Monday, November 2, 2009

How my local beef is better than your supermarket version - and I can prove it!



While I've been working to improve the quality of the beef I raise, I find that many people don't know that they can buy their beef directly from the farmer. Factually, this will actually save them money when they do.

Additionally, they know how that meat was raised and what it was fed.

Most local beef is raised in an environmentally-friendly and responsible manner. This is why a great deal of it is grass-fed, also known as pasture-finished. It's as natural as they come.

Government Intervention in Beef

Now there is some discussion about organic versus natural versus grass-fed beef. And another discussion about USDA-inspected or not.

My rule of thumb is this: the less the government is involved, the better. The Feds own the organic trademark and license it's use. That doesn't mean you get the best quality - but you can guarantee it costs more.

If you stick to the USDA definitions for these types of beef, you'll quickly see that they are nearly impossible to achieve - as they are so limited. So that again means that you are going to have higher costs.

Same with USDA-inspected. All meat lockers and processors have to have regular inspections from the state health inspectors. When the USDA is involved, they have to check into other special items, like the conditions of the lymph nodes, and so on. All USDA means is that you can re-sell the pieces of a cow (like a single steak or just one pound of hamburger) and it's guaranteed safe. (Well, almost always...)

Again, this just raises the overhead for the beef - which is passed right on to you.

The more your beef is connected to the government, the more it's going to cost you.

Buying grass-fed beef directly

The best guarantee of your beef quality is to know how it was raised, where it came from, and who butchered it.

You should be able to drive out to these places and visit them. (Try that with Argentinean beef when you are in New York...)

I was looking around and found this great explanation from the University of Washington:
Many farmers do not sell meat by individual cuts, but offer it in sides, quarters, or smaller packs containing a variety of cuts. It may be more economical for you to purchase a whole, half (side), or quarter of grass-fed beef if you have the freezer space to do so. It is important to understand how you are buying the beef if you choose to buy a large quantity.

A variety of factors affect the amount of meat a whole, half, or quarter will yield. First, the dressing percentage (the weight of the carcass after the hide, blood, and organs are removed) will alter the amount of meat a 1,100-pound live steer will yield. Typically, dressing percentages range from 56 to 65%, so a 1,100-pound steer would result in a carcass weighing between 616 and 715 pounds.

Cutting yield is the amount of meat remaining once a carcass is further processed. Typically, with grass-fed beef, there will be a loss of 25–30%, which is attributed to the removal of bone and fat. Losses can be greater when the consumer prefers more boneless cuts. With a 650-pound carcass, a consumer can expect to take home 455–487 pounds of beef. A side of beef will yield about 200–240 pounds of beef, and a quarter will yield 100–120 pounds.

When buying meat as a whole, half, or quarter, be sure to ask who will pay the processing costs. In most situations, the consumer works directly with the processing plant and pays the processing costs; however, some farmers will pay the costs for processing and then include that charge in the overall price of the meat.

If you are unfamiliar with negotiating regarding cuts of meats and costs, ask the farmer from whom you are buying the meat to assist you with this process. Most farmers consistently work with the same processing facilities and should be able to address any questions you may have. You will need to follow up with the processing plant soon after the animal has been delivered to the facility to provide cutting instructions as well as any special requests you may have (e.g., sausages or special cuts). Depending on how long the carcasses hang before they are cut up, the meat will not be ready for 2–3 weeks. The processing facility should call you when your meat is ready. Payment is expected when the meat is picked up.

Questions to ask the producer

Farmers use a variety of production practices to produce high quality meat products, and it is worthwhile to talk to the producers about how their animals are raised. Typically, beef cattle are slaughtered at 18–24 months of age. Grass-fed beef is usually produced without growth-promoting hormones or other additives, but be sure to ask the producers about their production practices if it is important to you. Grass-fed beef may or may not be produced with corn. Some pasture-based farms feed a little grain to “finish” the animal.

One benefit of buying directly from farmers is you can talk with them about their production practices, develop an understanding of their actions, and learn the reasons for their production decisions.
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While I raise my own grass-fed beef here in Missouri, I suggest you try a vendor such as La Cense Beef if you want to sample some truly wonderful, Montana-raised grass fed beef.

With thanks to University of Wisconsin - A Consumer's Guide to Grass-Fed Beef - A3862 - http://www.uwex.edu/ces/cty