Monday, August 3, 2020

Where is the beef?

I was just talking to a farmer who raises beef.

He buys in calves and raises them to slaughter weight. He sells them as freezer beef by hanging weight.

He said that the local butcher shops are scheduled out to mid-2022.

To give you a feel for how exceptional that is, a good cattleman can raise a calf to slaughter weight by the time it is 14 months old. A mediocre one will take 18 months.

That means that the butcher shops are taking appointments to slaughter cattle that will not be born for another 6-to-10 months. Since cattle have a gestation period of 9 months, you could say they are scheduling appointments for calves that are still a twinkle in the bull's eye.

The farmer had exactly half as many "slots" for slaughter as he had cattle that would be ready. Since his costs were higher these past 18 months due to a crappy hay harvest in 2019 and high calf prices this spring he is looking at having to charge $3.50 a pound hanging weight.

While that might sound cheap to somebody who eats only prime cuts of beef, you have to understand that a significant portion of that carcass is bone. Then there is the 3/8"-to-3/4" blanket of fat between the skin and the meat that prime beef carries.

The farmer said it was due to the "factory butchers" getting hammered with Covid. The market would have shipped many local beeves to them but now everybody is trying to jam what they have through local channels to get it to market.

If there is a point to this essay, it is that this might be a good year to butcher your own beef. If you have the time, a front-end loader or chain-fall, sharp knives and can follow directions in a book slaughter-ready cattle will be cheap and abundant while pan-ready beef will be dear.


  1. I've butchered moose on the ground. A loader or gantry is nice, but not really necessary. It saves a lot of bending over.

  2. Problem I would watch out for is that most guys that buy calves to finish are buying Holstein and Holstein-Herford, or some other Holstein cross, from dairy farmers. Holstein is the best milk cow but the meat is considered by most people to be rather bad tasting. I will not eat it. Get a steak and a roast and try it before buying a whole half and see if you like it before spending all of that money and filling up a freezer with something you may not eat. --ken

  3. I'm raising a couple of Jersey-Angus cross calves. Got them from a local Mennonite who milks a couple of Jerseys. Holsteins are an abomination good for nothing except a veritable flood of watery milk.

  4. Good info on problems with beef.
    Let the neighbors borrow little yamaha ttr125 for junior. Come to find out there are no little dirt bikes at dealers around here. Waiting list past into next year.
    Walmart has no fishing poles or reels on the shelf. Neither does BassPro or Sportsman Warehouse.
    Have you seen the price of 9mm? It has tripled when you can find it.