Jin’s awesome red meat loving brother-in-law here. Disclaimer: I eat a lot of beef. I’m embarrassed to admit I used to be that guy that put frozen steaks into a George Foreman grill, but those days are thankfully in the past. Now that I’m older (but not necessarily wiser), I decided it’s time to step up into the big leagues of bovine and purchase my own cow, or rather half a cow. I mean who wouldn’t want 200 pounds of beef? I typically buy my meat from a local butcher (Patton’s), but I had heard about people buying an animal straight from a farm so I wanted to try it for myself. Henceforth, I detail my findings and experience for your reading pleasure.
The grass fed vs grain fed debate
Over the last few years most people have probably started hearing the term “grass fed” beef as a new trend in food. So what does it mean? In the simplest terms, they’re the cows that only eat grass. Most cattle in the US feed on grass for the beginning portions of their life then as they reach a certain age, they are typically fed grain, corn, and oats in order to increase their fat content and size before butchering. The method in which they are fed leads to differences in the fat content, color of the meat, flavor, and cost.
Fat is flavor
Nowadays when you look for a steak in the supermarket case, people are always looking for the marbling in steak, as people associate the heavily marbled kobe steaks with quality and taste. This is one of the reasons that farms grain feed their cows to increase this marbling. Conversely, one of the obvious advantages for grass fed beef would then be that it has a lower fat content and lower calorie count. To provide a comparison, most grass fed beef has about a 90-10 ratio of meat to fat (with typical hamburger meat being 80-20). So doing a little napkin math, based on 50 pounds of meat a year, you would save about 11,000 calories a year switching from grain fed beef to grass fed beef.
Super beefy beef
I like the idea of grass fed beef, but honestly, if it doesn’t taste good, who really cares. The way most people describe grass fed beef is that it has a slightly stronger “beef” flavor with a little bit of gaminess. I just cooked some ground beef with salt and pepper and tried it, and honestly it tasted exactly like the beef I normally eat. For a comparison, I typically get it from a butcher that mostly serves USDA prime meat. I also ate a steak and the only real difference I noticed was that the meat was tougher due to it having a lower fat content. The flavor to me was the equivalent of a high end butcher shop. (I would rate it comparably to Whole Foods.) One noticeable difference is the coloring: the steak itself is much darker in color than the ones you would receive in a grocery store and the fat tends to be much more yellow. The ground beef on the other hand, was a very vibrant red.
Indian Creek Angus Farm
Thankfully when looking for a farm, someone has already done all of the work for you. eatwild.com is a website that lists all of the grass fed and organic farms in your area. I ultimately ended up deciding to go to Indian Creek Angus. The farm is owned and operated by the Barron family. Dennis was kind enough to take us on a tour of the farm to see all of the animals. Upon arriving at his house/farm, we hopped into his pickup truck and drove through his pastures while Dennis gave us a full account of their history, mission, operations, and methods. The farm is certified organic as they use no pesticides, fertilizers (he did state that the cows were kind enough to fertilize the grass for him), or antibiotics. They use a rotational grazing system to ensure that there is enough food year round. Every cow needs approximately 1 acre of land a year! This could definitely explain the cost!
The cows themselves are Angus breed cows. (While this is important to some people in terms of flavor, I certainly could not tell the difference between this breed and another breed of cow.) Most of the meat comes from male cows as there are only two Murray Grey bulls for the herd. They slaughter about 4 cows every two weeks in order to maintain the size of the herd, so there may be a slight wait time for orders based on demand.
“Meating” their maker
The cows are sent to an Animal Welfare Approved processing facility approximately 4 weeks before you pick it up. The meat is allowed to dry age for 21 days at the processing plant before final butchering. The meat is then flash frozen and packaged into freezer paper and will last up to a year in your freezer. They were kind enough to break everything into 1-2 pound packaging so you don’t have to eat 8 pounds of beef at once. If you let them know you are splitting the meat between families, they’ll also split up the packages accordingly so everyone gets a fair share. For peace of mind, it’s good to note that the processing plant is USDA inspected and all the meat must be approved after processing.
For storage purposes you need to allot about one (1) cubic foot for every 35 pounds of beef. This farm does not have a delivery service so we had to drive up past Commerce to pick up our meat. It’s not that bad of a drive from Atlanta and you could swing by the Tanger Outlets on the way up. They will also meet you in Cumming so you don’t have to drive quite as far to pickup your order. The meat held up fine in our coolers on the drive home. Also if buying 80 pounds of beef isn’t your thing, they have individual cuts for sale at any given time so you can swing by if you’re in the area and try some out before committing to a whole cow.
When cooking the beef you also have to consider that the meat is much leaner than normal steaks. For anyone that has cooked a filet mignon vs a ribeye they’ll notice that they don’t cook at the same speed because of the fat content. So you need to be mindful of how you are cooking the steak. The recommendation from the farm is to cook it low and slow and you’ll be much better off. Also one of the issues is that if you over cook a grassfed steak it will be much tougher than a grain fed steak as there is no fat in the tissue to keep it softer. But if you cook it nicely it can look like this:
The almighty dollar
When buying beef in bulk you are actually going to be buying the hanging weight, which is the weight of the carcass after it has been processed (removing the head, hooves, hide, and organs that won’t be eaten). The price for a bulk rate will be in the $5 range per pound depending upon how much you get. Afterwards the cow will be butchered into primal cuts and ground beef, during this process you’ll lose about 40% of the weight due to bones and trimming. The final price for the beef works out to about $8-$9 per pound (ours was $8.60/lb).
I bought a quarter cow with my brother and we received the following (approximately 80 pounds):
- 4 ribeye steaks (4 pounds)
- 4 t-bone steaks (4 pounds)
- 4 sirloin steaks (4 pounds)
- Beef bones (4 pounds)
- Ox tail (6 pounds)
- Short ribs (6 pounds)
- Roasts (8 pounds)
- Cube steak (15 pounds)
- Ground beef (30 pounds)
The total price for the 80 pounds was $692. As I mentioned before, I thought that the beef quality was roughly equivalent to a butcher shop or Whole Foods. I decided to do a price point comparison to Whole Foods to give you an idea on cost (not at 1:1 comparison, because I did not find all the same cuts):
- Filet – $31.99/lb
- Ribeye – $21.99/lb
- Strip – $21.99/lb
- Roasts – $10.99/lb
- Ground beef -$9.99/lb
- Short ribs – $9.99/lb
- Oxtail isn’t super common in American grocery stores, but common in Asian stores, I just guessed on the price – $6.99/lb
Using these prices, I got a rough cost of about $800 based on market value of pricing that I found at my local Whole Foods, which represents about a 15% savings. I believe the actual savings would be a lot larger if you compared all supermarket grass fed beef to purchasing direct from the farmer, but I guessed on some prices because I did not see all the same cuts for sale and erred on the side of more conservative, cheaper values. If you compared apples to apples, I think it would be about 20% savings. Also not everyone eats oxtail or wants 30 pounds of ground beef so it’s certainly possible you are paying for meat that you wouldn’t normally want. You can also request the offal (the heart, liver, tongue, stomach) but we decided to decline.
So would I do it again? After only eating about 4 pounds of the beef so far, I absolutely would. I enjoyed going to the farm and talking to Dennis. I would love to support local farmers and the system that Dennis is using is both green and sustainable. As far as I could tell, the cows seemed very happy and peaceful; they barely gave us a second glance while munching on their pesticide free grass. The price was well worth the quality and quantity and honestly, it’s delicious.
Indian Creek Angus
1515 Highway 198
Carnesville, GA 30521