The topic of buying a cow directly from the farm comes up fairly often in the homeschool world. #1, a lot of homeschool families have plenty of kids, and #2, a lot of homeschool families are single income families who are on a grocery budget.
So. I’ll give you the answer right up front.
Buying a quarter cow would not save me money over buying equivalent cuts of conventional beef at Costco.
However, buying a local, grass-fed grass-finished cow saves a significant amount of money over buying that type of beef in the market. So, whether buying a quarter of a cow would save you money depends on the type of beef that you want to feed to your family.
Grass-fed beef is more expensive in the supermarket. I’m not even certain if I can find grass-fed and grass-finished local beef in my markets. Lots of labels say grass-fed, but that doesn’t mean the beef was completely grass-fed and grass-finished. I’ve bought grass-fed beef before, but it doesn’t taste the same as a local cow that I know was grass-fed and grass-finished.
Yeah, we should talk about the taste.
Yes. Grass-fed, grass-finished beef tastes and smells different to me. I’ve heard that the taste varies from cow to cow, from breed to breed. Beef from different supermarkets tastes different to me, too. Some beef from supermarkets has an ammonia-like smell to it (to me), and eventually, I settled on buying most of our conventional beef from Costo because Costco’s beef tastes reliably good. To me. Obviously, this is a personal thing, and maybe everyone doesn’t taste the difference, but I definitely do. (I wish I could find the perfect source of chicken, but I haven’t yet. Please tell me your favorite chicken if you’ve got one!) The taste of grass-fed beef was something that I got used to. It’s good, just different. The other thing is that the grass-fed, grass-finished beef seems to be very lean compared to the hamburger I would usually buy. It’s great for most things, but not great as actual hamburgers because the fat content is too low for the grill.
The steaks have been really, really good. Really. Good. I think they’re much better than the typical steak I buy.
The chart above shows the cost breakdown of my quarter of a cow. I charted how much of each cut I got, and the average price per pound for each cut. I buy hamburger so often that I used the price that I know I usually pay for the hamburger that I like. I’d thought about buying a quarter of a cow many times, but each time I ran the numbers, it didn’t really seem worth it because the retail price of the meat at Costco works out to about the same price I’d pay for the cow plus butchering/meat processing costs. In our case, a family member raised a couple of cows, a neighbor took the cows to the butcher, and we only had to pay for the butchering/meat processing. Butchering and processing cost about $100 for us for a quarter of a cow. I picked up our meat from Maddie Moo’s Custom Meats and everything was super clean. They were really helpful with recommending typical thicknesses of steaks, cuts of meat, etc., when I wasn’t sure exactly what to get.
In the pic of the cost breakdown, you can see how I decided which cuts of meat to get, how much of each cut, and decided what I would do with each cut. When I ordered the cuts I was able to choose to get certain cuts of meat as hamburger or stew meat rather than as some cut of meat that I’m totally unfamiliar with. I didn’t get anything weird. Meat is the one type of food that I’m picky about and everything I got was “good” meat to me. As with the hamburger, a lot of the cuts are leaner than the conventional beef I was used to getting from Costco.
I use a Sous Vide machine to prepare the steak from frozen, then finish it in a skillet or on the grill. I cook the hamburger meat from frozen in an Instant Pot. I use the Instant Pot 8 Quart. I also have a 6 quart but with a family of 5, we really needed the 8 quart. Other cuts of meat I either thaw in my microwave or thaw overnight in the fridge, then slow cook or roast. It’s actually been really easy to use up the meat, even though we wouldn’t be eating as much beef if I didn’t already have it all in the freezer. Without the Sous Vide and the Instant Pot, I would have a harder time using up the frozen meat because I’m one of those people who always forgets to thaw stuff the night before.
A quarter of a cow takes up about a third of my large, upright freezer. I could cram it in a bit more tightly, but I like to be able to find everything, and I arranged everything in a way that keeps similar cuts of meats together.
Our quarter of a cow came packaged up in the way that I specified. I brought my quarter of a cow home in four boxes, all wrapped up, and frozen solid. Most of those packages in the bottom left and top right boxes are one pound of hamburger meat.
Have you bought a cow or part of a cow before? How did it go?