The first concern most have when they think of grass-fed beef is…you guessed it: Price. You’ve heard it’s better for you and love the thought of feeding your family the best, but does it really make THAT much of a difference? Is it really worth taking that leap?
The short answer: Absolutely.
For this article I’m going to step away from behind the scenes. My name is Jess and I am admittedly new to this whole thing. It has been so fun working with Grant Creek Ranch because I have learned a great deal about cows in general and how they do things on the farm, which has caused me to further my own personal research and make decisions affecting my food purchases. I, like probably many of you reading this, am in that part of life where I’m doing responsible things like buying/remodeling a house, planning for my future, and trying to improve my overall health. Budget is always on my mind. I always strive to find that balance between the best products and not breaking the bank. I can honestly say that I do believe grass-fed is worth it. It’s what makes it so easy to talk about and share.
To be completely honest, it all comes down to priorities. Being realistic, this will not apply to every person out there. If you eat as cheap as humanly possible, eating almost no red meat least of all steaks or roasts, and do not care at all where your food comes from then this probably isn’t going to change your mind. However, if you are teetering with the idea of eating better food and weighing the pros and cons of grass-fed beef while maintaining a modest budget then please read on. There are many things to consider when purchasing grass-fed beef, whether from the ranch or the grocery store, and I am going to explain them all right now.
The Cost Breakdown
First, I’m going to get to the point of what you want to know. Straight up, grass-fed is going to cost you a little more, but how much? Keep in mind that it is near impossible to come up with an example that fits perfectly due to varying factors that come into play such as cut choices, but here is a general example:
A ½ cow, which can feed a family of 4 for approximately a year, weighs about 400lbs. This is the hanging weight (HW), the carcass after removal of all the unnecessary parts. We charge $3.99/lb (HW) which equals $1,596. You add to that the processing fee of about $0.76/lb ($304) and you end up paying $1,900 (Multiply or divide by 2 to get the price of whole and ¼). Now, you are ending up with about 250lbs of cut weight (CW), what you are taking home in the form of roasts, steaks, etc. If we take $1,900 / 250, you are basically paying $7.60 per pound. Compare this to the grocery store. It might be on the high end for ground beef, although not by much for grass-fed, but only a third of your order is ground. The rest will be steaks and roast. $7.60/lb for steak is a great price when you consider you would be paying upwards of $10-12/lb at the store, and that’s not even for the good grass-fed stuff. Using US averages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics of “normal” store-bought beef I came up with a total of $1,418. I tried to add up an approximate ½ cow order from a local grocery chain (Reasors) and came up with a cost of $1,666, among several other total prices.
Pros and Cons
Did that number seem shocking to you? It’s going to at first. How often do you go to the store and buy 250 pounds of beef to last you an entire year? Chances are, not often, but I guarantee you’d be surprised too if you added up what you spend on meat in a year going to the grocery store and out to eat. One of the few cons to buying in bulk is the cost is paid upfront. The only other downside I can think of is meat isn’t always readily available. Currently we are not ready to sell. This is one of the many reasons commercial beef can be cheaper. Due to their resources, they are able to raise and put out beef at a much quicker rate. Most of the grass-fed market is still coming from small local farms. However, as long as you get a deep freezer and buy the right amount for you and your family it’ll last you until it’s time to buy a new cow!
1) Humane Treatment
So, diving more into why grass-fed is worth the extra cost let’s go back to the beginning. How were the cows raised? If you have taken the time to explore our site you know that our calves are raised in a pasture with their happy cow-moms, living happy, free lives. We feed our cows native and Bermuda grass, only supplementing with protein cubes in the winter when the grass is unable to provide all the appropriate nutrients they need. Some people wonder why all this matters. They’re just being bred to provide food anyway, right? Well, let’s think about that. Unfortunately, sometimes cows are mistreated, especially if finishing their lives in a feed-lot where they’re fattened up more quickly. The calves are raised being scared of humans and the treatment they associate with them. They know what being shoved in that pen means. Using people as an example, when you are stressed it affects you not only emotionally but physically as well. You are tired, achy, and possibly even malnourished. It makes sense that if cows are raised in a harsh stressful environment it will affect their bodies as they produce adrenaline and other hormones, ultimately affecting the quality of our meat. And remember, we are what we eat.
2) The Dry-Aged Difference
Next, how the meat is processed. We’ve quickly mentioned the difference between dry and wet-aged processing. So how does this affect you, the consumer? To refresh, dry-aging involves hanging the meat for a period of time in a refrigerator. During this time, the meat begins to breakdown. Some liquids leave the meat while some absorb into it. This is how the meat tenderizes. It does cause a lot of weight loss, around 20% actually, but results in beautiful flavorful meat. We like that.
In wet-aging, the meat is placed in vacuum-sealed bags which also allows the meat to breakdown but in a shorter time, allowing for faster transfer from butcher to plate. Cha-ching for the big guys. What this affects, and what this all boils down to really, is flavor. Dry-aged beef will have a robust flavor while wet-aged is going to have a more metallic taste. Honestly, if you are used to store-bought meat then this is probably what you are more familiar with and making the switch might be strange at first.
I conducted my own taste test when I was first introduced to the world of grass-fed and while it was unable to be a blind test on my part, my husband was completely clueless. I purchased the normal cheap ground beef I would usually buy from the store. The first thing I noticed was the rich red color of the grass-fed beef compared to the dull pink I was used to seeing. I cooked both for the same amount of time with no seasoning. During the cooking process I noticed that the store-bought did lose more moisture, rendered more fat and shrunk in size while the grass-fed did very little. We both agreed that while not a super noticeable difference and I can’t really explain exactly what, there was something we both liked slightly more about the dry-aged taste. It was just better.
3) Meat Quality
So what is so bad about store-bought? Nothing! You can absolutely get excellent cuts and flavors either way. Some stores even have a section of dry-aged beef on display along with grass-fed and other options, but again, I’m going to bring in that little word we all know too well: Cost. Say you go to the store and find the cheapest ground beef possible. This beef will be fattier and likely have had moisture added back to it during the grounding process. This is replacing weight of meat, and weight is what you are being charged for. It also isn’t as good of quality as you could be getting.
If you haven’t yet, go read my previous post Bone up on Health. It references some benefits found in switching to grass-fed beef that affect our bodies. This is personally my number one, and almost only, reason for making the switch. Another aspect of the health reason is the actual obvious condition of the meat. When you purchase meat from the grocery store it consists of several cows, increasing the odds that you are getting some questionable content or infections. Higher quantity of cows means it ups the chances that one of them had an infection and now it’s mixed in with all your meat. But when you are purchasing one cow from one place you know its condition and you know that nothing else (aka other cow meat) can compromise that. You get what you see.
I just love the idea of knowing exactly where my cow grew up, what it ate, and that I am getting that cow solely instead of a mixing pot of whatever is out there.
Still Need Convincing?
Here are other things to consider and ask yourself:
- You will be getting all sorts of cuts that you probably steer clear of at the store due to higher prices.
- How often are you going to go out to eat when you have 250lbs of meat in your freezer ready to be cooked? This alone would save most families probably thousands of dollars over the year.
- You know what you are getting is 100% grass-fed and grass-finished. No sneaky labels.
- You’re getting lean high-quality meat as opposed to what you may have to compromise for at the store.
- A big reason why commercial meat is cheaper in some aspects is they have the giant farms, equipment, employees. They have all these resources that go through the process much faster. They have cows all year long. With grass-fed you’re dealing with things on a much smaller scale: Small farms and ranches, and limited resources and time. You are supporting a local business.
I cannot stress enough that we do not believe this is the only tried and true way to raise/eat/buy beef. Feedlots are not inherently bad. Grocery store beef is not always low quality. Commercial beef companies are not all evil! With everything, there will be those few bad eggs that ruin it for everyone. We just prefer knowing exactly what is going on with our food and deal with less of the “unknown.” Ultimately, you have to weigh the pros and cons, consider your priorities and decide what you think is the best decision for you and your family, but I for one cannot wait for the next order time.
Next time you go shopping, take a look at prices, do your own math, break out the research and you’ll see that it pays to feed you and your family the best. Now go invest in that deep freezer!
For another good read, check out Why Grass-Fed Beef?