There’s plenty of evidence that grass-fed beef is healthier for people, better for the planet and offers a better life for the animal than the conventional way of raising beef in a confined animal operation (CAFO). But, the initial sticker shock is a big hurdle for many people. I’m not even talking about certified organic grass-fed beef — try $ 7.19 a pound for ground organic, grass-fed beef. And if that doesn’t curl your hair, consider paying $20.59 a pound for a raw, frozen T-Bone steak. That’s about as much as a full restaurant meal with CAFO steak as an entrée — and someone else cooked it, serves and does the dishes! Before you run screaming into the sunset, consider whether you would rather pay money for really good food that is likely to keep you healthy into a ripe old age, or pay insurance premiums and copays (both of which just keep going up to ridiculous levels and I see no sign they are topping out) for medical expenses. As Joel Salatin has commented, “If you think the price of organic food is expensive, have you priced cancer lately?”
My beef isn’t certified organic, for several reasons (among them the cost and the need to jump through multiple hoops and submit to government inspections by people who don’t know as much as I do), but we don’t use antibiotics or hormones, we don’t spray or otherwise drench our beef with insecticides or use pesticides in the pasture. We feed our animals grass and hay and we kill them instantly with a head shot as they graze — no trucking down a highway with other terrified animals to an abattoir that smells of fear, blood and death. But my beef is more expensive than conventional meat. Here’s why.
1. I raise my animals from birth to death. That means that I have to support the mama cow through the pregnancy and until the calf is weaned.
2. In order to have a calf, I must breed the cow. We don’t have enough cows to make it worthwhile to keep a bull, so we use a rent-a-bull service. In addition to the rental fee, we either pay for hauling or do it ourselves, and we feed the bull while he’s here.
3. Grass-fed beef is generally butchered at 18 to 24 months. It takes longer for the animals to grow to butchering size and the extra time also promotes terrific flavor. But it means I feed the animal longer. Conventional beef is butchered at about 12 months of age.
4. We use supplements such as kelp, minerals and loose salt to promote better health in our animals. Since I don’t live on the ocean floor, I have to pay both for the supplements and the shipping. I don’t have enough cows to be able to buy large amounts in bulk (as in a pallet or more).
5. We buy hay for winter feeding.
6. We have the typical costs of any ranch – fencing, gates, seed and fuel for the ranch vehicles such as the 4 wheelers, tractor and backhoe.
7. Although we don’t have employees, our time is certainly worth something.
8. We rarely use veterinary services, but if we do, that adds to the cost.
9. We have property payments and property taxes, just as you do.
Many of these are the same expenses any farmer or rancher has, but there are some differences. CAFO beef is typically sold to a feedlot producer and trucked to a feedlot for fattening (some very large ranches run their own feedlots). You’re paying for the labor and feed as well as business expenses of the trucker and feedlot as well as the farmer/rancher costs, plus a profit for each. Since I sell direct to the consumer, you aren’t paying middleman costs. The supplements and salt I use are a little more expensive than conventional forms (but they work a lot better and are easier for the cows to eat). The additional time to feed the animal is one of the primary reasons for the extra cost – for example, I’m feeding two winter’s worth of hay. Larger operations can afford to have one or more bulls.
Everybody makes choices about how they want to spend their money. In my opinion, grass-fed beef is worth it. as Sharon Astyk says, “Remember, every dollar you spend is a vote for the world you want to live in – don’t waste them.”