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Buying meat from a farm has many advantages. From supporting a local farmer to minimizing the distance your food travels to get to you, and tasting how good locally raised meat tastes, you’ll benefit from the cost savings and transparency in knowing exactly how and where your meat was raised.
We’ve been buying our beef this way for the last few years, supporting different local farms and filling our freezer at the same time.
We’ve also raised our own pigs here on our mini-farm, and sold them to friends and neighbors.
So we’ve personally been on both sides of the aisle of buying meat from a farm.
How do I buy meat directly from a farmer?
In this post, we’ll walk through the three steps to get you some meat from a farmer.
- Decide what you want (type of meat, how much meat, Organic/grass fed?)
- Decide where to buy from (local farm, Crowd Cow, other online meat delivery services)
- Contact & Purchase
Step 1: Decide what you want (type of meat, how much meat, Organic/grass fed?)
The first step in this process is to decide what you want. This includes things like...
- What type of meat do you want?
- How much meat do you want (individual servings up to a couple hundred pounds)?
- Would you like the meat to be Organic/grass fed?
Type of Meat
Depending on your area and how much meat you’re looking for, you should be able to find a pretty wide variety of meat that you can buy from a farmer.
How much Meat
The reason this question is important is because it will determine which farmers you can buy from. If you want to fill your freezer with farm fresh meat, you’ll be buying from a completely different farmer than if you just want a couple pounds for your weekend barbecue.
Organic and/or Grass Fed
I think it’s extremely important to know how your meat was raised. By buying meat directly from a farmer where there’s full transparency, you can ask questions to get the answers that are important to you. Some questions you might ask are:
- What food did the animal eat? Were they strictly pastured? Or did you supplement with grain?
- Where did they live? Did they mostly live out in the field? Or did they stay inside for a large chunk of their life?
- If they lived in the pasture, has that pasture been sprayed with any pesticides or herbicides ever/in the last few years?
Step 2: Decide where to buy from (local farm, Crowd Cow, other online meat delivery services)
The next step (once we’ve figured out step 1) is to choose what type of farm/farmer you’d like to purchase your meat from. Again, you’ve got choices. I’ll walk you through them below.
Some local farms only sell meat in bulk. This means you’ll basically purchase ½ of a cow, or ¼ of a cow (or pig) and get half the meat (or ¼ of the meat) from the animal. It’s kind of like you go in with a neighbor on the meat from an animal. We’ve done this many times and highly recommend it if you have the freezer space.
We purchased a stand-up freezer so we could purchase our meat this way. I’ll talk about cost comparisons and how it all works out below.
Depending on your area, you may be able to find local farmers who sell individual cuts of meat as well. This requires a different kind of certification, so not all farmers will be able to sell meat by the individual cut.
To find local farms near you that sell meat, I highly recommend using Local Harvest. It’s a website that will give you a big list of many farms in your area (oh, and it’s free).
Another place we’ve connected with local farmers is through craigslist, googling, or asking around to others who may know of farmers nearby who sell directly to customers like you.
Here’s a screenshot of what I see when I search “beef” on craigslist, and which ones are potential farms to buy beef from.
Crowd Cow (or another Online Meat Delivery Service)
If you’re looking to buy meat in the smaller cuts, and you still want that transparency that comes from knowing your farmer, I highly recommend Crowd Cow. Right now, when you sign up as a member you get $100 of free meat + free shipping! Click here to get the deal.
Crowd Cow is a company that was built on the idea of sharing a cow (or pig, etc) with 50 “neighbors” (although they ship nationwide so it doesn't HAVE to be someone who lives next door to you). For more information on Crowd Cow, check out my Crowd Cow review and my comparison post of Crowd Cow vs Butcher Box. If you do decide to order from them, use my code STB25 here to get $25 off your first order.
Of course, there are other online meat delivery services, but many of them don’t have the kind of transparency that you’ll get from buying straight from the local farmer (or using Crowd Cow).
Step 3: Contact & Purchase
Now that you’ve decided what type of meat you want to purchase and where you want to purchase from, it’s time to contact the farmer(s), get all your questions answered, and make the purchase.
Let’s talk about the process (including how pricing works) when you buy meat in bulk from a farmer (like ½ cow, ½ pig, etc.).
Buying meat in bulk from the farm
Beef - You could buy ¼ cow, ½ cow, or a full cow. Some farms may allow you to purchase ⅛ cow, but many don’t.
Pork - Depending on the farm, you could buy ¼ pig, ½ pig, or a full pig. Many farms don’t allow anything smaller than ½ pig, so you can check with the farm you’re looking at about that).
Process of buying meat in bulk from the farm
- You contact the farmer, and tell them what you’d like to buy. They’ll give you the price that you pay THEM. This will vary by area, but is usually based on the hanging weight (not the live weight). I’ve seen anywhere from $2.50/lb - $4.00/lb for beef.
- The farmer handles the slaughtering and gets it sent off to the butcher. Sometimes they’ll charge you a harvest or slaughtering fee.
- When the meat is close to ready to cut (they usually let it hang for 1-2 weeks), the butcher will call you when they’re ready to chat about what kind of cuts you want, how you want it packaged, etc.
- The butcher will then call you to tell you when the meat is ready for pickup. When you pick the meat up, you’ll pay the butcher an additional fee for cutting & wrapping the meat. This is typically between $0.50 and $1.00/lb (based on the hanging weight). If you’re getting bacon or ham cured, they’ll often charge a fee based on the weight of that specific cut (not the hanging weight of the whole animal).
What’s the difference between live weight, hanging weight, and take home weight?
Often when you buy meat from a local farmer, you buy it in bulk. But the pricing can be confusing, especially if this is your first time doing it. Because there are new words tossed around like live weight, hanging weight, and take-home weight. Let’s clear up any confusion now.
Live weight: This is the weight of the animal if it walked up (alive) and stepped on a scale.
Hanging weight: After the animal has been killed, the inedible parts are disposed of, skins are taken off. The hanging weight is the weight of the animal after these things have been removed (typically about 60% of live weight for beef, 72% for pork).
Take home weight: This is how much meat you’ll actually get from the butcher when you pick it up. This is the hanging weight minus bones and excess fat (typically 60% of hanging weight for beef, 67% for pork).
So let’s look at these in terms of real life numbers so you have an idea how much meat you’ll ACTUALLY be getting.
How much meat do you get from a 1200 pound cow?
When we first started buying meat directly from a farm, we had a lot of questions. Like...if I’m buying ½ of a 1200 pound cow, does that mean I’m going to get 600 pounds of meat in my freezer?
The answer is “no” and I’ll walk you through all the details here.
If a cow weighs 1200 pounds (live weight)
It’s hanging weight would likely be approximately 720 pounds (1200 x .60)
The take home weight would be approximately 432 pounds (720 x .60).
If you purchase ½ cow, you’d be getting half of the take home weight, and you’d pay based on the hanging weight of half the cow. Make sense?
Is it cheaper to buy meat in bulk from a farm?
If you want to figure out how much you’re ACTUALLY paying per pound of the meat you eventually take home, it’s not hard to do at all.
But first we need some numbers. The market where you live may be much different than mine, but as a reference point, we’ll use the price of beef when we ordered ½ cow last.
We paid $3.50/lb hanging weight, and $0.70/lb for cut & wrap fees from the butcher. We also had a harvest fee, which was $50.
So let’s do the math on a 1200 lb cow (like we talked about earlier).
If the live weight of the whole cow was 1200 lbs, the hanging weight was 720 lbs.
Since we were ordering ½ cow, we paid based on half the hanging weight, which was 360 lbs.
We paid the farm $3.50 x 360 = 1,260 + $50 (harvest fee) = $1,310.
When we picked up the meat from the butcher, we paid THEM for the cutting & wrapping (based on the hanging weight as well) = 360 * $0.70 = $252
We’ll assume the take-home weight of the meat we received was 216 lbs.
So let’s figure out how much we ended up paying per pound of meat (on average).
- To the farm: $1,310
- To the butcher: $252
- TOTAL = $1,562
And we got a total of 216 lbs.
So, we paid $7.23 per pound of meat for our Organic, grass-fed meat.
Is that a good deal? Let’s see.
Here’s a sample breakdown of how much of each type of meat you get with ½ cow:
- 70 lbs Ground beef
- Roasts (typically 3-4 lbs each package)
- 3-4 packages of shoulder roast
- 6-8 packages of chuck roast
- 3 packages of sirloin tip roast
- 1 package of rump roast
- 2 packages of eye of round roast
- Steaks (standard thickness is ¾” with 2 per package)
- 10-12 T bone steaks
- 12-16 Ribeye steaks
- 2 flank steaks
- 8-10 round steaks
- 6-8 sirloin steaks
- 4 pounds of stew meat
- 3 packages of short rib (with 3-4 in each package)
- 5 packages soup bones (if you want them)
Price comparison with Grocery store
At my local grocery store, all this meat (of the same quality, where possible - Organic & 100% grass fed & finished) would cost:
- 70 lbs Ground beef - $8/lb
- Roasts (typically 3-4 lbs each package)
- 3-4 packages of shoulder roast - $8.50/lb
- 6-8 packages of chuck roast - $9/lb
- 3 packages of sirloin tip roast - $15/lb
- 1 package of rump roast $6/lb
- 2 packages of eye of round roast - $6/lb
- Steaks (standard thickness is ¾” with 2 per package)
- 10-12 T bone steaks - $11/steak
- 12-16 Rib eye steaks - $20/steak
- 2 flank steaks - $16/steak
- 8-10 round steaks - $10/steak
- 6-8 sirloin steaks - $12/steak
- 4 pounds of stew meat - $9/lb
- 3 packages of short rib (with 3-4 in each package) - $11/lb
- 5 packages soup bones (if you want them)
...which adds up to over $1,800 if you bought it all individually. And realistically, it’s probably closer to $2,000 since I couldn’t always find as good of quality of meat as we’re getting.
So, as you can see, buying meat in bulk in this way DOES give you a better deal than buying the individually wrapped cuts from the store.
Benefits to the farmer
Buying your meat in bulk from a farm is extremely beneficial to small local farms. Instead of the farmer needing to package the whole cow into 1 lb portions then getting it USDA certified to sell individually, they essentially sell you the live animal, then the butcher calls you to ask how you want the meat packaged.
Having been on the farmer side of this transaction, it’s a gift to be able to sell directly to our neighbors who appreciate good quality meat (and developing a relationship with the people who raised their meat).
Benefits to the customer
In addition to the benefits for the farmer, there’s huge benefits to you, the customer. First, like I mentioned earlier, you get to know where your meat was raised, how the animal was treated, and sometimes you can even meet the farmer in person and develop a relationship there.
Not only that, buying meat in bulk from the farm gives you SO much control in which cuts of the meat you want, and how big of packages you want.
Typically after the animal has been slaughtered and taken to the butcher, they’ll call you and ask:
- How many steaks do you want in a package?
- How much ground meat do you want in each package (1lb? 1.5lb? 2lb?)
- Which cuts of meat do you want left in roast, and which do you want cut into steaks? Or maybe you want it all ground up?
- Do you want the tallow/lard?
- Do you want the bones (for dogs, soup, etc)?
See what I mean about how much control you get?
When we first started buying meat this way, I was amazed at how many cuts of meat we’d never heard of (but now love). Eating a wider variety of cuts of meat is one step towards a more sustainable way of eating.
Other options for farm fresh meat
As you’re well aware, buying meat straight from the farm isn’t the only way to get good meat. There are plenty of grocery stores out there that sell farm fresh meat (and support local farms).
But for some of us, there isn’t a great grocery store with good options for meat (either not great quality or way too much money for the quality of meat we want).
What grocery store has the best quality meat?
Most grocery stores sell a variety of meat cuts of a few varieties. There’s USDA choice, USDA prime. Some have grass fed and/or Organic meats. If you’re looking to find a grocery store with grass fed, Organic meat, you’ll want to look for a natural focused grocery store, or maybe a co-op, or a health food store to get the best selection.
Our local grocery store has grass fed meat, but not much variety, and it’s very expensive. Look around, or call around until you find what you’re looking for.
Buying meat from a farm may be a bit different than what you’re used to, but it’s a great way to ensure you’re getting the quality & price that works best for you and your budget.
So, clear out some room in the freezer and fill it up with farm fresh meat!
Whether you’re shopping from a local farm and getting ½ cow, or you choose to shop through Crowd Cow or another meat delivery service, there are so many ways to support small farms and know exactly where your meat is coming from.
Remember, if you decide to shop Crowd Cow, use the code STB25 here at checkout to get $25 off your first order OR sign up to become a member and get $100 of free meat PLUS free shipping when you click here and sign up.