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Rural Living for April 22, 2010

Buying local beef

by Carol Dunn

HUERFANO- According to the Colorado Beef Council, Colorado is 10th in the nation for cattle production, with 2.6 million head of cattle and 13,000 beef producers.  A majority of those cattle are still shipped to feedlots to be finished off with grain rations before butchering.  But there is a growing movement among consumers to buy pasture-raised beef produced by local ranchers and processed at trusted meat processors.  According to an article in Time magazine in 2006, more and more ranchers across the country are keeping their beef on their ranch and finishing them on grass, in response to consumer interest in organic and “natural” foods.  Time cited studies that show grass-fed beef is lower in saturated fats and slightly higher in omega-3 fatty acids.

    There are a number of ranchers in Huerfano County who sell pasture-raised beef.  Most ranchers require that you reserve your beef 3-4 months in advance.  Some finish their beef on grass, and some feed grain during the final month or so before butchering.  Locating a producer in order to buy pasture-raised beef is really a word-of-mouth process in Huerfano County.  An Internet search turned up one local producer, Edmundson Ranches, that markets grass-finished beef: www.edmundsonranchgrassfedbeef.com.  The web site is very specific about the process and prices.

    Buying locally raised beef is nothing like a grocery store experience.  There are several charges that you need to be aware of in advance.  Most ranchers will quote you a per-pound price for a quarter, half or full beef, not including your share of the kill fee (around $45) and the charge for cutting and wrapping or vacuum packing your beef, which can vary from 60 to 70 cents a pound.  Ask the rancher up front what the price includes.  Your cost can vary from $3 to $10 per pound, depending on the cuts of meat you request.  Some buyers join with friends to share the cost of a half or even a quarter.

    The weight of a half beef depends on the size of the animal, but you can figure on 300-500 pounds per half.  The rancher will give you the contact information for the processor, and you will personally work out the details of your order, for instance: what steak cuts you want and the fat trim; how many pounds of burger you want and the fat percentage; whether you want packages of stew meat, soup bones and/or tail bones; what type of roasts you prefer.  You will have more choices of different cuts with a half beef than with a quarter.  If you want the tripe, heart or liver, you will need to specifically request them.  Rancher Dave Stroh told the World Journal, “Every deal is going to be different.”

    The rancher will deliver the animal to the processing plant.  The hang time in the cooler for the beef to age before it is cut up varies from 1-2 weeks.  The processor will provide you with a schedule of when your beef will be ready to pick up.  If you want your meat delivered, there may be an additional fee.  Be sure you have freed up enough freezer space before your meat is delivered.

    If it hasn’t been spoken for, you can purchase the hide for about $25, depending on the processor, who salts it after removing it.  You will need to make arrangements with a tanner to process the hide within a couple weeks, and that may cost $80-$100.

    When you add it all up, you may not save any money buying your beef from a local producer compared to a membership warehouse.  However, you can avoid feedlot practices that you may find objectionable, you are not subject to marketing gimmicks, and you are supporting the local economy.  Most people will agree that you also end up with a higher quality of beef in your freezer.

    The Huerfano Basin Stockgrowers Association will be discussing the promotion of locally-raised beef and other home-raised products at their next meeting, May 6 at 7 pm at the Walsenburg Community Center.