How to Buy Good Quality Meat From A Farmer Instead of the Grocery Store

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We’ve all heard the term “supply chain issues” ad nauseam lately. It’s frustrating to go to the store only to discover items are out of stock or priced shockingly high, and it’s become common to find meat/poultry shelves nearly empty. Now is the time to take control and create your own chain of supply by buying meat from a farmer.

In this article, I’ll cover what you need to know to buy meat in bulk.

image: head of brown cow with horns looking into camera with grass in background

What are the benefits of buying meat from a farmer?

There are some good reasons to purchase beef, pork, or lamb locally including:

  • Knowing what the animals are fed. We’ll talk more about this later, but since you’re choosing the farmer from whom you purchase, you can choose animals fed in the manner you desire.
  • Supporting your local economy. The money you spend is more likely to remain in your community. Consequently, you receive the direct benefit of the product plus the indirect benefit of a healthier local economy. Local farmers and ranchers can stay in business in a world of big corporation farming.
  • Benefiting your health. Eating leaner pasture-raised meat means you can avoid growth hormones and antibiotics, and enjoy higher levels of healthy fats. Plus it tastes better. It just does.
  • Increasing biodiversity. Research suggests that grass-fed livestock can increase ecosystem health, which feels like a win for the environment.
  • Saving money. Generally speaking, it’s going to be less expensive to purchase your meat this way, although the actual cost varies based on multiple factors. Factor in high inflation rates, and it could turn out to be the best deal you’ve ever made.

That last one, the issue of cost, quite understandably garners the most attention. 

Will you really save money if you buy your meat in bulk?

The answer is most certainly yes. However, it depends on several factors like market prices and processing fees in your area. Your budget is another consideration.

Plus, you may be getting cuts of meat you wouldn’t normally purchase at the grocery store.

Can you cook noisette? Brisket? I mean, in a perfect world, you could buy an all-bacon pig but sadly… 

In fact, you’ll need to make several key decisions before you can begin figuring out costs.

Stay with me as we walk through them.

What should you consider before sourcing direct from a farmer (or rancher)?

Some factors to consider are:

  • buying “cuts” vs. “whole”
  • the upfront cost
  • storing the meat
  • finding a farmer
  • understanding the cuts of meat
  • the quantity of meat

“Cuts” vs. “Whole”

The first major decision you need to make is whether you want to buy “cuts” of meat or the “whole” animal.

The term “cut” simply refers to meat that has already been butchered and cut into portions. “Cut” meat is what you buy at the grocery store. Some local farmers sell cuts of beef, lamb, or pork to you directly.

Alternatively, you can buy the “whole” animal—or a half or a quarter. You’ll probably find more local suppliers of whole animals than cut meat, but they’re both out there.

Your available freezer space also factors into this decision.

Is there a benefit to buying a whole animal?

Buying a whole animal is cost-beneficial in that you pay the same flat rate for both the high and low ends of meat—from T-bones to ground beef. So although you will pay more for ground beef, you will pay much less for steaks and roasts.

You’ll also pay a per pound butchering fee to have it processed. Make sure you compare prices to organic, grass-fed meat at the store, not low-end, feedlot meat.

I’ll also note that if you factor in the health and environmental benefits of eating organic, grass-fed animals, the price is even more attractive.

The upfront cost of buying bulk meat

An important consideration when buying a whole animal is the cost.

Depending on your budget, even a half or a quarter of an animal could be significant. You’ll need to shell out a significant amount of money upfront. We just bought “half a cow” and paid right around $1500 to give you a ballpark figure. I’ve found that prices vary widely, so do your research and by now you know to not use price as your only factor in making this decision.

Remember, you’re not necessarily paying more for the meat, you’re just paying for it all at once instead of spreading it out over the year.

How will you store all that meat?

Yes, when you buy meat from farmers, it’s a whole lot of meat, so don’t forget about freezer space.

Meat from a whole animal, especially if we’re talking about a cow, is going to require a lot of freezer space to store.

For example, in terms of beef, the approximate amount of freezer storage needed is:

  • 1/4 beef = 4.5 cu. ft. of chest freezer/5.5 cu. ft. upright freezer
  • 1/2 beef = 8 cu. ft.
  • whole beef = 16 cu. ft

Do you already have the freezer capacity? Will you need to purchase a freezer? If you must purchase, you’ll want to consider that as well. Although it pays for itself in the long term, it’s another outlay of cash that you need to account for.

Once upon a time, you could rent space in a meat locker. They’re just giant walk-in freezers that you can rent part of. One Survival Mom writer grew up going to the meat locker as a child. Her family raised cows, sheep, and pigs, and rentable freezer space was the only viable storage solution for all that meat. It’s harder to find these days but might be an option in your area.

If either of those is beyond you right now, a good solution is to buy ½ or ¼ of an animal. You can also pool with 1-3 other families to buy a whole animal. You’ll need to plan how to divide up the sparser high-end steaks, however, if you want to preserve friendships.

Alternatively, canning the meat might be an option for some of you, and one huge advantage of this is having shelf-stable meat that won’t need to be kept in the freezer. Canning meat is also a good alternative to vacuum sealing. In addition, it’s perfect if power outages are a concern.

image: canned meat from survival frog

Where can you find these suppliers of meat?

Another decision is which farmer or rancher to buy from.

If you want a recommendation, ask around at your local farmer’s market or within your circle of friends. More and more people have started going to the source for their food, so you’ll likely find several suppliers right away.

Or you can do what we all do and search the internet. In my state, an online “Local Beef Directory of Colorado” immediately pops up, along with local farms and ranches when I do a basic search. You can also try Local Harvest, a website that lists farms and ranches in your area, or Craigslist.

Each farm or ranch will list whether they are organic and how they feed their animals. Some ranches raise their animals on pasture only while others will “finish” an animal with grain. This is where you get to decide what your food eats.

Grass-fed and finished beef tastes different than grain-fed and finished, which tastes different than animals fed a combination, so ask questions before you commit. 

Depending on the proximity and willingness of the supplier, you may be able to visit the farm in person to see. I’ve also heard that some places allow you to choose your own animal, but that’s entirely specific to the farmer.

Why is the amount of meat you receive different than the weight of the animal?

This is where things get tricky and it makes a lot more sense if you have some information before you start the process.

First of all, there is “live weight” vs “hanging weight” vs “take-home weight.”

This is the difference between the live animal and that same animal sans skin, hooves, head, etc.—the “hanging” weight. Most animals are priced by their “hanging weight.”

The weight of the animal is further reduced by butchering the meat and discarding the bones, fat, and various parts. You can usually reclaim bones, tongue, and lard if you want to make bone broth or enjoy the exotic bits of the animal. Just request that when placing your order.

Everything left after that is the “take-home weight.”

How much meat will you take home?

The following is an example of how much you might take home after buying a whole cow. Please keep in mind these are round numbers and every cow will be different.

Say you decide to buy a cow that is 1200 lb “live weight.”

After all the inedible parts have been discarded, the “hanging weight” will be around 60% of that. In our example, approximately 720 lbs. This is what you will be charged for per pound.

Next, bones and fat are removed (but can be reclaimed) and that should leave you with about 60% of the hanging weight.

In our example, your “take-home weight” will be around 430 lbs. So figure you’ll take home 430 lbs (give or take) of quality steaks, roasts, stew meat, and ground beef.

What cuts will you get if you buy the whole animal?

This brings us to the all-important step of choosing how you want your cow (or lamb or hog) cut up.

image: cuts of beef, beef cutsYou might think, as I did, that there is a standard way to cut up an animal. Nope, it turns out you have choices.

The seller will give you a “cut sheet” that lists all your options. Whatever you write down is what you ultimately get, so it helps to have some insider information here.

Helpful tips for newbie beef buyers 

These come from the owner of a mobile slaughtering business and are some of the most practical suggestions I’ve come across.

  • Some muscles will yield different cuts of meat so you can’t them have all at the same time. For example, you can get shoulder clod OR chuck roast OR chucks steak. You can get a combination of Porterhouse, T-bones, New York Strips, and Filet Mignon, but NOT all of them. Ask, ask, ask.
  • At least 1/4 of your meat will be ground meat and another 1/4 will be either stew meat or additional ground beef. No cow on the planet yields all steaks so plan for plenty of ground beef and stew meat, which will be a combination of all the leftover cuts OR the cuts you didn’t request, including things like brisket.
  • Check ALL the boxes (except conflicting ones) or you may end up with more ground beef than you know what to do with. Ask if you are unsure.
  • Get the Hangar steak, there is only one per cow.
  • Get the spinals (you automatically get them with bone-in ribeye steaks) and oyster steaks. (Who knew there were such things?)

It’s Not Just Meats That You Can Buy From The Source

As the cost and availability of food continue to be unpredictable, buying directly from a farmer or rancher can help stabilize your food supply.

And it isn’t just meat. You can also buy fruit, vegetables, and eggs directly from the farm through a CSA program or farm stands.

Happily, you can talk to the people directly responsible for what you eat to learn more about what you are putting in your family’s bodies.


Buying direct takes the pressure off of local farmers because they know ahead of time that their product has a market. In turn, you will know how and by whom your meat has been raised.

It’s a win-win.

Have you ever bought meat directly from a farmer? Let me know in the comments what you thought of the process and the meat!

15 thoughts on “How to Buy Good Quality Meat From A Farmer Instead of the Grocery Store”

  1. We purchased one quarter of a beef a few months ago. The farmer even delivered the meat to us and checked back a week later to see if we were pleased. He helped us through deciding which cuts and recommended I get 20 pounds of fresh beef right after butchering to can. The rest was delivered about 10 days later. After eating it we’ve decided we will never buy store bought beef again! Far more flavorful and healthy.

    1. The difference in flavor really is quite remarkable to me, Rose. One can clearly taste the difference in what our food is fed.

  2. Catherine Miller

    I started several months ago buying my meat from” Butcher Box” and I am pleased with my selction and the quality of the product. It is shipped to me and if I don’t want my delivery in around a six week dilivery I can easily change the time and choices I have made. It is a very easy plan to work with and I have had a freind join also since I have been so happy with this company and she is happy also. i live in New Jersey and don’t know of any ranchers locally that I can buy from and that is why I chose this company. I have health issues and can’t digest the meat in the store so that is why I choice to go with grass fed meat. Thank you for this article and all you do to keep us informed.

    1. Isn’t it great there are options like this available for us, Catherine? Thanks for sharing your experience!

  3. Donna Campbell

    Found our Farmer through a mutual friend. We get locally raised grass-fed beef every year. Nothing in the grocery store can touch it for the quality, taste and price. We love our butcher too. We get some organs and fresh bones for the dogs too. I get the cuts that I want in the size I want, and it is all vacuum sealed and frozen. I highly recommend going this route. Nothing makes you feel better than having a half a cow in the freezer and know that you have enough of meat for your family for the year!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Donna. As someone who dreads grocery shopping, having food in the freezer for a year is quite appealing. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt for preparedness. 😉

  4. We are “that” farmer – have been selling meat by whole, half and quarters for a few years now. One thing to remember with the grass fed only craze – If you truly want goof grass fed only beef it takes 2 years minimum to get halfway good marveled meat, which will increase your price. grass fed – out on the pasture all summer and the last 90 days are grained & grass fed. We raise our grain so we never worry about additives to ours. And seriously most don’t use antibiotics unless necessary (they are sick & need to be doctored) that adds quite a lot to the input costs. Mostly the big feed lots will use more of them than your average farmer/rancher. Some do use growth hormones so you may want to ask about that.

  5. Donnette Henderson

    We raise our own Black Angus grass fed beef. Yes, there is quite a difference in taste from store bought with added dye and other stuff. We are currently in the middle of a very bad drought and our fields can’t be irrigated so that is a huge challenge. As said previously, it takes 18-24 months to raise an animal for ideal butcher weight.

    1. Good point about drought, Donnette. It’s a reminder there are also other variables in play. Thanks for sharing!

  6. We bought a 1/2 grass fed beef several years ago. The more of it we ate, the less we wanted to eat it. The hamburger in particular upset our stomaches and over time, the smell was enough for my husband and I to get nauseated. Our children weren’t as affected, but we finally gave some to friends who were willing to try it. I never figured out why it affected us that way, and later I learned that another local family had the same response to the beef they got from a different local farmer. It’s made me not want to try it again. I can still remember that nauseating smell. Any ideas why this would have happened?

    1. The Survival Mom

      That’s really interesting. We bought grass-fed and grass-finished a couple of years ago, and I didn’t like the ground beef at all. I ended up combining it with 80/20 or even 90/10 to add some fat to the grass-fed beef. I’m not sure what the smell was all about, in your case.

  7. One of my high school classmates raises beef cattle and we are now on the 1st 1/4 of our 2nd cow!
    My family of 5 (3 teenagers) usually take about 6 months to work our way through the roughly 185lbs of various cuts. My supplier is always willing to swap cuts so we are guaranteed to get the best bang for our buck.

    Our cost is around $5/lb hanging weight, and they are grass fed.

    As with anything that is fresh from the farm/ranch/garden, it is amazing quality and flavor.

    If you’re on the fence with the quantity of meat you’d receive, order some of your favorite cuts first, and once you’ve tasted the amazingness, you will be making space in your freezer and ordering your beef!

    1. The Survival Mom

      Agreed! This is pricey only because you pay for months worth of beef up front. You get steaks, roasts, briskets, etc. which are all expensive cuts at the grocery store.

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