I almost broke my brain trying to figure out the actual word for the process of purchasing a whole, half or quarter cow. It’s called cow sharing if you aren’t familiar with the term. But it’s not just beef that you can do this with! Pigs, chickens, goat, lamb, you name it, you can buy animals by the whole instead of by the cut. Today, I wanted to discuss what this process is and why you should do it.
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WHAT IS COW SHARING
Cow sharing is when you purchase a butchered animal from the farm. Every state and farm does this differently so bare with me here. In Georgia, you contact a farmer that has a cow for sale for processing. They take the cow to a processor, you pay the farmer for the cow and the processor for processing the meat. Depending on how the farmer has set up their farm, you can just pay the farmer for the whole deal.
You can purchase a whole, half or quarter cow. Some places will even go down to an eighth of a cow but it’s not common. The meat processor will call or send you a cut list. This list is what you want out of the cow, if you want all ground beef or all steak and ground beef, that’s what you would put on the cut list. When you pick up your cow, you are getting steaks, ground beef, roast, ribs, etc. whatever you put on your cut list.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF COW SHARING?
Oh, let me count the ways. Literally, there are so many great things about cow sharing but I’m going to limit my excitement to my top three reasons to cow share.
SUPPORTING OUR LOCAL FARMERS
We hear all the time to support local businesses. But when it comes to our farmers? The vast majority don’t pay attention. We have been trained to go to the grocery store for our food. Meat comes from the meat case at the store. Fruits and veggies from the produce section. Dairy? It doesn’t come from the farm, it comes from the coolers at the back of the store.
To quote Joel Salatin, “The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests.”
Our farmers, no matter how big their operation, are the backbone of this country. If you aren’t 100% self sustaining; without a farmer, you don’t eat. Period.
When you purchase meat, produce, or dairy from a local farmer, you are supporting your local community in a direct way. Because that farmer is going to take those dollars, and put it back into the local feed store for feed or seeds. They will then go to another farmer for hay, chickens, etc. Or they support the local dance studio when they send their kid to lessons. Those dollars stay pretty local.
VOTING WITH OUR DOLLARS
You can have whatever political preference you want. That is not what I mean with this section. When you buy food from the local farmers or farmers market, you are taking money away from the big corporations. Those corporations that have huge tax breaks and profits. You are telling that corporation, government and anyone that will listen, that you want THIS type of product.
Because you wanted grass fed, humanely raise beef with no antibiotics or vaccinations, you went to a local farmer.
Because you wanted non sprayed, truly organic produce, you went to the local farmer.
Because you wanted free ranged eggs, with zero soy or corn fed to them, you went to the local farmer.
You vote with every single dollar you spend.
COW SHARING SAVES A TON OF MONEY
Speaking of dollars, when you cow share, you can save hundreds of dollars. To give you an example, the farm we buy our beef from charges $4.50/# hanging weight. My cut weight price was about $6.95, though this varies greatly by how many pounds of meat I take home and the total I pay. I’ll explain what hanging weight and cut weight is further below. What this means is my ground beef is $6.95/# and my bone in ribeye is $6.95/#.
My local grocery store (Kroger) has regular beef at $5.99/# and grass fed (which is what mine is) at $8.49/#. They have bone in rib eye for $14.49/#. Again, my price is $6.95/# all of it.
Over a year, that saves me hundreds of dollars. My family of 4 will consume approximately 800# of meat a year. When we have people over, that amount goes up even more. Between the beef we purchase and the pigs and chickens we raise, we save a ton of money.
DOWNSIDES OF COW SHARING
While there are a ton of good things about cow sharing, there are a few downsides. And man, they are BIG ones.
Depending on your beef, pork, chicken, etc. usage, storage can be a huge issue. We have 2 18.5cu ft chest freezers and 1 15.7cu ft upright freezer. Plus, the freezers attached to our refrigerators. Yes, we have 2. If you don’t have space for a freezer, cow sharing may not be an option.
But if you really want to buy whole or half cows, then you will find the room. I’ve lived with freezers in my living room, kitchen, and dining rooms. Is it great? No. I hated it. But it saved me a ton of money, so fine.
The upfront cost of cow sharing is steep. And if you are not disciplined enough not to save a little bit every month, that yearly expense can be overwhelming. To give you some perspective, our first half cow cost us $1800ish. Our last whole cow, was just over $3,600. Not to mention the costs of the freezers.
When we purchase processed pigs, we are looking at another $400-600. Since we raise our own chickens, the cost is spread out a little more but it’s still expensive.
HOW WE STARTED COW SHARING
We had been looking into purchasing a half cow prior to the pandemic, but just never did it. It was easier to head to the grocery store every week or so and by meat. During the pandemic, it was a struggle to find meat and be able to purchase our normal amounts every coupe of weeks. Our local store had limits on two packages of the same type of beef, chicken or pork. For example, you could only buy two packages of chicken breast or ground beef. But you could purchase two packages of ground beef and two steaks and two chicken breast and two chicken wings.
While I understand why this happened, it was a struggle to get enough meat for our family. So I reached out to a couple local farms and purchased half a cow. The meat was absolutely delicious. It was even better than store bought.
When we purchased our last cow, I was talking to some of the college students I teach about dropping $400 at the grocery store before coming into teach. I told them, “I can’t imagine having to buy meat on top of spending that much money.” I realized that, as a whole, people rely solely on the grocery store for their food. All of it.
They told me that they spend about $100-200 a week in meat, depending on the cuts, availability, and sales. Do what now? I didn’t realize that I was that far removed from “real” Americans. Those that don’t have access to gardens to raise produce, pastures to raise dairy, and local farmers for meat. It makes me so angry. But that’s another post for another time.
There are a million videos about CAFO’s, what they are, how they operate, etc. A CAFO is a Contained Animal Feed Operation and it’s just about the saddest thing I have ever seen. These animals are crammed into these muddy, feces and parasite infested lots. They are fed a steady diet of GMO grains. They get sick and it spreads through each lot like wildfire. But they are still butchered, despite being sick.
Pigs are crammed in concrete cells until it’s time for them to be butchered. Piglets have their tails (and sometimes ears) removed to avoid cannibalism, which happens anyways.
Chickens houses have hundreds, if not thousands of chickens in one house. When they are butchered, they are snatched up and shoved into tiny crates and taken to slaughter houses. If the chicken arrives dead, they are still processed.
When you buy from local farmers, you can go to the farm and see the animals. They are out on pasture with plenty of room to move and eat. All the sunshine, shade, water and grass they could want. Chickens have all the bugs and grass they could ever want. Pigs can root around and eat all the scraps.
As a consumer, if we are going to eat meat, we should at the very least know where it comes from and how it was treated. But most of us turn a blind eye to it. And I think that discussion needs to change too.
SHOULD YOU COW SHARE
I think that everyone should cow share. But I also completely understand that it’s not possible for everyone. If you are struggling to figure out if you should purchase a cow, I wanted to give some options.
The smallest option would be to find a butcher that fits your ideals. If you are looking for grass fed, hormone free, etc, find a butcher that caters to that.
Another option would be to split a cow share. If you don’t have the storage or wallet for a whole or half cow, split it with friends or family. That way you can still get the meat you want without spending or storing hundreds of pounds of beef.
Hoof weight is the weight of the animal before processing.
Hanging weight is the weight of the animal after head, hooves, organs, etc has been removed.
Cut weight is the weight of the meat that you get once it’s packaged.
Understanding these terms are important when you are looking at the cow sharing process. If your farmer is charging by the hanging weight (which is most common), you will be paying for the meat and bones of the animal.
Your butcher will charge you by cut weight. But regardless, buying local is always going to be the best option, no matter if you are buying from a farmer or butcher.
AT THE END OF THE DAY
You have to make the right decisions for you and your family. That’s all any of us can do. If you’re curious about cow sharing, or any other animal, a quick Google search can point you in the right direction for where to purchase a cow, pig, sheep, goat, or chicken.