Welcome home

A couple of weeks ago we said farewell to Chuck, the Holstein steer with which we began our animal-raising adventure. And on Tuesday we brought him home from the slaughterhouse (in between fetching a ton or so of chicken manure from South Fork). The slaughterhouse is the best of the three we’ve dealt with so far, but still far from perfect; the facility is new and clean and we like that the food is vacuum-packed, but the owner talks fast and doesn’t listen very well, so not only did we not get exactly the kind of cuts we asked for but we’re not sure why. They also won’t hang meat very long, but I gather this is a widespread problem these days. We were fortunate that the carcass hung for eight days; for the live weight we brought (800 lbs) they say the standard time is four days, but they got busy and forgot about it for awhile.

On Thursday, Chuck appeared on the table for the first time, in the form of hamburgers. We like our hamburgers a lot, so it was a good test, and he passed with flying colors—not too fatty, meaty, satisfying. And then on Saturday the ultimate test, a grill-full of T-Bone steaks. We were all quietly worried as we tried the first bites, since we have had some bad experiences with previous cows—even grain-fed ones were tough and flavorless—but Chuck came through for us again, tasting as good as we’ve had outside an expensive steakhouse, and surprisingly tender. We ended up with 390 pounds of cut meat, so we’ll be seeing him at the table frequently.

For the record, there have been no problems at all with the kids eating an animal they knew. We talked about it often, and they understand well that Chuck lived a good life and is now fulfilling his destiny with us.

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3 thoughts on “Welcome home

  1. James,

    Do you know what Chuck cost?

    I’ll tell you some of the costs we incurred, and you can decide. We purchased him from our friend Jimmy Ellis for $225; it was in November 2006, and he was two months old. Since he was our first animal, our pasture was very grown up and he was able to graze on it until early February, when the two milk cows came. We purchased hay at the feed store to get them through to mid-April, maybe 40 bales at an average of $5 a bale; Chuck ate maybe 1/5th of the hay, or about $40 worth. From then until late fall he grazed with the others (two full-grown cows, two calfs born in May 2007) at no cost except for a bit of salt. This winter the cows went through 320 bales of hay, average cost $4 a bale (pretty high because of the drought). We figure he ate 1/4 of the hay, costing $320.

    That comes to $585 for 800lb live weight, or about 75 cents per pound. (For comparison, the last cow we put in the freezer was 1000lbs live weight, for which we paid $1 per pound.) Slaughter cost was $150, making a total of $735, and we received 390lbs of meat, making the final cost around $1.90 per pound.

    Now, consider the next two calves. They were born in May 2007, at no cost (except for the cost of their mothers, of course). Both male, so both destined for the slaughter house. Over the winter we figure they each ate 1/8th of the hay, for $160 apiece. We will let them fatten up this year on pasture, slaughtering them in late fall before we start feeding hay again. If they finish out at 800lbs (we’re hoping for more, since they’ll be sixteen months old and won’t have lost weight over a winter like Chuck did), that will be 20 cents per pound. If they give us the same amount of meat as Chuck for the same slaughter cost, the final cost per pound will be 80 cents per pound.

    Keep in mind that our hay costs were very high. In the past we would have been able to get hay from our neighbor for $1.50 per bale in the field; if hay costs go back to that, our costs would be much less. And to the extent we can stockpile grass for the winter on our pasture and maybe even put up some of our own hay, our cost will drop even further.

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