Understanding how an animal breaks down is confusing, even for farmers. Live weight vs hot hanging weight vs cut weight. We buy a pound of pork chops, but we sell a whole hog by the hanging weight, but we deliver a live animal to the processor. One animal, three different weights and three different prices.
And not everyone wants a cut price. Some people want half of an animal, but they want to buy it at the live weight price and receive the cut weight, not understanding the differences between them. How to explain it?
If you’ve been here before, you know that produce is what makes our pigs different. We don’t feed commercial bag feed to our animals.
Above you see a normal way to feed pigs. Once a week, once a month, whatever, you dump bags of feed into the top of the feeder and then you basically walk away from the pigs and ignore them. If you are certified Organic, the only difference is that you dump Organic feed in instead of Tractor Supply feed. No really, that’s what Organic means. Different feed. The pigs generally eat what you see in this picture, corn. If they are Organic then its Organic corn. Corn is the animal equivalent of this.
Corn is calorie dense, but nutrient deficient. Of course people may feed a grain mix, or a prepared pellet like this.
The grain companies will tell you all the nutrition the pig needs is in this pellet. Probably is. Of course they are telling you that your pig will gain at a maximum rate for the minimum cost to produce the biggest pig possible in the shortest amount of time possible. They aren’t promising the pig will live a long healthy life since that pig will be slaughtered at 6 months of age. It is not like the pig will get heart disease, joint problems, etc in only 6 months. But the pig will get the results of this kind of diet in the meat in 6 months. The same meat you will be putting into your body. I’m assuming you’re planning on living longer than 6 months.
Fed with a self feeder, when pigs want to eat, they walk over to the feeder, nose it open, and munch on the grain inside. After they eat their fill, they go lay back down and don’t do much else the rest of the day. We’ve bought pigs fed this way before. They are extremely fat and lazy to the point of it being funny. I actually loaded some large pigs one time from a farmer. Usually loading pigs is kinda upsetting to them. They are going into a strange new place and are locked in. The doors slam and people yell and poke. They can get upset. We closed the trailer door behind them and started chatting for a minute while I wrote the check. About 2 minutes after loading, I heard snoring and looked in to see one of the pigs passed out asleep and already snoring. Folks, that’s not calm, that’s fat and lazy!
When those pigs would get to our farm (we no longer buy pigs), we would melt about 25% of their body weight off in a couple on months. It was like starting a gym membership and weight loss program all at once. Suddenly they had to work to get their food, and their food wasn’t high calorie, nutrient poor corn. The pigs became active and spent their days rooting and looking for additional food besides the produce we fed them. Once they lost their blubber, they grew at a normal pace and finished out nicely. What they weren’t able to be anymore was this.
So what do think makes for a healthier meat for you and your family, the couch potato above, or this?
Oh, and did I mention there is NO COMPARISON in the taste? Try our pork chops or Boston butts and see what real pork tastes like. There is no comparison.
Nobody has cooked, or eaten, as much of our product as we have. We’ve grilled, baked, broiled, sauteed, and crock potted our meats. Heck, we’ve even eaten it raw (steak tartare anyone?) Having had our products every way that you can, I can say that cooking method definitely matter. I usually try and catch new customers before they leave and explain to them how they should cook their new purchase, especially the beef. Grass fed, grass finished beef cooks differently than store bought beef. (I don’t subscribe to all the tips on that link, btw. But most are good). Since I can’t catch everyone, I thought I’d type up my suggestions.
The first thing to know is what kind of meat are you buying. With only so many ribeyes to go around, odds are you’ll be buying a cut of meat you don’t normally get. You need to understand that “eating high on the hog” means that you’re getting the more tender cuts of meat. It also means they are less flavorful. That’s why tenderloin, an expensive and almost flavorless cut of tender meat, is always wrapped in bacon, or marinated in Italian dressing. Recipes are trying to add flavor to the flavorless, tender meat. On the other side of the tenderness scale, the French have perfected the art of taking the cheap cuts of meat and turning them into delicacies. And finding, along of the way, that these less expensive cuts of meat hold the best potential for amazing flavor. Shanks, jowls, brisket. These are all cuts that many American cooks fear but as any Texan will tell you about brisket, they are often the best part of the animal.
Basically, the higher up the animal, the more expensive and the more tender the cut. That’s because the less the animal uses the muscle, the more tender and the more bland. That’s part of the reason that feedlot beef is more tender. The animals sit around and eat and do little else. By knowing where on the animal your cut comes from, you can have an idea of how to cook it. Tough cuts need a braise (like a crock pot) or some other method of preserving tenderness.
For roasts, generally the crock pot is my friend. SWMBO does most of the cooking and she uses our various roasts interchangeably from one recipe to the next. If it’s a big four pound roast, she has no qualms about trimming it down or cutting it up to make it into what she wants. Not the most cost effective method but the meals are awesome so I’m not complaining. For roasts, just follow your usual recipe. If you are cooking them in the oven, remember that grass fed, grass finished beef is going to cook faster than you expect.
Osso Bucco is one of my favorite cuts. Technically it’s beef shank, sliced into 1″ thick slices. It costs the same as hamburger per pound and it’s wonderful in the crock pot. All that connective tissue breaks down and makes beef broth, which your vegetables soak up as it percolates all day in the crock pot. Just sear the osso bucco on both sides before you start, (remember the mallaird reaction from earlier, it’s your friend.) The meat shreds after cooking easily because of the way the cut is made. You pop out the one bone for Fido and serve. A $10 meal including vegetables that feeds the entire family.
For hamburger, I have to give a nod to our resident chef Drew. His hamburger recipe makes for a stellar hamburger. If you don’t want to do all that he suggests, make patties with room temperature burger meat. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic and grill. Simple burgers that taste awesome.
For Boston Butt, I again turn to Drew’s recipe. If you are in our store, you can also pick up SWMBO’s crock pot recipe to accomplish the same thing. Her BBQ is no muss, no fuss, and tastes awesome.
Lastly, I need to tell you about sous vide cooking. Drew turned me onto it after about a year of harassing me to try it, finally just loaning me his unit and shooing me away to go cook. After one meal, I had one on order from Amazon. It’s pretty much impossible to overcook using sous vide and I can really dial in the doneness that I want, down to the single degree.
After a swim in our meat aquarium (what we call it) I simply sear the meat (mallaird again) and serve. Cook times can vary by hours with no change in doneness which really makes this more like crock pot cooking. This means that I can still get my work done and pop into the kitchen at the end of the day to finish up and serve a great meal, looking every bit the hero that I am.
A lot of times new customers come in the store and they have one thing on their mind.
“Blah, blah, whatever. Where are the ribeye steaks?”
When we tell them we are sold out, they sometimes seem incredulous that we could be out of something as basic as ribeye steaks. Sometimes they even seem offended that we’d be so poorly managed that we’d run out of ribeyes. I think they view the cut chart of a cow, you know, this one.
The way Texans view a map of the US.
Except they think that ribeyes are the part that is Texas in this map. I guess hamburger and cube steak are the other bits?
I don’t blame them for not knowing the break down of an animal but despite what they may think, the reality is quite different.
The last cow we took to the processor weighed about 1050 pounds when he left the farm.
Once he was processed, he weighed 636 pounds. That’s the hot hanging weight. Out of that 636 pounds of beef, this is what we get in ribeye steaks.
Twelve packages of ribeyes, two per pack. Twenty four ribeye steaks total. That’s about 21 pounds of ribeyes out of 636 pounds of beef or about 3% of the total beef.
We aren’t a grocery store that orders our beef in by the truckload. We are a small farm that truly does this nose to tail. That means we utilize the bones, the liver, the lesser known steaks, the ribs, the roasts, all of it. And before we can restock with another cow, we need to utilize all of this animal we cared for for over two years and that gave its life for us.
We do get ribeyes in, every single time. But they are generally spoken for by our regulars before they ever show up. We’d love for you to be a regular too and get your ribeye steaks. In the meantime, maybe you could try a cut of beef that you don’t normally get, like osso bucco, or bottom round roast. You might find that it’s better than you realized.
I ran across this post on, of all places, a financial website. I haven’t verified the data myself but a large chunk of it aligns with the data I heard from Dr. Anibal Pordomingo when I was at a grazers school years ago. The Omega 3 vs 6 ratio is real, documentable, and repeatable. You can measure the health decline in the cattle as they are fed a non-natural diet. You can also recover the animals health by putting them back on pasture where they are supposed to be. An unhealthy animal being consumed cannot result in a healthy person.
I think there is a misstatement in the beginning about cattle going from 4-5 years to finish down to 13 months. What is actually correct is that cattle used to be raised to that age before slaughter as they were fully fleshed out and the meat had a more robust quality to it. But they weighed 1100 pounds at 24 months and 1200 pounds at 48 months. They aren’t much bigger years later. Now cows can finish in as little as 13 months in aggressive programs like he references but 24 months is plenty long for our American palate without any outside additions or weird genetics. We routinely finish cattle at 24 months on our farm with no issues and 100% natural. We certainly don’t have any special genetics. Also, after the mad cow BS of years past, we now cannot normally process cattle older than 30 months due to federal regulations so 24 months is going to be the norm regardless.
The post I’m promoting is not an overly long post and it has some good data in it. It’s not a peer reviewed publication, but they aren’t all they are cracked up to be either. To see what I mean, take a listen to this NPR Planet Money podcast about peer reviewed science. I have a distrust of science anyway, especially nutritional science, but wow! I didn’t know it was this bad.
Make sure you pay attention to the last line in the article. What is true for corn-fed cows is true for any corn-fed animal. Are you having tilapia tonight?
Walter Jeffries at Sugar Mountain Farm is one of my mentors (although he doesn’t know me) when it comes to farming and blogging. He has a following that makes mine look like I’m a kid wearing dad’s clothes. Walter has a similar writing style and belief system to me in that he shares the belief that you show what is really happening on the farm, both the good and the bad. By doing that, your customer is educated on the reality of farming and therefore comfortable with you and your product.
Since Walter is much further down the path than I am, he often has done some of the work for me saving me the trouble. One of the things he’s recently posted is an entire page on buying roaster/BBQ pigs. When I get a call from a customer needed a pig for an event, it is a struggle both for the customer and for me to say how big of a pig you need for your BBQ. How many people? How many adults vs. children. Is pork the main protein or an addition? How does the process work? Can I have the pig the same day I call you for the first time (that one is easy, No.)
We will sell a BBQ pig infrequently so when the request comes in, we can’t just rattle off the answer to help the customer know all the details he/she should know. Thankfully, in Walter’s post he has taken the time to answer more than I could ever. If you are looking to have a BBQ, then give Walter’s page a look over, then give me a call and we’ll get you the pig you need ready to go over the coals.
I’ve had a glut of requests lately to buy whole cow, or maybe 1/4 to 1/2 of a cow. I answer all these requests the same way. “Yes we can sell you a whole cow. No you don’t want it that way.”
Since I need to type a novel each time to answer questions and hopefully help the customer make an informed decision, I thought it would make sense to do a write up here that I can point customers to instead. Often I’m on my phone and my thumb typing ability isn’t that great.
First thing to understand is how a farmer goes to market selling meat. There are two main ways to go direct to market in NC. One is to sell by the fraction and one is to sell by the cut.
Selling by the fraction
Selling by the fraction is a legal exemption that small farmers can use to sell very easily right off of their farm. I fully support this exemption for farmers. When we started selling directly to the public, it was how we sold meat. Selling by the fraction means I have almost zero regulations to deal with. As long as I mark my meat “not for resale” and get names on the sheet with the processor BEFORE dropping off the cow, I’m legal.
What’s happening here is, legally, you are buying the cow before it is processed and turned into meat. There is no regulation about you processing your own animal because it’s yours. Picture a family processing their own cow. Mom and dad get 1/2, son gets 1/4 and daughter gets 1/4. There is no need for the government to be involved. When you buy a fraction of a cow, you just effectively became family to the farmer. That’s why the names need to be on the sheet prior to processing the animal, because whoever’s name is on the sheet is who actually owns the cow. You aren’t buying meat, you are buying a living animal. All the farmer is doing is taking your new cow to the processor for you as a service. In reality, the names often don’t make it to the cut sheet with the processor and as long as nobody checks, it’s fine. It’s kind of like that old saying, it’s not illegal till you get caught. However the NCDA is aware of this grey area and is starting to crack down from what I’ve heard.
What this means to the consumer is that they are buying a portion of a cow, hopefully one they’ve actually looked at but most often not. The cow will go to a custom processor and will likely not be inspected by the USDA or the state inspectors. The cow will be packaged however that processor packages bulk meat. When we sold this way, it was wrapped in butcher paper, that’s it. The consumer will then get a portion of the cow, 100 pounds, 250 pounds, 500 pounds. In that portion will be steaks, hamburger, liver, neck bones, etc. Whatever your fraction of the total cuts, that’s what you get with your favorite cuts and the not so favorite cuts. It’s kind of like a CSA box of produce, except it is 8 bucks a pound. You’ll need a large freezer space and a hungry family to go through all the cuts. You’ll also need to find some recipes for cuts you aren’t used to cooking. It’s a grand adventure and one I enjoyed helping people with when we sold this way
The pluses of fractional buying:
Large volume of meat, usually discounted.
Chance to try different cuts than you are used to.
Ready supply of meat in the freezer for parties, holiday gatherings, zombie outbreaks, etc.
Convenience. You only go to the farm once to buy and eat for months off of one trip.
No 2% sales tax. Because you technically “bought” the fraction of the cow while it is still alive, there is no sales tax on your meat.
The minuses of fractional buying:
Cuts you may not want are part of the deal. The dog ends up eating some of them.
You have no idea how the meat will taste till your freezer is bulging and your wallet is empty. (This is a big one, we once processed a cow in the spring that tasted like spring onions, Oops.)
You need other families who want to buy the remaining fractions of the cow. This is the hardest part, getting everyone coordinated.
You need to eat all the meat while it’s still relatively fresh in the freezer. A daunting task when you are staring at a full freezer.
You need a dedicated freezer to store all the meat.
You have to get in line and put your name on a cow in the future. That may be months away.
Selling by the cut
So the other way to buy meat from a farmer is to buy by the cut. This means that you buy a steak, or buy some hamburger, just like going to the grocery store. In order to sell this way, the farmer needs to get their NC meat handlers license and be inspected by the state. It also means that you animal will go in front of a USDA inspector or a state inspector at the processor. It will have a stamp on the carcass showing it was inspected. The labels on the packaging will also have all the legally required verbiage for safety and handling. Adding in these steps increases the cost for the farmer and therefore for the consumer.
The pluses of buying by the cut
You can try before you buy by getting a few sample steaks from the farmer before any big purchases
You can buy as much or as little as you want
You can buy only the cuts you like
You can usually buy when you want meat rather than having to wait till a cow is processed
You can still get a discount by buying in bulk
All the safety provisions of government inspections are in place, similar to the meat you buy at the store
The minuses of buying by the cut
It costs a bit more due to the increased cost to the farmer
You have to pay 2% sales tax (or 6.75% if you buy from a retailer)
You won’t learn how to use neck bones and beef liver in the kitchen
Now, for someone who wants to purchase a bulk of beef by the cut, what we do is we simply offer a bulk discount for a large purchase. We can’t tell you the price per pound because we don’t limit you to a fraction of an animal. This means you can buy more steaks ($18 per lb) and less liver ($4 per lb) if you like which would affect your price per pound average. It also means you don’t need to buy 250 pounds of meat at one time if you so choose.
If you do want to go the route of a fraction of a whole animal, we can offer that, but you’ll have to wait till we process our next cow, and put your name and deposit down before we take the animal to the processor. Also, unless they’ve recently relaxed the regulations, you’ll also have to drive to the processor and pick up your meat. Farmers are no longer allowed by the NCDA to pick up the meat for you.