Affording the Whole Cow

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So, last month we talked about Buying the Whole Cow – reasons why you might want to buy meat in bulk and the cost savings involved. At the end of that post, I told you this month we would discuss how you could afford to make that large purchase – and it is a large one. Most people don’t just have $500+ extra lying around. It is very possible to make a large purchase like this, but it does take a little bit of planning. 

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First, you need to know that 200+ pounds of meat takes up a LOT of space. You’re going to need somewhere to store it, and a refrigerator freezer isn’t going to cut it. I can honestly say that our deep freezer was one of the best investments we ever made. It has paid for itself many times over – it allows us to buy at deep discount and have the ability to store the food. 

Yes, a brand new deep freezer can set you back a pretty penny – but I see them available used all the time. Check out your local used appliance shop (most of them offer warranties) or even Craig’s List. That is your very first step in buying large amounts of meat – finding the place to store it.

DO NOT BUY ON CREDIT. Purchasing a large freezer on credit negates the savings of purchasing a whole cow. If you can’t pay cash, you cannot afford it. DO NOT BUY ON CREDIT. 

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How to afford purchasing a whole cow/pig:

1. Do extra side jobs or sell items you don’t use until you can come up with the amount of cash you need. This might take a couple months, or it might be something that happens rather quickly – especially if you have a lot of things hanging around that you never use. A dusty drum set? Cash in the bank. A repurposed treadmill ( a.k.a. “clothes drying rack”)? Moola. Trade in your moola for mooooooooooooooooo!

2. Save a little each month. This is my favorite way to pay for large items. When I know there is something we need to purchase, I tend to get a little stingy. I will make sure that for a few months the things that I am buying are REALLY necessities. If we can do without them, I won’t buy them. Doing without for a little while, so that I can purchase something we do need, is totally worth the temporary sacrifice. Whatever money I have left from our monthly budget is set to the side and I compile that until we have enough money to purchase our item with cash. 

3. Go in half with a friend. A purchase of $500+ at once can be a bit of sticker shock for many of you. But, if you have a friend who might enjoy getting a cow with you, you could split the cost and the meat. $250 is a little easier to swallow.

4. Consider only purchasing a ½ or ¼ of a cow. You’re still going to save money this way. As you’re eating up your ¼ cow/pig, you continue your savings strategy so that when your meat is gone, you already have the cash to purchase the next amount – and maybe this time you’ll have saved enough to get more meat. 

5. Consider the Barter System. Yes, I realize that for most people this type of thing has gone the way of the dinosaur. But really, if you have a special skill or business, you might be able to get a discount on your meat. If you run a successful side printing business, maybe you can trade advertising for a discount on your beef. Do you cut hair? Ask the farmer if you can cut his family’s hair for free for a while to get a discount. Don’t be afraid to ask. Sure, they might say ‘no’. But, they might say ‘YES’. 

So, those are my tips for buying a whole cow. Do you have any to share?

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10 Responses to Affording the Whole Cow

  1. We have purchased a 1/2 beef once a year for the past several years. I wouldn’t do it any other way now. I feel more confident in the quality and health of the beef, since we know the rancher and can see how the cows live. One trick is to work with your butcher when deciding how to cut and wrap the meat. You can specify how much you want in each package to fit your family size and can also get the beef processed into specific cuts you like. We get some of ours processed into strips for stir fry or fajitas and also make sure to get a rib roast for Christmas. :)

  2. Thanks for this series. As a small family farm, we appreciate these smart posts. It’s promoting not only healthy food and cost savings, but may help the decline of our food system.

  3. When you say $500/200 lbs, are you discussing a whole cow? I split a cow with a family me member and my half was 200 lbs and just under $600. I think 200 lbs for a whole cow would be a very small animal.

  4. I’ve contemplated this. My father-in-law is a cattle rancher and advised me against it. He said a lot of it the meat would end up going to waste, that you don’t eat all those parts of a cow. He said its cheaper to buy what you would eat rather than 1/2 to a whole cow.

    How do you use those parts you don’t normally eat?

    • I know this might sound dumb, but what specific parts are you referring to? My dad is a beef cattle farmer and I have never heard him say this, so I’m curious as to what you’re talking about?

      • Off hand I would think things like the liver, heart, kidneys, tongue, brains, bones. I know some people eat those things, but most people don’t. These are also items that a processor has likely found use for, whether it be for dog food or other products.

        • We usually just have those ground up with our burger. We do keep the liver and tongue. Lots of people covet the bones for good broth. And if you have pets, none of the “leftover” goes to waste. :-)

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