Raising cow to eat, or buy it at the store?

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I was thinking about raising a calf to slaughter. I would pay to have someone do it. What are the pros and cons to this? I am a new homesteader and learning as I go, but I don't want to get into too much. I have lived in the country all my life until I got married, now I am back! YEA!! But we always bought a calf from the auction in time for slaughter, is this a better way to go? Pork is not an option since I am allergic to it.

-- Cindy in OK (cynthiacluck@yahoo.com), October 09, 2000


cindy cant realy help alot because we are trying it for the first time this year. so far so good. we paid 40$for a bull calf, he is a gurnsey {sp}not really a beef breed but we buy 1/2 a steer from the farmer when we need it and it tasts pretty good. so far the only money we have put out is the animal,vet to have him cut and dehorned and milk replacer for a few months. hay is free for the winter and we have enough pasture for spring and summer. we will have to wait and see. ken should beable to help you out alot.

-- renee oneill (oneillsr@home.com), October 09, 2000.

In the average week, how much beef does your family eat at home? That largely may answer your questions. Say you fatten a steer to 750 pounds and have it processed. That would be about 375 pound of various cuts of meat, particularly hamburger, at one time. If you average one pound a day, it would last over a year.

Frankly, I am a cattle farmer and I buy all of my beef at the supermarket. I just don't eat that much meat, and when I do it is more likely to be chicken or ham. (But boy, every so often that grilled prime cut with onions just can't be beat.)

Most of your supermarket cuts, at least the more expensive ones, come out of feedlots, and let's not get into a discussion of just what they are fed. Most of the hamburger and cheap cuts come from old dairy and beef cows who went directly from the auction house to the slaughter plant. Cull bulls usually end up in processed meats.

Say you can handle 200 pounds of beef at one time. A 400-500 pound heifer or steer should provide this. If bought at the livestock auction chances are it came directly off of pasture, and maybe directly off of momma. Probably hasn't received any shots.

If you want to raise your own, wait until the grass is starting to turn green in the spring and then buy a calf no less than eight weeks old. If they have gotten that far, chances are they are healthy and should readily accommodate to fresh pasture, fresh water and supplemental feeding. But even here, how can you tell if you are getting a nice eight week old calf, or a six-month old runt who never will do anything? (A tip here, at any cattle auction there will be professional buyers, probably sitting in the front rows. Look for a friendly one and ask their advice on buying the calf you want. Most will probably be very happy to help you.)

On economics, the average price for all retail cuts is about $2.65. Thus, can you raise a steer for about twice this times the amount of beef you want to end up with for less than that amount when considering all expenses (purchase; supplemental feeding; housing; fencing; pasture seeding, fertilization, liming and interest; vet care; transportation; processing; freezer storage; etc.)?

Also, how is your family going to cope with eating what may have become a family pet?

Yeh, others will say raising your own is part of homesteading and they know what they are getting (at least if the custom processing plant returns your beef to you rather than someone else's). However, I just flat out don't see the economics of it.

Bear in mind I raise cattle so I am somewhat biased. Maybe some year I might make a little bit of money at it.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (scharabo@aol.com), October 09, 2000.

It is cheaper just to buy half sides of beef ! However, you should know your producer. Ask him if he uses hormones. Than meet your butcher. If you like them and their answers than proceed. I get my meat--cut wrapped and delivered frozen for $1.18 a pound and one half side does us for a year. It usually consists of 160 lbs of burger and the rest in cuts--steaks, roasts, and ribs. I used to raise my own but at these prices, why bother ?

-- Joel Rosen (Joel681@webtv.net), October 09, 2000.

Last time we sent our own cow in we had 500 lbs of meat. Took us forever to eat it all. Now we found a farmer, Herfords, and he sells about 80 each fall for meat. He puts no steroid implants in the babys, has a natural farm, grows corn, etc. So we will have to find someone to go in with. 1/4's is great, even then you have allot of meat. We pay about $1.00 a pound, butcher is up to 25 cents a pound to cut and wrap. Used to be 15 cents. It comes out to about 1.25 a pound for the frozen meat, all cuts. You don't have to raise it this way, just find a good farmer and some people to go in with you. The farmer delivers several to the butcher at once and you just tell them how you want it, and pick it up frozen. I would love to raise some calves on my goats milk but untill I do we will go this way. The stuff at the store is full of red dyes, which is bad for kids with ADHD, and who knows what else.

-- Cindy in Ky (solidrockranch@msn.com), October 09, 2000.

Cindy, this is that vegetarain again, my hubbie & kids eat meat--we did the same thing Cindy said---we found an area farmer who doesn't use chemicals, etc. He takes the heifer to the locker plant for us--I just tell them, how I want it cut up & wrapped. The locker plant calls us when it is ready & we pick it up & pay the farmer for the price per pound at market that day & the locker plant for processing!!! And we don't eat the family pet, it is soooooo much better than store bought meat!!! I know because I use to eat meat several years ago before I lost my immune system! We either buy a half or quater. It works wonderful for us!! We are on the list for the farmer & he calls us each year when he is takeing it to butcher to see if we want to buy a half or quater. It is the same the farmer eats so we know it is corn fed before he takes it to butcher/ & is the best as it is also what his family is eating!! Even through I don't eat it any more the color of the meat & how it smells is totally different from what you get at the store! Sonda in Ks.

-- Sonda (sgbruce@birch.net), October 09, 2000.

Once again let me put a plug in for 4h,good meat, raised humanly,No excess hormones,ect, Good tax wright off, and you can go in with others and buy 1/4 or 1/2s, and It helps a kid pay for college!

-- kathy h (saddlebronc@msn.com), October 10, 2000.

The beef I raise is about 99% organic, since the cows only receive annual vaccinations and worming. For several years I tried advertising in the local paper to sell it delivered to the processing plant. Sold one Jersey-cross bull calf. Apparently I am not Joel Salatin.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (scharabo@aol.com), October 10, 2000.

I raise Baldy cattle, (Angus/Hereford cross) and sell it to customers at per pound hanging weight. I buy feeder steers at 350-450# in the early fall, feeed hay all winter plus browse and clean pasture all summer, with about 800# of grain to finish out to 12-1,300#. which turn out a 50% carcass. We keep a side for ourselves, have it all done, the cost to us this past summer for a side of beef was $1.30 a pound. this is prime meat, not dairy cows, (calves) with yellow fat. My buyers end up with a cost of about $2.05 per pound and I have nothing but more orders coming than I can fill. I sell hogs the same way, the cost to me for pork is about $.50 per-#.

-- Howard C. Williams (redgate@echoweb.net), October 10, 2000.

WOW! Thanks for all the advice!! There must be a butcher around here someplace...I will get out the yellow pages and look. I didn't really want to raise one myself if I could avoid it, it seemed it would be expensive. Perhaps the handy dandy classifieds will help? Thanks again, now I know what other options are out there.

-- Cindy in OK (cynthiacluck@yahoo.com), October 10, 2000.

Cindy be carefull there are allot of dishonest people who will tell you anything to make a buck .I enjoy raising my own meat and also know exactly what went into it and how it was treated.

-- Patty Gamble (fodfarms@slic.com), October 10, 2000.

We raise organic lamb and chicken here in central Wisconsin, and definitely sleep better knowing what is NOT in it and that they were humanely treated. One of our neighbors raises calves for slaughter in the fall (also organically), and I will be glad to put anyone in touch if you email me.

-- Leo (wintersongfarm@yahoo.com), October 10, 2000.

Well, my hubby and I would like to know for certain what is in the beef, we have so many allergies and with the kids and I having so many health problems, it is important to stay as safe as we can. He told me he has been asking around and found out that some guys he works with has some cattle, so he will ask them about buying one and good slaughter places etc..

-- Cindy in OK (cynthiacluck@yahoo.com), October 10, 2000.

Cindy, You got lots and lots of good advice. so my 2 cents worth, I have raised calves from bottle babies(goats milk) and it is good meat. I know what it was fed and when it was wormed etc. I am sure there are folks on Oklahoma who raise good healthy well cared for beef. Just be sure to check around first. And you do get attached to those baby calves, and it is hard to send them off to the locker, but it seems to get better when the freezer is stuffed with all that organic beef. I hate feed lots and know the meat is as unhealthy for you as the eggs from the egg plants and chicken and turkey from those plants. How much can you stress an animal and have anything healthy come from it? Good luck, the whole thing is a fun learning experience.

-- Karen Mauk (dairygoatmama@hotmail.com), October 10, 2000.

Thanks, we have had a little experience on eating out pet. One of our roosters we thought was a hen the way he sat down and sat on the guinea eggs, got to where it was eating soooooooo much!! We had the other roosters lined up to eat, we had planned that..so this one went too. It was hard at first, but never tasted better!! I ate pets growing up,it was hard at first, but you get used to it. At least we aren't eating eating the cats. ;-)

-- Cindy in OK (chibicntrymom@aol.com), October 11, 2000.

Thanks on the warning for the dishonest people, I tend to be a target for them no matter how hard I try not to be. :-(

-- Cindy in OK (cynthiacluck@yahoo.com), October 11, 2000.


Wish I could give you ten ways to tell when you are being ripped off, but I can't. Best I can do.

If you buy from a local cattle raiser visit their operation and just look around. If everything looks too shabby, chances are they are cutting corners. On the other hand, if everything looks too perfect, to me that is also cause for concern. A good farmer lies somewhere in between. Ask specifically what vaccinations, worming, etc. their cattle get. Ask specifically what supplemental feeding they have received and the source. Be sure you understand exactly the arrangement, not that they tag on a transportion bill at the end. Get a feel for them. Do they answer questions with a yes or no, so elaborate to your satisfaction. To me, a good operator will want to go out of their way to show you everything out of their satisfaction of what they are doing.

On processing plants, chances are very, very high you will receive you own carcass back. Swaps out do happened, particularly a couple of prime cuts for hamburger from another source. Unless the processer is extremely honest, chances are they haven't bought any beef for their own use in some time. I would be suspect of any processor who also had a meat market as part of the operation.

Overall, I suspect ripoffs in this area do happen, but they are not common.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (scharabo@aol.com), October 11, 2000.

I can't remember in what book I read this but think it was one of JD's that if you bought a weaner pig and fed it twice a day that after all said and done you could raise it for $35 or you could buy it for $40 ready to butcher. So the raising with all the work and the risks envolved would make you a $5 profit. Meaning you might be able to raise it for $5 cheaper than you could buy it. Or you could butcher your own pig in an afternoon and save the $40 that it would have cost to have it butchered and packaged. With a cow the butchering would in all probablity would not be feasible but it is something to think about especialy if you know who is raising the meat and can trust what they are feeding it. You will find your time and money savings much more profitable in butchering rather than the raising of the meat. But then again look at what a farmer gets for wheat and what a baker gets for bread. gail

-- gail missouri ozarks (gef123@hotmail.com), October 11, 2000.

Cindy, you did get a great deal of good advice. The one thing I would add is that we really wanted to raise all our own food and I have the time and place to do that. Fences just need upkeep yearly for both the pigs and cattle. Pigs should always be raised in multiples and my cow was so lonesome she jumped fences until we raised another one for the neighbors. That was the last time I will ever have one of anything, now we buy them in pairs or more. Have a large family so it is easy to eat them. In our State, the prison runs the slaughter house so the only trick to getting them ready for the freezer is to transport them live, and if you can't do that, there are people who will for a share. Just advertise at the feed store what your intent is. Good luck. Maureen

-- Maureen Stevenson (maureen@mtaonline.net), October 14, 2000.

Here's alittle different take...

Do you know what you could be missing raising a steer? I have found that our "trial" stock has let us explore our interests. We have found that our son doesn't like cattle. But our daughter loves having a horse. And my husband (who would never ride a horse before) found he loves horses and riding!! Our daughter is sick of chickens as she had to do all chicken feed/clean for several years to help "pay" for her horse. My son discovered a love for ducks which feuled a love for filming wildlife. My husband found he loves raising pigs, found a friend through searching for pigs, and found an occupation as a mobile slaugter person because of his interaction with other farmers and local butchers. I discovered that a goat can be a fugal animal but I should stick to what I know and love(cattle)!

Do I need to mention how much learning goes on? Not to mention, teaching your children about sticking to it for the long haul. Farming is a business based on seasons and cycles. I think our best financial teaching of our kids has come from this farm. Investments, shares, projections, porfit and loss, record keeping, etc.

This could be an enterprise of surprising consequences!!

Hey, after living in this house for 7 years, it was my wandering steer that introduced me to all the neighbors. (Yes, we have good fencing, but this guy was an escape artist. Had everyone baffled as they would watch him slip through our five bar gate!) Okay, so he was called Stinker and was a real pain. But he left in my husband's slaughter truck last night, and we get that lovely check this week!

I must admit, we make very good money in our area. The prices quoted in this thread are not quite high enough for us. I think you should check out your meat prices in the area first and ignore most quotes out of area. I don't think most people consider where we live as expensive, but we suffer under prices that would make even Alaskans shudder. Our biggest competition is wild game. Many locals only eat game, so they never want our beef, pork, etc. Something we would not have known if we did not raise steers, etc.

A local butcher can be an excellent resource of local meat. Don't buy directly from him. (He might tack on a few cents per pound.) Ask for sellers and tell him you would like to see the animal first. LOOK AT THE ANIMAL FIRST! It may surprise everyone but we have seen many times individuals do not look at the steer before agreeing to buy.

I am shocked at the way some people buy beef and hogs. Careful about getting too small an animal. This happens too often. The reason some people pay more for local meat is for taste. Then, they buy a tiny steer who hasn't lived long enough to develop flavor or decent sized roasts, steaks, etc. We tend to raise our steer to a younger age than most. But we do not slaugter until they reach a certain size.(We keep an eye on the round steaks area.) Any smaller, and our customers are not getting what they paid for. Better to buy half of a larger animal than buy a steer that is not ready. Remember, it is in the seller's best interest to sell sooner than later as he will save on feed, etc.

Careful at what time of year or age of steer you do buy. Ask the farmer if the animal is "on the gain". This is a term used here to mean the animal is steadily increasing in weight. It means a better carcass. It will really come down to how or if he is grained and his age.

By the way, did I mention a whole group of individuals you may not know in your community because you are not raising some type of livestock? We found a great network of people we would never have developed friendships with if we didn't start this farm. I can't imagine all that we would have missed had we not started!

GOOD LUCK! If you would like more on butcher/slaugter advice you (everyone on forum) is welcome to e-mail us.

-- Christina (crublee@homer.libby.org), October 15, 2000.

Sometimes it is cheaper to just buy a butcher steer from the sale, sometimes not. Too many variables in the costs of feed & vet care. I raise butcher beef & sell it on the hoof. We don't use implants or other growth hormones in the feed. Takes longer to feed out but this way we know what went into the meat. We seldom eat out or buy from the grocery. I know the lady that fixes my meals washes her hands befor leaving the rest room, but I can't be too shure of any one else that processes & prepairs the meat.


-- Okie-Dokie (tjcamp6338@aol.com), October 15, 2000.

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