Is it cheaper to raise your own beef? Is it even worth raising your own meat? Yes, it is absolutely cheaper and completely worth the time and effort to do so!
Before moving to our 10-acre farm 12 years ago, I homesteaded in every capacity possible in the suburbs.
Our suburban lot was small, and the south side of our house was blocked by the neighbor’s house. Still, I did everything I could to grow our own food. This included tearing out most of the landscaping and planting food all around the house.
Canning food was a skill that I learned from a neighbor at our previous house, and so I canned everything I could get my hands on. In addition to the food we grew, I frequented “U-pick” farms, farmers markets, and took advantage of “loss leader” sales at the grocery.
Every winter, we enjoyed the homemade marinara sauce, jams, and vegetables that we put up. What was lacking in my repertoire, however, was livestock and the ability to raise our own meat.
While the law has recently changed in our old neighborhood, to allow four hens, chickens were not permitted when we lived there. Our lot was so small, with neighbors just feet away, raising meat would have been limited to rabbits or tilapia in an indoor fish tank.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have some land to raise our family as well as more food!?
After increasing the size of our family from 6 children to 9, we knew that we needed a rural environment to raise this growing brood!
Soon after, we fell in love with a 10-acre property out in the country, which would allow us to grow more food and even bring livestock into the picture.
Goats and laying hens were the first animals to call our farm their home. We soon realized that goats weren’t quite what we expected, as they did a great deal of damage.
However, we loved having lots of chickens for eggs, entertainment, and bug control! Soon, we took the leap to raise meat birds. To keep the cost per chicken down, we learned how to process them ourselves. What a sense of satisfaction to step back and admire your freezer, full of pasture-raised chicken!
While I dreamt of raising our own beef one day, we were content to buy our organic, grass-fed beef from a local farmer.
Frankly, we hadn’t a clue about how to raise any type of bovine and further, I wasn’t sure that we had enough pasture to accommodate our own beef calf. After doing some research, the general rule of thumb is 1.5 acres per cow. You can do it on even less property, if you don’t mind supplementing with hay all year. Yet, hay is expensive and not a good year-round option.
Fortunately, we had already been building up the nutritional value of our 5-acre pasture by seeding with buckwheat, red clover, timothy, and rye, contributing to the health of our donkeys, horses, and honeybees.
As the price of beef, from the farmer, continued to climb, I began to wonder if we should take a chance and raise our own beef.
Our opportunity presented itself one day with a phone call from a good friend of mine. My friend, Cathy and her husband are “real” farmers (as I like to call them) with nearly a thousand acres, where they raise cattle, corn and soybeans.
They knew of my desire to eventually raise our own beef.
It seemed that one of their heifers had passed away, leaving an orphan calf, who needed to be bottle fed. She asked me if I would be interested in buying the calf.
“Buster,” the beef calf, was purchased for $75 and our journey to raise our own grass-fed beef had begun.
Cathy and her husband, Carl, not only delivered the calf to our property, but also offered to help answer any questions along the way. Carl, having been in traditional farming since he was a kid, didn’t see the reasoning in raising a “grass-fed” beef calf. He also doubted that without the mother’s milk (which has a lot of fat to help the new calf develop) that Buster wouldn’t turn out to be much more than a pet.
Buster was definitely on the thin side when he arrived. Milk-replacer was purchased from the farm store, so that I could feed Buster twice a day. Fortunately, I already had bottles from our “goat days.” The milk-replacer cost a lot more than I thought it would, or should, but without the mother cow, there was no option.
Eventually, Buster transitioned from bottle to bucket, still drinking the milk-replacer and slowly learning to nibble on hay and fresh grass, until about 12 weeks.
During the first 12 weeks, Buster was banded (castrated) by Cathy and me. It’s not that difficult of a process, but it does take 2 people to do it. I borrowed Cathy’s bander, so it didn’t cost me anything.
While I’m not a vaccine fan, Carl convinced me to vaccinate Buster for at least “Black Leg” and a couple of other life-threatening diseases.
Buster was later weaned (at 12-14 weeks) from milk replacer and started on “Manna” (pellet food made for calves, similar to human baby food), but much to our delight, he was already munching on hay and grass at that point.
Once Buster was weaned from the “Manna”, he was exclusively on hay and grass for almost 2 years. During that time, Buster was treated like a family pet. In all honesty, he behaved as though he was a dog.
They say that you shouldn’t “name the food” or become emotionally attached and I would agree that’s good advice. However, Buster was our first cow, and we couldn’t be helped.
While we made sure that Buster’s life was a good one, the family understood what Buster’s purpose was…to feed our family. We are fortunate to have a local meat processor and so that’s where we chose to take Buster.
My neighbor purchased ½ of our beef for $3.75 a pound and even offered to haul Buster to the processor! It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. Hanging weight turned out to be 780 pounds! That was far more than we had expected! Both my neighbor and I paid for our own share of the processing.
However, the best part came when I realized that once my neighbor paid for his share (390# x 3.75 = $1462.50) our share of the beef was essentially free.
Here’s a run-down of our expenses:
- Buster – $75 (Hauling was free)
- Milk Replacer (Several bags for 12-14 weeks) $100
- Calf Manna (2 bags/ $35) $70
- Vaccines – $20
- Salt block – $6
- Hay (one full winter and 2 months of second winter @ $5 bale) – 750 + 375 = $1125
- Processing – Approx. $200 (charged by weight and cut order)
- Total cost: $1,596 – 1462.50 = $133.50
Income from the sale other half – $1462.50 (Since it was our neighbor and he helped with the hauling, we only charged $3.75 per pound. However, if we had sold it to someone else, the price would have been increased and we could have made a few hundred dollars.)
All in all, the two-year journey to raise our own beef was very worthwhile. So much so, that “Ferdinand the Bull”, another small beef-calf, has come to our farm for a two-year visit!
Kelly L. Morris is a full-time homesteader, homemaker, homeschooler, beekeeper, and sustainability fanatic who raises a beef cow, miniature donkeys, lots of chickens, and two Great Pyrenees on her 10-acre Southwest Ohio homestead. She is an avid reader who is passionate about gardening, food preservation, beekeeping, quilting, writing, and teaching others how to be more food-independent. Connect with Kelly at Gently Sustainable, on Pinterest and YouTube.
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