A Quest for Local Beef

The world is beginning to learn with increasing rapidity there is no cheap source of food. The bulk of our hard-earned money goes to housing, food, and transportation. It has been especially visible for the increased prices in meat, especially beef and pork.

Few consumers have any idea of the cost of raising, processing, and merchandising food. So, I wanted to share, in 8 steps, what I learned recently thanks to motivation from the Rodeo suite by Aaron Copland, one healthy heifer, the Ogg Family Farm, Kauffman’s Processing, my husband, and Dr. Emalee Buttrey.

  1. Know Your Farmer

First, I had to find a cattle farmer that sold local beef. So, I looked in the 2021 NWTN Local Food Guide magazine, and found several. It is good to know which farmer has a slaughter appointment at which butcher. These appointments are usually booked months in advance. Additionally, you can usually purchase a quarter, half, or the entire animal.

So, I heard that the Ogg family had an appointment with Kauffman’s Processing. I contacted Scotty Ogg, from Ogg Family Farms and my family placed an order for a quarter animal. I gave him my phone number and he told me he would let me know when he took the animal to the butcher.

2. Know your Cattle

You probably know that beef is the meat we get from cattle. But did you know there is different terminology for types of cattle?

Here is a break-down of cattle terminology:

Bovine – term referring to cattle, bison, and buffalo

Calf – a young bovine, typically less than 1 year of age

Heifer – a young female bovine that has not given birth

Cow – a sexually mature female bovine that has given birth

Bull calf – an uncastrated, young male bovine

Steer – a young male bovine castrated before development of secondary sex characteristics

Bullock – a male bovine, typically under 24 months of age, either castrated or uncastrated, that has begun to develop secondary sex characteristics

Bull –an uncastrated , sexually mature male bovine, typically 24 months of age or older, that has developed secondary sex characteristics

Stag – a male bovine that was castrated after the development of secondary sex characteristics

3.Know Your Butcher

There are several reputable cattle butchers in Northwest Tennessee:

  1. CMR Processing LLC, Brighton, TN
  2. Kauffman’s Meat Processing, Cottage Grove, TN
  3. K&J Meat Processing, Paris, TN
  4. Yoder Brothers Meat Processing, Paris, TN – the only USDA certified butcher in the area
  5. Buckaroo Meat Co., LLC, Bruceton, TN

A few months after I spoke with Scotty Ogg, the butcher at Kauffman’s called me. Kauffman’s is a Mennonite owned and operated butcher shop that specializes in beef and hog processing in Cottage Grove, TN.

They asked me, “How would you like us to process your meat? What cuts would you like?”

This was my answer: “Uhhhhh, let me get back with you.”

4. Know Your Cuts of Meat

Fortunately, my husband, who is a US Citizen, was born in Uruguay – the country who has the Guinness Book of World Records for the LARGEST BBQ ON EARTH – pretty much a meat fiesta! So, naturally, I asked my husband for help, who then spoke with the wonderful staff at Kauffman’s. I realize, not everybody has an Uruguayan husband that knows their meat cuts, so my quest continued.

This is when I contacted Dr. Emalee Buttrey, Associate Professor of Animal Science and Assistant Director of Honors Programs, Department of Agriculture, Geosciences, and Natural Resources at The University of Tennessee at Martin, and she sent me lots of information, including a Beef Cuts  infographic link.

Professor Buttrey also informed me, “On average in the US, the beef sold in a retail setting and at restaurants comes from cattle that were processed between 16-18 months of age. Cattle in this age range are more efficient at converting their feed/calories into lean muscle growth, while adding adequate amounts of fat and maintaining tenderness. As cattle get older, they are less efficient in converting calories (i.e., they use more feed resources), they deposit too much fat, and the muscle fibers become tougher.”

Once my husband and I decided which cuts of beef to request, our order still wouldn’t be ready for another two weeks. The meat has to be allowed to age or cure “on the hook”. At the end of the two weeks, the meat is weighed. This is called the rail weight and is used to base the amount that you will be charged for processing the meat. But how much would it weigh? Read about HOW MUCH MEAT TO EXPECT FROM A BEEF CARCASS.

5. Why Buy Local?

  • Helps local Economy

Buying your meats from your local farmer keeps your money in your community. For every $100 you spend at locally owned businesses, $68 will stay in the community. What happens when you spend that same $100 at a national chain? Only $43 stays in the community.*(*Source: www.independentwestand.org/what-happens-when-you-shop-local)

  • Keeps Farmers in Business

Buying from local farmers helps keep farmers in business. There are less and less small family run farms, the backbone of what built America. Getting to know your local farmers and knowing their farming practices will ensure that you are buying and consuming foods that meet your needs and lifestyle.

  • Greater Appreciation

Knowing where your food comes from and the work that goes into producing it gives you a greater appreciation for that food.

  • Save you money

Believe it or not – buying meat from your local farmer can save you money. Set a menu and budget and talk with your local farmer. Purchasing only what you need will stop you from wasting uneaten food. Also, check to see if your farmer sells meat in bulk. If you have the freezer space buying a lot of meat at one time will significantly chop down the price per pound.

6. Dr. Emalee Buttrey’s Uncovered Myths:

Prior to the 1950s, when there were no large-scale beef producers – a lot of family farms finished off their own animals with grass. As corn producers became more efficient, there was more corn in the food system. Corn is the primary grain in the US.  Also, learning more about animal nutrition and production, the excess of corn was found that it could be fed to livestock to supplement their diet of hay and grass. Corn helps the cattle be more efficient at turning everything they eat into consumable products. As corn-finished beef became more popular, US consumers became used to the buttery flavor profile of grain fed beef. Straight forage finished beef has stronger flavor profiles which has to do with the fatty acids from foraging that are deposited in the meat itself.

Contrary to popular belief, cattle aren’t ever given a 100% grain or corn diet because their stomach is not designed to handle an all-grain diet. There is always grass or hay in their diet. Even in a feedlot, farmers never completely remove roughage or forage from the cattle’s diet.

If a beef package says no hormones at all – that is not true. All animals and animal products (meat, dairy, eggs) have naturally occurring hormones. What is meant is that the farmer is not using added hormones.

The USDA Organic System was started as a marketing program to help producers that wanted to use that system to market their products. There are a lot of documents of rules and guidelines to follow and it is costly. Feed has to be raised by a USDA certified organic feed or forage producer. Additionally, there are some organic chemicals that are approved for use.

Studies have shown there are no differences in neither the safety nor nutritional value of organically-raised meat vs. non-organically raised meat.

7. Make sure you have a freezer

Most meat processors will process your meats into cuts and have them freezer ready upon pick-up. If you order a quarter animal, make sure you bring about 3 large coolers to transport the meat, and have a permanent freezer that will hold the meat you purchase at home. I was surprised at the quantity of meat and amount of freezer space I needed for a quarter of beef. This amount required a 7 cubic foot freezer that costs on average about $250 to purchase now. Ours is 4 years old and was an excellent investment.

8. So, how much did all of this cost? Break-it down.

Ok. Let’s get to the point. What does all of this cost and how much meat did we actually get? (Note: these prices are based off of 2020 numbers. Prices may vary from farmer to processor – but at least we can get a general idea of costs.)

  • Total rail weight for a quarter beef: 227 lbs. of pure beef, no bones.
  • Kauffman’s processing charge (this price includes kill fee, disposal fee, and processing fee)?  $159.27
  • Farmer charge/pound? $2.65/lb x rail weight = $603.30
  • Total cost for both processor and farmer = $762.57
  • What is the average cost/pound? $3.35/ lb.
  • We got 1 inch thick cuts of the following:
    • Sirloin Tip Steak and Butt Roast
    • Filet and New York Strip
    • Short Ribs
    • Flank Steak and Skirt Steak
    • Tri Tip Cap
    • Whole Liver
    • Ground Beef (in 1 pound bags)
    • Stew Meat (1 pound bags)

Professor Buttrey reflected the price of local meats by saying, “Even if you bought a half or a quarter of beef – you are getting the filets, ribeyes, ground beef – and all the varieties of cuts including some of the more expensive cuts – the price evens out.”

Compared with current costs of beef, (for example: the average cost of 1 lb. of ground beef in June 2020 was $4.86) we got a really, really good deal sourcing our beef locally, and it feels good to know that our family’s hard earned money went into the hands of hard working local processors and farmers with those dollars staying in our community. This is one of the many reasons my family loves local food!

~ Samantha Goyret

LFN Team Blogger

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This is the back story as to how my journey began to source locally grown and raised foods…

I moved to Northwest Tennessee in the summer of 2013, 7 months pregnant, with my husband starting a new job. I wanted the best food I could find for our baby girl, and also a way to connect myself with our new roots. 

In 2015, I met a friend and also another young mother, with the same desire to source local food for her family, Ashley Kite-Rowland. So, we started creating a list of farmers and producers to create the first local food guide for Weakley County, TN. In 2018, we officially formed a non-profit organization. Since then, Ashley has moved on to her other passion which is planting trees. Speed up to summer 2021 the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network distributed 10,000 copies of the 9-county NWTN Local Food Guide magazine throughout the region. #GetitLocal!

I often drive around the countryside, soaking in the beauty all around, fields of green, tree islands, cows peacefully grazing, horses waving their tails in the wind, gardens flourishing…a picturesque life of rural Northwest Tennessee.

I am on a constant quest to seek locally grown and produced foods, know and support our local farmers, and embrace the beauty of our bountiful region in a place my husband, two kids, and I call home.