Sharing A Cow: The Real Experience

Sunday morning at the grocery store can feel like running a marathon. You enter the race as you push your grocery cart, with a bum wheel, through the automatic doors, and onto the floor. You weave through crowded aisles, check things off your list, and dodge long checkout lines. By the time you’re loading up your car, you feel beat.

Add one more obstacle – finding healthy food that you can trust, and you’re ready to abandon your shopping cart midway and head for the door, which is exactly what my sister did one day after perusing the meat section at our local store.

We try to be a healthy family. There’s no aluminum in our deodorant, our cereal doesn’t have a cartoon captain on the box, and just about everything is labeled organic. When it comes to meat, that’s where it can be challenging. Organic chicken is the easiest to come by, but try and find pork or beef and your options are limited, to say the least.

The Grass-Fed Way Or The Highway

My family usually gets by on one brand of organic ground beef. It’s only sold in 1.5-pound packages and there’s only ever three or four items on the shelf at a time.

When the one grocery store that sells organic beef is sold out … well, everyone is out of luck.

If you’re devoted to eating healthy, like my family, you drop the pre-packaged beef that resembles play dough and leave the store empty-handed.

Cow Sharing Is Another Option

The good news? There are other options when it comes to buying meat that you can trust. It’s known by many names including cow pooling and cow sharing.

It seemed old-fashioned when I first heard about sharing a cow, like something that was done years and years ago. But let’s face it, families and friends chipped in to buy a cow and split the meat years ago because it made sense.

Health Benefits Of Grass-Fed Meat

There is a way to bypass the questionable meat in the supermarket. Essentially, a family or a group of people get together and split the cost of a butchered cow. The idea is to get the fresh, grass-fed meat at a wholesale price from a reliable source. The health benefits range from leaner meat, fewer calories, and extra omega-3s, to fewer hormones and lower amounts of bacteria.

The practice of sharing a cow also allows families to get a variety of grass-fed cuts in comparison to the limited option of ground beef that the supermarket offers, including tenderloin, T-bone, porterhouse, sirloin, ground beef, soup bones, chuck roast, beef cubes, and so much more. You would never be able to find a variety of cuts like this in the supermarket.

What To Expect When You Buy A Cow

Personally, I had to drive an hour away to a small farm in Pennsylvania to pick up our cow. It is worth mentioning that depending on your location, you may have to do a little searching before you find a farm that fits your needs and that you trust.

While buying and sharing meat is growing in popularity again, it’s not exactly available on every local farm.There are sites and programs that make the process a little easier. At the very least, it’s something to compare to.

You’re going to get a variety of cuts, and it’s best to understand what you’re getting. Depending on your butcher and the other parties, you may get a few cuts that you’re unfamiliar with or don’t exactly need. It’s recommended that you discuss the cuts that you really want and what you’re willing to negotiate before the meat arrives. The last thing you want is to put out the money and be disappointed in what you’re going home with.

Consider Family Size And Cuts

The first time we did this we shared a quarter of a cow with three people. With a family of four, we decided to get more the next time. Since then, we felt that sharing an entire cow with more people was a better way to get the cuts you wanted. The cuts we received the first time were delicious, but sharing a smaller amount with other people made portion sizes an issue.

For example, from our share, we received four ranch steaks that were small in size. This would’ve been perfect for our family of four, but remember, we shared our portion with three people and took home only two ranch steaks.

It was sometimes difficult to plan a meal for a big family with sometimes smaller portion sizes. Although variety is great, it’s important that you get the right amount to make a meal work for your family.

The best way to resolve this is to talk to the other members of your party and your butcher beforehand. Also, trial and error will play into finding the right cuts and portions for you. This won’t be an exact science every time, otherwise, you would be shopping at a supermarket.

Don’t Flake On Your Group

People could back out after the deal has already been made. Unless you sign a binding contract, this could happen and it’s something you have to be prepared for. A certain amount of people and a specific amount of money are needed to get a cow or half of a cow. Everyone who participates is relying on the other parties to chip in their share.

It can really be an issue if someone backs out at the last second. This is the difficult part of relying on others, but once you make a deal with your butcher, the group will be expected to pay the full amount, whether someone backs out or not. Consider gathering all of the money from all of the parties before making the final deal with your butcher. It can save you from being put in a tough spot later on.

Find A Team Leader

This may sound like a high school group science project, but assigning one person to be in charge can make a difference. That doesn’t mean one person should be responsible for gathering money, negotiating with a butcher, picking up, and dividing the meat. A group that is going in together should share responsibilities. However, it helps if one person is there to make sure things are in order and no wires get crossed.

Overall, Buying A Cow Was A Great Choice

The whole experience of finding the right farm, building a relationship with our butcher, even visiting their gorgeous farm in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania made the process worth it. That was before we even tasted the delicious, grass-fed beef that we came home with. We were comforted knowing where the meat came from and how the animals were treated.

cows in pasture
Kat Shereko / Insteading

Since our first experience sharing a cow, we’ve learned a lot. Knowing that our food is healthier and fresh makes a big difference. We’ve continued to work with our farmer and other local farms to find the best option for our family.

Freelance writer, Marlene Ridgway, grew up in rural West Virginia, cooking, keeping chickens, stacking firewood, picking blueberries, and gardening.

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