Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Where's the Beef?

Or more correctly...where is our beef going to be coming from?

I've been doing a lot of work trying to figure out the best source for our family's meat. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? We've decided to forgo meat from typical grocery store and are going to start buying farmer direct. And as long as we were taking that plunge we thought we'd give grass-fed, no grain, no hormones or antibiotics beef a whirl. Our thought is that we'll do this first. Buy the very best that we could imagine and see how it stacks up. If it turns out that we have access to a grain finished animal next then we'll evaluate how they compared in the way the animal was treated, the taste, the cost and figure out which is going to work for us. So I've been on-line trying to track down a farmer.

It sounds pretty easy to do and really if we had no budgetary constraints we would be in great shape. There are farmers that have 1/4s ready right now and some that will be coming up. Most grass fed beef does get butchered in the fall in order to have had the maximum time on pasture without the expense of hay all winter for the farmer. In SE Wisconsin you quickly find that grass fed beef is not cheap. As in so not cheap that I could EASILY spend my entire grocery budget for last year just buying a 1/4 or 1/2 from a farmer right now. There are some that charge upwards of $8/lb for their beef. No judgement, but that is so seriously expensive protein!

I'm starting to find farmer's that are more in the $4/lb range and may even have a lead on one in SW Wisconsin that may be closer to $3/lb when all is said and done. This is still a huge new pill for me to swallow, but it is one that I think is important for my family and for my conscious. We'll continue to take baby steps in other areas and I'm hopeful that I'll keep other costs down, but the chances of spending $1300 for groceries for the year are pretty low. (That's been our total the last two years, but now we are splurging on our meat and our family is's the grocery bill!)

As of now we haven't been big beef eaters. Mostly due to the higher cost of beef at the store. I'd often find great deals on chicken, turkey and pork, but beef deals (other than ground beef) were few and far between. I know my husband will like the new change to our diet and I'm confident that I'll be a good steward with the freezer full of beef. In many ways it will be like eating when I was a child. We always raised a steer when the freezer got low. He would run with the horses and was typically a big pet for a while. Then he'd get really big, get pretty unfriendly and our freezer would get bare. The next step was his first taste of grain as we got him used to coming to the barn. After a few treats there would come a day when he'd come to get a pan of grain and while his head was down there would be one shot to end it all. My friend's dad had a butcher shop and he would take the steer away to process, although we'd go on the day the meat all got packaged and help wrap the meat and tube the ground beef.

I know some would consider it crazy to have kids that involved in their food, but really I think we were lucky. We knew what it meant to have meat on our plate. We knew our steers were treated well (as were the neighbor chickens whose eggs we ate and dairy cows across the road who often provided our milk). We knew their lives ended quickly, humanely, and while they were doing something they enjoyed. I never really realized how unusual it was to have that close of a connection to our food, but as an adult I've never known the animal or even the person who raised the animal. Our family is changing that. We cannot raise our own animals right now (and Mike would prefer we didn't ever raise pigs or steers), but we can know the person who raised it.

Wish me luck as I find a farmer who is doing good work! And help me remember that it is right to pay a fair wage to them for raising the food that feeds my babies, and my husband and me :) Our budget will be okay...right?



  1. You could start with a locker first, how far are you willing to drive? I know we buy our beef from my Dad (or a neighbor) for market cost of the animal (about $2/lb now, and processing about $1 a lb). I realize because we have a local connection our price is cheaper than you might find.

    Of course we split ours with my brothers, but a small rural locker may be willing to pair you up with other buyers. I have lot's of connections in NE Illinois I could give you - but I'm sure there are some closer. Delevan, or even Beloit. Do you have any friends willing to go in with you? Then - any locker could connect you with a beef producer that meets your criteria, most farmers would even let you go visit the farm. When my Dad had people interested in buying a beef, he loved touring with the family & kids - showing them the farm experience. I don't think I would buy from anyone that would not let me come look at his operation to be truthful.

    I do think 100% grazed beef will be hard in this climate for you too find. In research you might find the grain is a supplement to the silage/hay bales the farmers up here provide for their herds. The ground in this area is much more productive ($$$) for grain than cattle grazing all year round (they are typically let out in Fall thru early Spring), then fields are planted Then fed baled (dry) hay/small amounts of grain in summer. Grain is pricey- most farmers don't feed anymore than they must, due to cost.

  2. Andrea,

    I would be grateful for any information you can provide! Please feel free to e-mail me directly if you have any ideas on farmer's in NE IL. As of right now it is just our little family looking for a 1/4. Thanks!