First Beef Analysis

Below the fold is a short analysis of the first steer we sent in from our hobby farm if you are interested.

UPDATE 5-29-11 7.54am central time – an interesting discussion about opportunity costs has begun in the comments.

Well, we picked up Earl today in seven cardboard boxes. We even got the processor to save us the horns and plan on making a display with those. The breed we raise is the Scottish Highland. They are a slow to mature breed, and we add no hormones or grain to our cattle’s diet, which makes them even slower to mature. Earl was at the two year mark when he was sent in. Most feed lot cattle are around 12 – 14 months. Our cattle only eat pasture grass and hay that we get from our farmland. The only artificial thing we use on them is a de-wormer.

Hanging weight – 528 pounds, which made this about a 950 pound steer on the hoof. Hanging weight is the side of beef that, well, hangs in the cooler for a few days with all of the usable cuts intact. Typically you get about 63% of the hanging weight as edible beef, which yields us approximately 333 pounds. There were a large variety of cuts. Everything from arm steaks to ribeyes to t-bones to sirloin strips. The tenderloins were looking great. There is a lot of ground beef, of course. We requested the organ meats. This was at the discretion of the butcher, who will not let them go if they look odd or funny to him. We received the heart, liver, tongue and sweetbreads. I am really looking forward to preparing the tongue and sweetbreads – two of my favorites.

Not being grainfed and being a different breed of cattle than the standard feedlot steer, we are not expecting well marbled steaks like you would find at Ruth Chrith. We are expecting beef that most likely tastes like it tasted to folks 100 years ago. Which is to say wild. Wild isn’t the right word – just more “beefy”. We will see. First burgers tonight, first steaks tomorrow.


Acqisition cost of the animal – $500
Feed cost – $0
Vet cost – $0
De-wormer – $10
Transport to processor – $100
Processing – $312.06

I can’t really think of any other costs we have associated with the animal. This puts our all around cost of the beef at $2.77 per pound. Of course you can get ground beef much cheaper than this, but good luck finding a decent ribeye under $10 per pound (I have been seeing $15/pound around here).

In the future our acquisition cost will be lowered by approximately $450 as we have two females in our herd. One has yielded a calf already with one other on the way. Our other female gets knocked up for the first time next year. Typically you pay the vet $25 for the process, and $25 for the straw. For those of you who don’t know, a straw is a vial of semen from a bull that you choose. Alternately we have been offered to send our females to a bull to do it au naturel for $50 including transportation. We went the vet way this year and it took (we are expecting a calf any day now) so time will tell if we send our females away this fall or have the vet knock them up.

Beef prices are at record levels right now, so our next steer (set to leave in a few months) may be sold outright – we will see. My wife reports seeing grass fed organic ground beef being sold for $5 per pound. Our farm is so small that we wouldn’t have to get certified to be called organic, so along those lines a local butcher has expressed interest in our steers to sell at his shop. He can label and sell the product as grass fed organic and command a higher price, and also tell his customers that they can drive by our farm and see the cattle peacefully grazing on pasture.

Of course this is all pie in the sky before it really happens, but time will tell. This second steer will most certainly have to be sold one way or another as I honestly don’t have any idea what we would do with another steer, unless we eat beef every day this summer (could happen).

Cross posted at LITGM.

24 thoughts on “First Beef Analysis”

  1. Terrific. Report on how the burgers and steaks taste, please. I am interested to hear.

  2. “I can’t really think of any other costs we have associated with the animal.”

    Interest on your initial outlay. Maybe $10, not much these days, but it can add up.

    Rent on the land. If you were not using it to pasture your cattle, you could lease it to some other farmer.

    Risk of loss on the cattle. They could be sucked up by a passing tornado. The cost would be an insurance policy on the cattle.

    OTOH, Congratulations, the Madison family will eat meat while we in the cities are dumpster diving after BO completes the destruction of our economy.

  3. I would add in a financial factor for your time and work. Raising critters and farming is nothing if not work. I would recommend that you at least start to use the “natural” form of insemination, because some day those straws may not be available, and it is a way to further integrate yourselves into the local farmer community. Which is an excellent thing in case it gets testy out.

    You might want to look into setting up to dry age your meat, to improve tenderness and flavor.

    Keep us posted, please.

    Subotai Bahadur

  4. Robert Schwartz – Yep, there are opportunity costs associated with the land. Renting it would be more than offset by the place being taxed rural vs. ag – which, if we didn’t have the cattle and have an actual LLC for the farm would be a reality. The idea of a tornado is real, but our herd is so tiny that it wasn’t worth it to purchase insurance for that event.

    SB – as for the time and work on the animals, this is one of the reasons we chose the Scottish Highland as our breed. Very docile (they don’t challenge the fenceline – speaking of, I forgot to include fencing as an initial cost), and pretty hands off. The labor does include removing manure from the shelter area once every couple of weeks (I guess I can also include a portion of the bobcat cost in that as well), stacking hay in the summer (very hard labor) and throwing hay in the winter (not so hard labor). Pretty easy all things considered.

    Good advice on sending them to the bull, the aspect of the community of farmers has been discussed. We are pretty integrated already. It is interesting how everybody does favors for everybody all the time. We don’t have the big heavy equipment so we trade horse lessons for kids, or cash, or a case of beer, or whatever. It works.

    I have been studying dry aging. Sadly we don’t have a whole rib to do this with so I may have to try it with individual steaks.

    The first burgers hit the grill last night and they were good! The taste was much “beefier” as we expected, but not “wild” as you get sometimes with venison. Imagine making a burger out of ground sirloin. Very little fat. I overcooked them a bit as I treated them like any other burger. Next time they will be better. First steaks tonight.

  5. In addition to the acquisition costs of the calf, shouldn’t you have included the acquisition costs of the farm? X number of cattle you will produce over your projected lifetime x 538 lbs / purchase price of the farm, or something like that? You can argue the land will be worth more after you are gone than it is now, so it is a negative cost, but down that road lies Enron-style accounting. It would be a wonderful world if we could balance our accounts with patient creditors willing to wait until we were dead to get their money back. I play this game with my brother nearly every time we go fishing, pointing out the number of times we could have eaten the catfish dinner at Charlie’s Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant for the price of his boat. His defense is always that I haven’t taken into account the pleasure we get from the outing. I find it hard to believe there is much of a fun factor in feeding cattle in the middle of the winter where you are. But then there are plenty of ice fishermen in your neck of the woods, so I could be wrong.

  6. Dan – well if you want to get down to it, yes, every time we spend time at the farm we could easily be spending time at a plush resort, order a fine steak dinner, and probably come out even. Then again, I will never own a plush resort, and I do own this tiny hobby farm.

    But why do people make beer, wine, go fishing as you suggested, or raise cattle on a hobby farm? Pure enjoyment. There is no way for $6 a six pack you can even come close to paying for your own beer if you make it yourself. As your brother said, enjoyment. I have planted a nice garden out there, and no, I can’t find any real justification that says my beets will pay for themselves. But it is enjoyable.

    The feeling of freedom at our farm is incredible. Very few people around. I carry a gun, just because I want to. This feeling of being on your own is something not many people get, and it is worth a lot of money to me.

    No, winter isn’t fun, but it isn’t bad either. It is just part of the deal. We had a lot of fun hitching up the horses to sleds this year and pulling the family around, and afterward making a fire and having hot cocoa. You really feel like a Midwesterner in that sense. Just dealing with the cards that are dealt in the best way possible.

    Also (and don’t take this lightly) we were able to be remarkably self sufficient through a major winter. This bodes well for us in a disaster/war situation.

  7. If you want beefy then the heart is something you are really going to enjoy. Best part of the animal IMO.

    Although you describe it as an organ, remember that it is muscle (ie. meat) so treat it accordingly. Some like it braised, that is ok, but I like it cut into strips and then grilled.

  8. ThomasD – correct you are. We recently had beef heart as an appetizer at a local Peruvian restaurant and it tasted marinated – then it was cut in strips and grilled as you suggest. This is how we plan on eating it.

  9. When I was a kid, we got our beef from a small packing house in Indiana. My father and I would drive over and watch the steer brought in in the back of a truck. They would shoot him in the truck and a week later we would pick up wrapped frozen meat. I can’t remember anything about the taste but that was before hormones and antibiotics. We did get a lot of ground beef.

  10. Tatyana, sweetbreads are the various hormonal glands, in grown animals it’s mostly the pancreas, though other glands are consumed too.

  11. When I was 10, my father decided to butcher a hog. I got to make the sausage with the grinder plus singe the hair (bristles) off the back of the bacon. Anything you want to know about it, from the POV of a 10 year old, just ask. I was also allowed an egg nog and didn’t know for some time why I felt so odd after drinking it.

  12. I always thought that sweetbreads were the thymus gland – most of the time from what I understand sweetbreads served in restaurants are from veal. That will probably be the most interesting thing we eat from the whole steer. I really don’t know what to expect, but I know I completely enjoy sweetbreads in restaurants.

  13. Ribeyes tonight – pleasantly surprised! They were only 3/4″ cut – I would get an inch cut next time as I had to babysit them a bit on the grill to make sure they came off rare. But the tenderness was certainly there, and the fat was nice and sweet. As I have been saying, it isn’t like the grainfed, but it is very satisfying that these were as good as they were. The taste wasn’t wild or off at all. I would say that the fat wasn’t as sweet as grainfed, but it was pretty close. All in all, we are extremely satisfied. We shall see over time see how the tougher cuts do, such as arm steaks, and other steaks outside of the rib primal such as sirloins, etc. I have a feeling that they will still be good, but I may have to have some nice steak burritos and the like with some.

  14. With the tender cuts like rib eyes, I like to barbeque them as whole loins if there are more than two people. Marinated, the loin keeps its flavor and doesn’t get dry. Then you slice it as thick as you like.

  15. thanks…didn’t make it understandable, though. It’s not liver, and not tongue, and it’s not stomach and not brain, right?

    even when I ran it through translator, the term вилочковая железа remains a mystery…

  16. Sweetbread.

    I had sweetbreads once, at a kosher restaurant in New York. It was good, but very fatty as I recall it.

    Beef tongue can be very good. There are a lot of Mecicans in my area, and they eat lengua, sobyou can get it in the grocery stores in some neighborhoods.. You can often get lengua tacos at the more authentic places, which I like very much. It is like a very tender pot roast with a unique consistency.

    I am getting hungry talking about this … .

  17. Lex, see my first comment @thread: I already looked into Wiki, thanks. Still have no idea which one of the listed parts (neck? ear? heart?) Dan meant. And if someone means neck, heart or liver – why not say exactly that? All these parts are of different density and require different cooking time and different methods; liver for example only needs few minutes on a frying pan and few more – sauteed in sour cream, while cow’s heart is a rubber-like muscle and requires hours of boiling. You can’t mix them and cook them all together at once.

    Veal tongue is a delicacy; I like best to present it as cold appetizer, with horse radish.

  18. As I understand it, sweetbread is not so much a single item as a category of various glands taken from various parts of the cow. The cook just has to gauge how much cooking each piece needs based on density, thickness, etc. The ones I had were, I believe, breaded and pan fried. Probably poached first and then just browned in the pan. As I said, very fatty.

  19. Tatyana, it usually designates the pancreas and the thymus, though there isn’t much left of the thymus in a grown animal. Sometimes it is understood to include the salivary glands or the testes.

  20. Hmmm didn’t look like the testes and since it was a steer I can pretty much conclude that is was not that particular part of the cow. It looked like enormous veal sweetbreads. I will certainly take a photo when I prepare them. I will most likely lightly bread and pan fry them in a bit of olive oil and butter.

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