Buying Beef or Lamb From the Farmer

There are many articles out there addressing this and to be sure, each producer may do things just a bit different, so please don’t take this article as the end all for ‘how to purchase beef from a farmer.’  This is what we do.

Step by step.

  1. If it is important to you, ask questions or visit the producer’s website (if they have one – many don’t,  we are producers not techies or salesmen) about how the animals are handled and raised.

Sample Question:

  1. Are the beeves you sell fully grass finished or grain finished (feedlot) do they receive grain on pasture? If so, is the grain non-GMO?
  2. Do you vaccinate your animals?  Are the animals you sell to me treated with antibiotics, synthetic dewormers, hormonal implants,
  3. Is your farm and animals raised organically?  certified organic (3rd party certification)?, (Certified organic animals/meat must be processed in a certified organic abattoir, all this adds tremendously to the cost of certified organic but doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better than your local producer.)  For example, many of us raise fully grass-fed and finished from conception to consumption, no implants, no synthetic dewormers, no antibiotics, etc, etc.  But, we might treat some brush in the next paddock with weed killer, so no way can that animal be certified organic.  Also, even if our farm and animals could be certified organic, if there isn’t a certified organic butcher shop, the meat cannot be certified organic.  I would have to make a 4 hour one way drive to a certified organic butcher.  Not going to happen.
  4. Why can’t i just ring up and you have a beef available?  Don’t you keep cattle year round?  Yes, we keep cattle year round, but most of us are cow/calf producers and will only finish enough animals to fill orders placed six months or more in advance.  Once an animal is finished, it needs to go to slaughter – every day that it is still on pasture, it is losing money.   Most of our animals are sold as calves through traditional markets, so if you haven’t ordered a beef well in advance, we won’t have saved back enough beeves to finish one for you.  Also, sometimes the weather plays havoc with finishing times as well.  If you want factory finished feedlot beef, you’ll have to go the store.

You may want to visit the farm before making a purchase, but remember, we are producers, not salesmen – if you aren’t serious about making a purchase, please don’t take up too much time.  Be prepared ahead of time with questions.  You may decide after you meet with the farmer and see how he operates, not to purchase, but don’t take up time just out of curiosity.

If you decide to purchase, already have it in your mind how much you want to buy.  For example, a typically grass-finished carcass will weigh 600-700 lbs.  Be sure to ask the producer, his might be bigger or smaller, but armed with that information, you can quickly determine whether you need a whole, half, or quarter carcass AND you can budget for it.  Be prepared that the carcass may be larger than the producer says – we cannot guarantee an exact hanging weight.  We are just not that good.  We can usually get within 50 lbs more or less.  Quarter carcasses are more likely sold as a split side rather than a hind or fore quarter, but ask; some producers sell both ways.  Half and quarter (split side) will be more expensive – Why?  because we have to find another buyer(s).

So, figure out  how much  meat your family will eat in a year or 6 months.  Most of us only offer beeves once or twice a year since it is time consuming to sell directly to the consumer, however, we are happy to do so if you are serious about quality meat for your family – we share that vision with you.

For a rough figuring, say your family eats 2 lbs of beef per day.  A whole beef of 600 lbs carcass will yield about 360 lbs of packaged meat.  If you want enough for a year – buy two beeves.  You must let the producer know at least 3-4 months in advance so he can keep the animal for you on pasture plus have it booked in at the butcher.  Many local butchers shut down for deer season, which means all domestic animals have to be butchered, hung, and out by 1 October.  They won’t take more in until the first of December, so it is critical to let the producer know well in advance if you want any.  Spring time purchases can be just as critical because so many people want to get animals in.

Once you’ve settled on a price (this will vary a LOT), then you may be expected to make a down payment to hold your beef.  This is reasonable.  Kind of like making a down payment on a vacation trip or anything else you’ve spoken for to do in the future.  Most of the time, you will pay the producer for the beef and the butcher for the processing.  Our processor charges 44 cents per pound hanging weight for basic processing and $30 as a kill fee.  But, i will tell you, that he charges less than most places and certainly less than a USDA inspected plant.  If you want extras like burger patties, extra tenderizing, excessive deboning, or other specialties, these will be an additional cost.  Work that out with the butcher.  Your producer will give you the contact information.

Retail Beef Cuts – most butchers are glad to help you with your custom order, but do a bit of study ahead to make best choices.  Also, remember, local butchers aren’t going to be into fancy, exotic cuts, so ask about special cuts, but you may not get exactly what you want.  You’ll also be asked how thick you want steaks cut and how many to a package, what size roasts and what kind.  Deboned or bone-in.  (i personally like a lot of bone – makes a ton of soup stock or treats for your dog, however, i always get my rump roasts deboned because i make corned beef with them).  How many lbs of burger in a package (1 or 2)?  Organ meats?, Suet?  These are just a sampling.

The butcher will tell you when the animal will be taken in to the butcher and it will likely be killed that day.  If you want organ meats, you MUST notify the butcher in advance!  Don’t forget this.  It is not the producers responsibility to tell the butcher how you want your animal custom processed.  If you don’t notify him, it will probably be thrown away, after which it cannot be salvaged.  If you wait until after the calf is delivered to call the butcher, do so as soon as possible.  Don’t make the butcher track you down and keep them waiting on how to process your calf.  This is not polite.

The producer will likely notify you within a day of the weight of the animal and what you own him.  The animal is yours now and has your name on it, pay him promptly!

Once the butcher calls you that the beef (or lamb) is ready for pickup, GO GET IT!  Some butchers may start charging storage if you leave it for long.  Just go get it and pay him for goodness sake.

How Much Freezer Space?  Allow 20 lb per cubic foot.  That’s packing it in there, though, and won’t be handy for sorting and finding what you need.  It will keep better in a chest type freezer kept near 0ºF versus your frig freezer or even a stand up freezer.  A stand up freezer certainly takes less floor space, but the chest type is typically more energy efficient as well.

What breed?  Some breeds are naturally more lean than others, but if it’s in the feedlot on a high grain diet, it’s gonna be fat regardless if it’s Corriente or Angus.  On grass, the genetics of the animal will be more expressed, but by and large, the producer will take the animal to a determined end point.  Grass finished will generally have less cover and internal fat that grain finished.

Hope this helps!  Do some online googling and research – there are loads of info out there.  Don’t assume the producer is producing in such manner that is important to you.  Don’t complain about the price or the lack of availability.  If you think a producer is too expensive, just shop elsewhere – don’t complain about it.

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