best choice here is to buy small amounts of beef from a local farmer, do this is a couple times. If I get consistent results and enjoy the beef then make a investment of a 1/4 cow or find some friends to go in with on a whole cow and split it in quarters.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #32 on: November 25, 2015, 08:04:39 AM »
I forgot to add this, but depending on how well the processor walks you through the cut and wrap sheet, you might benefit from reading this post ahead of time.

http://ranchsteady.blogspot.com/2011/09/buying-side-of-beef-lesson-four-cuts-of.html

Spork

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #33 on: November 25, 2015, 08:42:23 AM »
When you buy a whole cow a large part of it is not steaks and hamburger.   You will get a lot of arm roasts, flank steak, possibly ribs, liver, tongue, heart, etc. that you may or may not want. 

...and if you don't want the tongue, I'll take it.  Forget how icky it looks.  It is probably one of the most under-appreciated bits of the cow out there.  They're delicious.

Jack

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #34 on: November 25, 2015, 09:23:16 AM »
After reading what you guys said about the typical prices I started to worry that this sort of thing wouldn't do me any good (as I usually pay less than $5/lb for things like chuck, brisket and short ribs, and very rarely buy steaks). Then I read the link thegoblinchief posted and found out that (sometimes) you can buy a forequarter at a discount (compared to a "half-of-a-half" or a hindquarter), which sounds perfect for me since almost all my favorite cuts come from the forequarter anyway!

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Re: Buying a whole cow from a farmer
« Reply #35 on: November 25, 2015, 10:13:56 AM »
We just purchased our second beef share.  We still actually have about 10lbs left from the previous but the chance only comes around so often.  Our first one, the farmer was the father of a friend and he knew the butcher personally so easily trusted.  The price was based on hanging weight and then we paid a per lb butchering/packaging price.  I don't remember the specifics but I did calculate the price per lb of butchered meat and it was right around $5/lb with 120 lbs of beef for our 1/4.  The meat was DELICIOUS.  They grass fed and then a month or so of grain finishing.  it's been about 1 year and  3 months and the meat we've been eating STILL tastes about as great as the first packages we ate (or no noticeable difference).  It will be gone this month. 

The most recent share was actually going to be 1/4 as well (we were splitting a half with another couple who approached us to be in on the share) and it would have been 175lb!  We decided to split the half 3-ways so it's more like 1/6th and we still ended up with 115 lb of meat.  This one had a flat rate of $4/lb of finished meat, wrapped and packaged.  Great deal!  I hope it's as tasty as the first.