Holy Cow!

car-full-of-beef

Yesterday I drove up to Snohomish to pick up 3/4 of a cow that Cascade Range Beef had grown for me.

We had eaten Cascade Range beef last winter and even the hamburger was amazingly gamy and lean. I never once had to drain the pan after browning before adding the other ingredients. It made wonderful meatballs, bolognese, taco meat and other things my family likes to eat.

The great thing about finding a personal farmer is that not only are you supporting a local small farm but you can find one that is like minded – sustainably pasturing cows and slaughters on the farm which is the most humane and least traumatic for the animal. Cascade Range Beef cows are 100% grass fed rather than fed part grain and silage that are not a part of the animal’s natural diet. That means your cow will be healthier, tastier, and play an integral part in land management (by naturally fertilizing the land) rather than contribute to greenhouse gasses.

100-percent-grass-fed-beef

I managed to sell the whole cow which is, of course, a prerequisite in order to get your meat.

Here is what Kelso’s (the butcher) looks like

kelsos-meats

And here is what one Volvo station wagon loaded up with 600 pounds of meat looks like

car-with-cow

To better help you visualize just how much meat one quarter cow is, it’s about two and a half regular sized coolers of meat. Luckily it packs really well into neat little blocks of meat unlike the various cuts of pig which were a ton of odd shapes that didn’t fit as neatly together.

cooler-of-cow

From my house it was about 25 miles to Kelso’s and the time actually went pretty fast on the road. The time I spent arranging and re-arranging cuts of meat in coolers and boxes, sorting for this person who wanted no stew meat or that person who wanted only short ribs, was not so fast. My advice when loading a frozen cow? GLOVES!

I’m ever so thankful I happened to have a pair of running gloves in the back of the car. Otherwise it probably would have taken me twice the hour that I spent man-handling beef.

I dropped one quarter of the cow off at a neighbor’s then raced home to rearrange my freezer and load my quarter. I had to take out the turkey that Pastured Sensations raised for me as well as two pork butts from Akyla Farms which we’ll smoke this weekend, then trade for some of the neighbor’s smoked salmon and repackage what is left to re-freeze.

I raced to the bus stop to pick up Chicken Little and a neighbor boy, dropped off the boy, raced to another neighbor’s to store the turkey and some ground beef in her freezer since my was full, then raced across town to deliver the final quarter for a friend who was at work. After three cooler trips down to her basement and loading her freezer we raced back home and got there just in time to lock the chickens up for the night.

There have been so many raccoon attacks this time of year, both in our neighborhood and all around town, that I’m paranoid about not getting them locked up by dusk. We’ve got plenty of good dog smells around the yard but that probably isn’t enough to keep them away.

There was no room for the soup bones in the freezer (which you have to request or they are thrown away – they are not allowed to donate them to food banks or sell them according to USDA regulation.) I started two large stock pots of beef bone broth which has been simmering for almost 24 hours now. Normally I like to simmer it gently for 48 hours or more to extract all the minerals and gelatin from the bones but my husband is coming back in town tonight and he’s not so fond of the simmering cauldrons on the stove.

There are quite a few mistakes I made when ordering the cuts. The frustrating part about ordering an animal is the information they don’t tell you. For instance, they ask if you want pork chops (who wouldn’t?) but don’t tell you that if you get pork chops you don’t then get a loin roast.

And so it is that I now have a freezer full of meat and no brisket to smoke or corn for St. Patty’s day. Apparently brisket is a specialty meat meaning if you don’t request it they turn it into stew meat or hamburger. My husband the smoker is not going to be happy about this. And when we try to throw our annual St. Patty’s Day corned beef dinner I’m not sure what we’ll do. With more than a year’s worth of meat in the freezer I may just need to break down and buy a brisket that won’t be the grass fed $3.50 per pound this meat worked out to. It will for sure cost a lot more.

Lesson learned. Always ask “If I get that, what will I not get?”

13 Responses to Holy Cow!

  1. This is our second year buying a quarter of grass fed beef. Last year we ordered from a local farm online, that had a drop point 5 minutes from our house. I picked the cuts on the website, and you are so right! If you pick something, you don’t get something else. I don’t even think there was an option for brisket last year, and I didn’t get any bones or organ meats at all. I didn’t know to ask back then either.

    We weren’t thrilled with the taste of the ground beef or steaks cooked on the stove or in the oven (though they were fabulous when grilled), so we decided to order from a different farm this year.

    This time an actual person from the butcher’s shop walked me through the choices on the phone. The difference: this year I didn’t get stew meat (which is fine, I can use other cuts), and fewer pounds of ground beef. What I got this year, but not last year: a roast I’ve never heard of (heel of round), additional steak cuts, a brisket (Yay!), 2 packages of short ribs, 2 packages of liver, 2 packages of boiling beef, 2 packages of soup bones, oxtail and a HUGE (like 15 to 20 pound) bag of “dog bones”. I asked for all the bones, and I guess they consider those “dog bones”.

    It’s quite an experience! I didn’t actually choose some of the cuts this year, so I guess I got them by default, after making other choices. I actually would have liked more ground beef than I received this year. Oh well, I figure by year 3 or 4 I’ll be a pro, and know exactly how to order. :)

    Enjoy your beef!

    BTW: US Wellness Meats sells grass fed corned beef. I’ve ordered several of their pork products, beef tallow, bones for stock, and beef ribs before. The quality of their products is outstanding!!! We have loved everything.

    http://www.grasslandbeef.com/Categories.bok?category=Grassland+Beef%3ABrisket%2C+Ribs%2C+Corned+%26+Stew+Beef

  2. When we lived in central Washington, one of my coworkers (and a good friend) was married to a man who ran a large cattle ranch. They finished the beef on grain unless you asked them not to (which we did). We bought a half beef from them every year for a long time and it was wonderful.

  3. Hi Jen, I’ve heard that if you don’t like the flavor try a different farm next year. You are what you eat so it makes sense that different diets flavor the same animals differently. I’ll have to keep that heel of round in mind for next year. I can’t wait to order like a pro someday!

    I’ve heard great things about US Wellness Meats as well – they just don’t fit our local criteria.

    Hi Kitsap FG – Do you have a good source for local meat over on the peninsula? My in laws always got a cow each year and they are in Shelton although I’m not sure where it came from, nor if it was grass fed or not. It seems like you would have more opportunity over there for meat animals!

  4. I am so jealous! Locally raised meat here is at the very cheapest $3.50/lb for hanging weight, which translates to $5-6/lb for the actual meat.

    Do you fit all of that in your freezer, or do you have more than one freezer?

    I’m still interested to read about your experience, because I want to buy some of that expensive (but cheaper than Whole Foods) meat, and I liked your tip about canning beef broth (which is what I guess I would do with a ton of bones that wouldn’t fit in the freezer). I wonder if there is a site somewhere that says this part of the cow can be this cut or that cut of meat?

  5. I have an extra upright fridge/freezer and a small chest freezer in the garage. I WISH there was a page that explained all that but I’ve dealt with two butchers now and asked that question and they both said they don’t have a site.

    I found this: http://www.askthemeatman.com/beef.htm but there is so much info that it was overwhelming and I still made ordering mistakes.

    Good luck finding a more affordable rancher – what part of the country are you in?

  6. I am in the Northeast. Real estate is pricey where I am, so I wonder if that contributes to meat prices.

  7. I just lost a chicken yesterday to a racoon during the day. I had a chicken that liked to fly out of the run in the afternoon and I found her dead by the gate when I got home. I wish I had clipped her wings, but I wanted to pass on that because of all the cold dry weather we’ve been having, predators are getting desparate and coming out during the day.

  8. Hi Marcy – I’m so sorry to hear that! We have raccoons in the neighborhood. I wish I could convince the dog to stay outside more during the day – that would make me much more comfortable when we aren’t home!

  9. Pingback: Saving Money by Eating Locally

  10. Hi! I know you wrote this AGES ago, but I think you’ll still get notification of this comment.

    ANYWHO. A friend and I have been scouting out our options for grass-fed beef…and none of them have really been that exciting.

    So, I have two questions:
    1) Did you like your experience with Cascade Farms Beef? Was the meat good? And, when the meat arrived (butchered and packaged) was it all just wrapped in paper? Or was it vacuum packed? And how much was it per pound?

    2) At Whole Foods, they sell “Vegetarian Beef”. It is grass-fed until the last 60-90 days, and then finished on peas, potatoes and corn, plus oats and wheat, I think. Is…that ok? The corn raises red flags, of course, but oats and wheat are another type of grass. Help!!

    (Ok, that’s really two VEINS of questions, instead of just two questions. Sorry!)

  11. Hi Aunt Lolo! You may want to contact Prarie Springs Ranch and I’ve also heard good things about ronmattox at 360-856-5949. You can phone and ask him questions but it’s Highland beef, grass fed, unsprayed fields, etc.

    Otherwise I would look at Thundering Hooves. They come to town once a month and their prices are probably much better than Whole Foods, plus they have 100% grass fed beef from Washington. I believe they are selling their meat at PCC now (at least the Fremont one was going to start first). I used to get all our meat from them until we started sourcing larger and larger pieces of meat to get the pricing down. The meat from all of them is wrapped in paper, sometimes coated paper, sometimes with plastic inside the paper but all wrapped well enough to survive extended deep freeze in my experience. I wouldn’t be crazy about 3 months of peas, potatoes, corn, oats or wheat. 2 weeks of finishing on organic grains is all I would look for. Anything more than that can seriously change the composition of the meat. Sally Fallon is ok with 2 weeks but my preference is for none. Hope this helps!

  12. The PCC in Issaquah sells Thundering Hooves meat as well, but I believe the prices on the website are a little better than the ones in the store (of course!)

    So, you haven’t had a problem with the paper wrapped beef getting freezer burned? (How long do you think you could store it that way? The whole year, as you could if it were vacuum packed?)

    Sorry to bombard you with so many questions! A friend and I went “meat hunting” the other day, comparing prices and options at PCC, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. It’s hard to find grass-fed beef that ISN’T ground up!

  13. No worries at all. Thundering Hooves also charges a delivery fee if you order from their site so the meat may not be much cheaper in the long run. I’ve never stored meat in the freezer for longer than a year but it’s been fine up to a year that way. The meat that I wrapped from Chubby, however, did not fare as well. Luckily we ate it quickly. I need to learn how to wrap those neat little bundles like the butcher does!

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