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Grass-fed Beef VS Grain finished Beef vs. Grain Fed Beef Buying tips

Here are some simple beef buying tips to help you when you purchase your next bulk cow.. Knowing about how this process works and knowing about your cow can save you a lot of money. Buying Beef can be confusing, different farmers use different words for the same thing. So doing a little research before hand can also be helpful for you.

Beef can be expensive at the supermarket, but beef is also expensive to raise, and that process of brining the beef to market it not cheap either. You can save your family a lot of money by purchasing your next cow in bulk!.

Bulk buying beef most usually comes in either “Whole cow” 1 “Half Cow” 1/2 or “Quarter Cow” 1/4. Some farms DO break the cow up into smaller pieces and offer those farm direct, at a higher price. The reason for this is pretty easy when you think about it, lot’s of people don’t want the extra’s. But those extra’s are still part of the cow. This often comes down to weight.

The butcher is going to charge you for your cow based upon how much it weighs when it arrives at the butcher. This is called the “Hanging weight”. So thats “everything” included. Yes you can, and should, ask for everything, but we will get to that in a moment. Then normally the butcher will charge a “Cut and Wrap” fee on top of the hanging weight on a per pound basis. Depending on what butcher you use, there may also be a “Kill fee” though this is less common.

Grain fed vs. grass fed:

While grass fed (includes hay in the winter) is healthier, it’s got a different texture to it and is leaner. Personally I like it and, it’s all I’ll buy. However not everyone is a fan of grass fed beef so it’s really a personal preference.  Be aware that some farmers feed just grass and hay but then “grain finish” which means the animal is fed grain the last few weeks or months to get the grain texture to the meat. This adds a larger amount of fat to the meat, which creates the “marble” look that is popular in butcher shops. This ultimately this means the animal had a happy life living in a pasture but it does destroy the superior health benefits of the meat.

Organic: Personally this isn’t something I worry about. Since I only buy grass-fed meat I just want to know that the pasture and hay the cow has eaten weren’t sprayed with pesticides and the animal wasn’t given any medications or antibiotics (I don’t worry too much about worming meds given when it was a calf).

Organic does matter a lot more when you are talking about a grain-fed cow though since the grains would then be free of pesticides. Organic grain fed beef tends to be spendy because organic grain is very expensive. You will probably find farmers on Craigslist claiming the beef is “organic” when it’s grass fed since it didn’t eat any grain. This may however NOT be true, since the cow would need to be eating Organic, to truly be organic. This is where getting to know your farm and your farmer really comes in handy. 

Organic Practices : This is actually how I usually buy my beef, and it requires a little more trust.. When a farm indicates that they use “organic practices” what I expect this to mean (and usually find it does) is that the farm is a small operation and cannot afford the certification process, which can be very expensive, in becoming a “Certified Organic Farm”. Nonetheless the farmers are passionate about using organic practices and sustainable farming practices, they care about their animals and the quality of the product is of the upmost importance to them. I as the consumer usually visit their farm, learn about what they do, what they believe and then decide if their “practices” fall inline with my values.

As for the rest of the terms–they are very subjective. Natural doesn’t really mean anything at all, we have seen this publicized more and more in the news but it really is true, natural can mean anything.

Free-range means the animal has access to the outside but didn’t necessarily go outside. Really though when you are talking about Craigslist, people just throw terms out there, so you want to ask specific questions.

Here’s what I ask when I’m shopping for beef (and the answers I’m looking for):

  • Was the animal grass or grain fed? (I’m looking for grass)
  • Was the animal grain finished? (I’m looking for a “no” answer)
  • Was the grass or hay treated with any pesticides? (I’m looking for a “no” answer)
  • Was the animal treated with any antibiotics or other meds? (I’m looking for a “no” but will make exceptions for worming meds given to a calf)
  • Where will the animal be slaughtered?
    I personally only want meat where the animal is slaughtered at the farm itself–not transported to a slaughter-house–that’s where your meat is potentially infected with bad bacteria, etc.
    Once the animal is killed, it is transported to a processor or small local and trusted butcher which is also fine with me.
  • Where will the meat be processed? (just make sure you know how far you have to drive!)

Also, ask for references–people who’ve bought their beef in the past. You can also call the processor if they’ve used them before to see if the farmer has a good reputation.

Pricing is going to change depending on geographical location. 

Here in Oregon $3.99 lb. – $4.99  finished weight sounds good but it would depend. For example, if you want grain fed beef and it’s organic, that is a smoking good deal. It’s also a good deal for grass fed beef but you would want to double check what they are charging you for.
Is it just the weight of the finished meat or are they charging you $3.99 lb. for bones, tallow, etc. You want that stuff too. I normally pay $4.75-$5.00 lb. for the meat I take home and the bones and tallow are all included (I don’t calculate those into the price).