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.
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 a half 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
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 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 price 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!
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 Marble Creek Farmstead in Alabama, you would need an 8 cubic foot freezer for a side of beef. A 5-7 cubic foot freezer would work for a quarter 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)
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:
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.