It's COW DAY!
Today our family picked up its first whole grassfed cow. Before, we had bought half grassfed cows from a couple of different local farmers. We knew that we were in for a lot more beef than we had ever bought, so we added another chest freezer to our family's setup in the garage.
Before our family made the move toward increasingly depending on local bulk purchases of meat, I was always at a loss for knowing how much beef would be involved, how much freezer space we'd need to have, and whether we could handle the commitment. I used to be rather annoyed when I could never seem to get a straight answer from people who had bought bulk in the past...but now I know why! There are so many factors, it is hard to pin the experience down.
Example: How many pounds of meat can I expect in my grassfed beef purchase?
2011 (Half cow, Farmer A): 198 lb. dry hanging weight
2012 (Half cow, Farmer B): 498 lb. dry hanging weight
2013 (Whole cow, Farmer B): 660 lb. dry hanging weight
Do you see what happened there? The cow sizes varied not only between Farmers A and B, but also between how much beef we committed to buy from Farmer B. Farmer B was straightforward about the fact that his smallest cows at slaughter go to his whole cow purchasers, to avoid the whole cow families having the sticker shock of buying, say, one of his 1000 lb. dry hanging weight cows. (Even at an inexpensive price of $3/lb. that comes to $3,000! ...whereas by comparison the smaller-side cow he designated for our whole cow purchase - at 660 lb - came to $1980, kill fee and butchering fee included in that number.)
What I can visually quantify for curious would-be local beef buyers, though, is how much space is required for certain amounts of meat. For example, we own an older Hyundai Santa Fe. 660 lb. of frozen beef took up the entire back. You can see two large knee-high Sterilite containers (blue and grey) containing just a small amount of the beef.
In other words our emptied trunk is capable of transporting a small whole grassfed cow (660 lb. shown here), or half a very large grassfed cow (498 lb. in the past)...that's with the back seats still installed.
I can also give visuals on the rough proportion of cuts we got from our 660 lb. this time around. It is worth noting that my husband specifically requested that the butcher cut our beef to maximize grill-ability. (We do lurv ourselves some grilling in this family!) That means that cuts that might have been roasts (like chuck roasts) were instead cut as chuck steaks and cube steaks.
Below you'll see the cuts in a shallow (6" deep, roughly 2' by 3') Sterilite container. This is to give you an informal idea of the quantity of cuts that comes from a 660 lb. purchase. These are rough estimates only...even after taking the shots of the cuts I'd discover an extra of the same cut here or there somewhere else, so there is an estimation margin of error.
|These are shown in a large knee-high depth Sterilite container.|
|This one's an exception...the T-Bones shown were in|
a smaller Sterilite container that would hold a couple of shoeboxes side by side.
One last photo. This shows how much freezer space we required for 660 lb. You'll notice that we got A WHOLE LOT of ground beef in the deal. Our top freezer on our refrigerator is completely full of ground beef. Our chest freezer also had some ground beef in it, along with other cuts.
This is where I can give the good "rule of thumb" estimation I always give friends who are curious about freezer space requirements for bulk purchases.
- One refrigerator freezer can store roughly 100 lb. of meat...if it's "neatly contained" (like the blocks of ground beef shown here). More irregularly-shaped cuts may mean less storage efficiency.
- One modest waist-high chest freezer (as shown here) can hold roughly 200 lb. of meat.
- One modest double-wide chest freezer (as shown here) can hold roughly 400 lb. of meat.
That adds up to 700 lb. capacity, but since we had a few items (like leftover bones from our last bulk purchase) still in the freezers, that largely fits with the notion of 660 lb. of meat.
The best way to determine, then, if you have enough freezer space, is to ask your farmer before committing to a quarter, half, or whole cow is whether he/she might be able to predict the final dry hanging weight of your committed purchase. Then, eyeball your existing freezer space and use the rules of thumb above to see if you're in the ballpark.
In our case, we knew we'd need more freezer space, and we managed to pay $125 for the used double chest freezer shown on the right through a Craigslist connection. It was a very worthwhile addition to the garage setup!
Are you planning any bulk beef or other bulk meat purchases from your local farmers this spring? Have you figured out your freezer space needs for the purchase?
EDIT TO ADD: Jan of Jan's Sushi Bar posted this link in the comments on how much "eating meat" one can expect from beef purchases. I think it is another great measuring stick for assessing your potential purchases. THANKS, Jan!