Grass-fed Beef

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About our Herd

We have a cow-calf and grassfed finishing operation in which the calves are kept with their mothers until they wean naturally, then are kept in nearby pastures as they grow older. At this time, we are keeping the female offspring indefinitely. The male offspring become available for sale usually at two years of age. The reason for keeping them so long is that grassfed cattle grow more slowly and their meat is tougher until they reach biological maturity. This finishing process takes 18 to 24 months in most animals. At that point, the meat has the delicious, tender characteristics that make grassfed beef a favorite.

Our herd was expanded in the Fall of 2017 to 21 momma cows, mostly Brangus (a cross of the famous Angus line with the heat-resistant Brahman line). We now have seven grass-fed steers born December, 2017, through May, 2018. They will be ready for harvest starting in December 2019 and continuing through May 2020. Their ten sisters will join the breeding herd for the 2019-2020 season, making a total of 31 momma cows (assuming none of the older cows get sick and have to be retired). The new calf crop is still being born. So far we have six steers, and they should be ready for harvest starting in November 2020.

About Our Grassfed Beef

Grassfed beef comes from cattle fed only their mother's milk (until they are weaned) and grasses. They are "grass finished" because they eat only grass as they gain weight up to the time of processing. (Our cattle are also raised under USDA organic certification, which means they are never exposed to antibiotics*, herbicides, pesticides, growth and other hormones, GMO substances, and pretty much any synthetic substances.)

Grassfed beef is said to have, and probably does have, better nutrition and health benefits than the usual grain-fed beef. The Web is full of sites that will recite these advantages without giving their sources.

We have put together a scholarly review of the literature that reaches the same conclusions. It also suggests that beef in general, and grassfed beef in particular, is much more heart healthy that was previously thought. Grassfed beef also sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so much that it reduces this greenhouse gas when soil sequestration is taken into account. By contrast, grainfed cattle increase this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

*What, you may ask, about animals that get sick? Excellent question. The USDA National Organic Program (which is the regulatory framework for all certified organic operations in the United States of America), requires that animals do receive antibiotics and other appropriate care if they become ill. The grassfed standards require the same. These animals are then sold as "conventional", not "organic" or "grassfed". Fortunately, animals that are raised under the healthy conditions of grazing wide-open pastures usually do not get sick. For example, we do not apply treatments for worms but do rotate the cows through different pastures so that they do not return to the same area within 30 days. The worm life cycle is about 30 days, so any worms that may have been dropped in manure will have died by the time the cattle return.
In the future, some of the calves may require antibiotic treatment for illness and will no longer be certifiable as organic or grassfed, and will not be sold as such. We track our animals individually and will be able to tell you the full history of any animal in which you may be interested.

How to buy our Grassfed Beef

Briefly, sign up for an account with us and then reserve your order on the online store. Your reservation becomes official when you pay the deposit what what you are ordering. Full payment based on our estimate of the hanging weight is due just before we deliver the animal to the processor, and we will either issue a refund or request a small additional payment when we receive the official hanging weight of your order from the processor.

In more detail:

We sell our meat in bulk: you buy a whole animal, half an animal (a "side of beef"), or a quarter of an animal. When we have buyers for an entire animal*, we ask each buyer to make arrangements with one of the processors who are approved by our Animal Welfare certifying agency (A Greener World, AGW). The arrangements consist of selecting which cuts of meat you want for your portion of the animal, how you want them packed (paper or vacuum wrap), and how you want to pay the processor for this work. Then, we take the animal to that processor, who is responsible for the next steps.
*We use the term "animal" instead of "cow" because cows are usually older with tougher meat: what you want and what we provide are "steers" and "heifers", which are younger and tastier. The type of animal is Bos taurus and Wikipedia has a very nice discussion of the problem with the word "cow" as the singular for the plural term "cattle".

What happens next? The animal is treated gently until it is time for slaughter, which is carried out humanely. This is an important point that the Animal Welfare certifying agency checks when it does its regular inspections of the processing plant. Then, the head, skin, feet, and entrails are removed and the remaining carcass is weighed. This is the "hanging weight" on which your costs are determined. The advantage to you of using this measure for pricing is that you do not have to pay for things that do not contribute to your meat. The hanging weight is roughly two-thirds of the live weight. The carcass is then "aged" in a cool room for up to three weeks to develop tenderness and flavor. Then, the meat is cut to your specifications, wrapped, and delivered as arranged.

How about special cuts? Different peoples value different parts of the animal. Some cultures value the cheeks, some the tongue, some the stomach, and so forth. Other cultures simply cannot stand these same parts of the animal. Lots of people like the liver and/or soup bones. The processor will be happy to work with you on your animal. If you have an interest in parts of the animal that our other customers probably do not want, please let us know and we will try to arrange for a friendly donation of parts that otherwise would go to waste.

How about the quarter-animal portion? Who gets the front and who gets the back? This is important because most people want the steaks that come from the back half of the animal. If you buy a whole side (half an animal), you get all these. If you want only a quarter, we will negotiate on your behalf with whomever bought the other quarter on that side so everyone gets a fair share of what she or he wants.

How Much Does the Meat Cost?

The average price varies with how much you buy and is about $10-11 per lb of packaged meat*. This includes ground beef, which usually is about half of the meat from the animal, as well as all the steaks, roasts, and other cuts that you select. The figure $10-11/lb is what you use to compare with retail prices in stores. But, there is another figure based on "hanging weight" that looks like it's less but is not the same figure. Hang on to your hat...

Here is the brief version; the more exact version follows below. When cattle are slaughtered, they are weighed after removing the skin, head, legs, and entrails. This weight is called the "hanging weight" and is the national standard for pricing beef. The "hanging weight" is about 2/3 of the live weight of the animal before slaughter. While the meat is aged for one to three weeks in a cooler in preparation for cutting of the actual portions you receive, it loses water and another about 1/3 of its weight. The end result is the "packaged weight". As described below, a live animal weighing 1,100 lb typically yields a "hanging weight" of about 700 lb and a "packaged weight" of about 450 lb. So you would paying exactly the same amount for 450 lb "packaged weight" at $10/lb (neglecting processing fees), 700 lb "hanging weight" at about $6.50, and 1,100 lb "live weight" at about $4/lb.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture promotes transparency in the marketplace by publishing periodic reports on a wide variety of agricultural goods including a one-page report on grassfed beef. You can see the latest report here. The report for April 26, 2019, is here.

A fun part of this report is the comparison of prices of grassfed cuts of meat to the corresponding conventional cuts. You will see some amazing differences if you look at this portion in the right-hand column in the middle table and figure of the report.

In the reports for grassfed beef, you can see that the average price to consumers is more than $7.00 per pound. The definitions are not stated in the report, but a similar report produced by the USDA for the individual state of Vermont, the Vermont Monthly Beef Report states that processing fees are not included in the prices paid by consumers for whole, half, and quarter caracasses.

Now, at last, we have the words needed to talk about pricing. We are asking $5.00 to $5.50 per pound "hanging weight", depending how large a portion you buy. The national average for grassfed beef sold to consumers is more than $7.00 per pound "hanging weight". Processing, which is not included in the national average, adds another dollar or so per pound "hanging weight". Weight loss during aging in the cooler adds another few dollars per "packaged weight" pound. So you wind up paying about $10 per pound "packaged weight".

Here is a detailed breakdown of the costs assuming a live weight of 1100 lb, dressing percentage (ratio of hanging weight to live weight) of 62.5%, ratio of packaged weight to hanging weight of 66% (due to dehydration), butcher fee of $65.75, and plastic vacuum wrapped butcher price of $1.07/lb. The high points are duplicated in this table:

Size Hanging Weight (HW) Price to farm per lb HW Subtotal: Farm Price Subtotal: Butcher Fee (plastic wrapping) Total Cost Packaged Weight Average Price/lb
Whole 688 lb$5.00$3,503.25$877.00$4,314.50447 lb$9.65
One-half 344 lb$5.25$1,870.44$471.38$2,275.06223 lb10.19
One-quarter172 lb$5.50$1,011.06$268.56$1,213.88112 lb10.87

We prefer payment by check or money order because it is less expensive for you. If you prefer to pay by debit or credit card, we will ask for a 3% convenience fee because that is what we have to pay the card processing company to execute your transaction. Please feel free to let us know if you have thoughts about this matter.

* Why, you may ask, is grassfed beef so expensive? The answer lies in the arithmetic: a conventionally raised calf can be ready for slaughter at 15-18 months when given hormones and then finished (that is, raised to slaughter weight) on grain starting at age 9 to 12 months old. The same calf without hormones has to be finished for about 24-30 months on grass and even so will wind up weighing less than the grain-fed calf. Since cattle are sold by weight, the grassfed animal will bring less money despite requiring care, space, and grass for a much longer time. Concentrated animal feeding operations are very efficient, but they reach their efficiency by packing animals together so tightly that routine antibiotics have to be given to prevent disease outbreaks. Grassfed operations keep the growing animals right where they were born, with plenty of access to pasture, fresh water, and clean air, and without artificial growth stimulants like hormone implants and routine antibiotics in their feed. This is less efficient. Therefore the price is higher. If you have a different understanding, please do let us know!.

How much Freezer Space will I need?

From Producer’s Guide to Pasture-Based Beef Finishing, "A common question from potential freezer beef consumers is 'how much freezer space do I need?' A good rule of thumb is one cubic feet of freezer space will be needed to store 30 lbs of meat. This number may need to be increased if packages of meat are oddly shaped and do not stack well."

Can You Sell Me Certified Organic Beef?

We can sell you a certified organic animal but not the resulting meat. Why? There are no certified organic processing facilities in the state of Texas, despite growing consumer demand for certified organic beef. The closest suitable processing facilities are in Arkansas and Colorado, according to our wise and helpful consultants at ATTRA. Our cows and their offspring are fully free-range and eat certified organic hay. Most of their calves are now certified organic. (A few were born too soon after their mothers arrived on our farm in late 2017, so they are certified grassfed but not certified organic.)
When we talk with potential customers, we find that many people want grass-fed beef but don’t care as much about organic certification as long as they know where the meat came from. Please let us know if you have suitable processing facilities or other opinions on this matter!