I have a neighbor who raises beef cattle, Mr. B., and we have bought beef from him several times in the past. It's wonderful stuff, he has gorgeous pastures, but we haven't bought any the last few years. Not last year, because we had our own cow butchered (she was a cull from a dairy that couldn't be bred, but she made a decent meat animal), and not the year before because we waited too long to ask him, and he'd already sold it all. He doesn't butcher very many steers in any given year - maybe 12 or 15 - and he told me that usually he sells all of it to extended family. I took that as a hint that I should look for beef elsewhere.
This year, we have Homero's nieces living with us again, which means dinner is for seven every night. We all like beef, and eat it pretty often. The freezer was almost empty. We were down to the last few packages of hamburger from last year's cow, and so I went on the hunt for grass fed beef on Craigslist.
Wow, the price of beef has really gone up in the last several years. I can't remember for sure what the price per pound was the first year I bought beef (2008) but I know it was under $2/lb. I think it was $1.80. This year I couldn't find anything under $3.50/lb hanging weight, which means by the time you pay the cut and wrap and figure in the 20% discard, you are paying around $5/lb for the actual beef you are going to eat.
Not that that is a high price, speaking in absolute terms. Around here, if you can even find local grass fed beef in the grocery store, it starts at $6.00 for the hamburger and goes up from there. The really nice steaks are probably over $20/lb - not that I would know! So don't think I'm complaining! However, it does mean you have to come up with a big chunk of change all at once.
I finally resigned myself to paying the going rate, and spoke with a lady in Lynden. She had a half a Hereford to sell, and she said I could buy the half or just a quarter if I preferred. The meat was already at the butcher's and would be ready in a week or so. She said he was a good sized animal, so I bought a quarter. We'd wait until the butcher called me with the final weight before I paid her.
Then, that Sunday, I went to church and saw my neighbor. Over coffee after the service, he asked me if Homero and I would like some beef this year. He wasn't certain, but he thought he'd probably have a little extra.
"If it turns out I do, would you want it?"
"Yes," I said, instantly deciding it would be a good idea to get back on his list of customers.
"Well, I'll let you know."
Now I had a conundrum. Should I cancel on the lady with the expensive beef? Mr. B.'s price was considerably lower. But what if it turned out Mr. B. didn't have any beef after all? Or what if he only had an eighth? Homero and I talked it over and he said to go ahead and buy the quarter anyway, to be on the safe side. We'd certainly eat it.
When the butcher called me a few days later, however, I was in for a surprise. The final hanging weight was 250 pounds! For those of you who have never bought your beef by the side, let me assure that is a LOT of meat. The steer must have been one gigantic animal. At $3.50/lb, plus the cut and wrap, I would be spending something like $1000 to put it in my fridge. But there was no option - the meat was mine.
Mr. B. spoke to me again at church the next week. He said there was a half for me. I smiled and said "that's wonderful, thank you so much!"
There's no way we could get through THREE QUARTERS OF A COW by ourselves, especially when one of the quarters is nearly as big as an average half. Luckily, my sister said her family would split the half with me. We simply called the butcher and told him we wanted to split it, and each of us gave our cut and wrap orders.
Now the freezer - 18.5 cubic feet; a big freezer! - is packed to the brim with meat. There is so much beef in there that we can't butcher the baby goat because there's simply no place to put him. We had to remove a few gallons of cider and drink it up to make room. There are worse problems to have than a surfeit of high quality beef. So we'll have to eat beef more often this winter than I would have guessed. Oh, Rats!