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Buying a Whole Cow (or Half a Cow) – Is it worth it?

May 3, 2024 | Meal Planning | 0 comments

Buying a Whole Cow

Thinking of buying a whole cow? Or buying a side of beef? Here's everything you need to know from cuts to price to freezer space.

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Key Takeaways

  • Buying a whole cow or buying a half of a cow (aka, a side of beef) can help you get quality beef at a much better value.
  • Buying a butchered cow also allows you to really know where your meat is coming from and be sure of the quality.
  • Calculate how much beef you'd like to eat in a week and extrapolate to a whole year to decide if you want to buy a cow, buy half of a cow or buy a quarter cow.
  • Downsides of buying a butchered cow include less variety in meat and the need for a deep freezer.

If you're like me, you likely have certain items you buy in bulk. Those things you use all the time where it just makes sense to buy a bunch at once – both for price and so you don't have to worry about running out. For example, I always buy tea and spices in bulk.

But have you considered buying a whole cow or buying a half of a cow? Many people are starting to think about purchasing meat this way. Curious about why? Here's everything you need to know!

Buying a Whole Cow – The “Why?”

There are a few reasons to consider either buying a whole cow or buying a smaller share of beef like a half a cow or a quarter cow.

First of all, buying a whole cow is often a better value. With the whole grocery price situation, we're all looking for ways to cut the grocery budget without sacrificing quality. Buying a larger portion of beef can be a great way to do just that.

Second of all, buying a whole cow can be a great way to get to know your local farmers and see where your food comes from. Developing a deeper relationship with local farms is quite a rewarding experience, and can be educational for any kids in the family as well.

Finally, many feel they get higher quality beef when purchasing a share of a cow. While you may not have time to research sources every time you grocery shop, you'll certainly want to research the farm or ranch you're considering when buying a whole cow. This means you can really prioritize your values, whether that's grass fed beef, organic beef, etc.

Those are some of the reasons many people are choosing to purchase beef shares, but is it right for you? Here are some things to keep in mind.

Considerations When Buying a Whole Cow or Side of Beef

Buying Half a Cow

How Much Beef Do You Want?

Think about how much beef you eat (or would like to eat) in a week. Then extrapolate that out to figure out how much you'll eat in a year. This will help you determine whether you're interested in purchasing a whole cow, a side of beef, or a quarter cow. (Wondering “what's a side of beef?” It just refers to half a butchered cow!)

The exact amount of meat will of course vary based on the ranch and the cow but here's an example for frame of reference. Heartstone Farm in Maine estimates a quarter cow at 85 pounds, a side of beef at 170 pounds and a whole cow at 340 pounds.

Note that that is actual pounds of beef you'll receive. Many farms instead list “hanging weight.” Hanging weight refers to the weight of the animal before it's butchered and includes things like bones and excess fat. Thus hanging weight is higher than the number of pounds of beef you'll receive. Make sure to clarify this with a farm before purchasing if it's not clearly stated.

If the beef is vacuum sealed and kept in a deep freeze, it should last for about a year. So before purchasing a side of beef or a whole cow, make sure you can actually eat that much beef in a year!

If you're not sure you need that much beef in a year, splitting a cow or side of beef with another family is a great option. Buying a whole cow is often the best deal price-wise so if you know a couple of families who might want to split an order with you, that can be a great choice!

Freezer Space

You will need a deep freezer to store a quarter, half, or whole cow. If you don't already have an extra freezer, you'll want to factor this into the cost. However, if you foresee yourself ordering a beef share every year for the foreseeable future, it may be worth it. Remember to factor in the additional energy costs of powering a deep freezer as well.

According to Cristensen Ranch in Colorado, you'll need approximately 10 cubic feet of freezer space for a quarter cow, 20 cubic feet of freezer space for a half of a cow and 40 cubic feet of freezer space if you're buying a whole cow.

Where do you find a whole cow or side of beef?

It's actually quite easy to find a whole cow or side of beef for sale. Start by doing an online search for “whole cow for sale in TX” or “side of beef for sale in CA,” inserting your state. Compare the options in your area for things like price, quality, delivery options, etc.

You can also begin with a directory of farms if you like, like this one from Eat Wild. They also offer a directory of farms that ship. American Grassfed also provides a map of grassfed beef ranches across the United States.

What cuts do you get from a side of beef? (And What to Do with Them)

Cuts of Beef

One consideration when buying a whole cow or a side of beef is the different cuts of beef you'll receive.

With a side of beef, you are getting one half of the cow, head to tail. Thus, with a whole cow or side of beef, you will receive a mix of all cuts of beef. Purchasing a quarter cow varies more so you'll want to talk to the specific ranch you're buying from about what cuts of beef you'll be receiving. You'll likely received a mix of roasts, stew meat, steaks and ground beef.

Need some ideas on how to use these different cuts of beef? Here are a few of my favorite recipes:

Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup

Ground Beef – Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup

Whether you buy a whole cow, side of beef or quarter cow, your order is likely to include a lot of ground beef. If you get sick of burgers and tacos, this lasagna soup is an excellent recipe using ground beef!

Best Steak Salad Recipe

Flank Steak – Steak Salad w/ Blackberries & Almonds

While this recipe calls for flank steak, it's delicious with any type of steak. I love meals like this that balance sweet and savory!

Slow Cooker Beef and Vegetable Stew

Stew Meat – Slow Cooker Beef & Vegetable Stew

There's nothing cozier than hearty beef stew on a cold night. My version cooks in the slow cooker for the perfect weeknight dinner.

Slow Cooker Short Ribs Recipe

Short Ribs – 5 Spice Slow Cooker Short Ribs

If you haven't cooked short ribs before, my 5 Spice Slow Cooker Short Ribs are a great way to get started! They're full of flavor and quite easy to prepare.

Barbacoa Lettuce Wraps

Beef Chuck Roast – Shredded Beef Barbacoa Lettuce Wraps

This barbacoa recipe is quite popular. It's a good thing too because it makes a lot! I love enjoying it in different ways throughout the week. Lettuce wraps, tacos, atop a salad, on cauliflower rice – you can't go wrong!

Beef Sirloin Cubes – Beef & Butternut Squash Tagine

I've been making this recipe for years and I'm not sick of it yet! Between the warming spices and the surprising hit of sweetness from the apricots, there's something for everyone.

So is buying a whole cow or side of beef worth it?

Like most things, it depends! Buying a whole cow or side of beef can save you some serious money over time. But if you don't eat that much beef, don't have a deep freezer or only like certain cuts of beef, it may not be right for your family.

For more tips on saving money on protein, check out my post on the 5 Best Cheap Protein Sources.

FAQ – Everything You Need to Know Buying a Cow or Buying a Half of a Cow

How much meat do you get when you buy a cow?

The amount of meat you get when you buy a cow will vary depending on the size of the individual animal but Heartstone Farms estimates about 340 pounds of meat per cow.

How much meat from 1/2 cow?

According to one estimate, Buying a half of a cow will give you about 170 pounds of beef. Check with the individual farm or ranch you're thinking of buying from for a more accurate estimate as it varies.

How much freezer space for 1/2 cow?

You will need about 20 cubic feet of freezer space for 1/2 cow, according to Cristensen Ranch in Colorado.

Is it smart of buy half a cow?

Whether it's smart to buy half a cow depends on your individual goals and family. If you have a large family or eat a lot of beef and if you like knowing where your meat comes from, buying a cow or buying a half of a cow is a smart way to get a good value on great quality beef.

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