Chronicles of Less Urban Living, Fresh from In the Night Farm

Growing Costs: The Value of Food

I’m going grass-fed. I promised.

My freezer is nearly empty of conventional meats. A pound or two of bacon remains. And some organic ground beef from Costco, which is New Zealand grassfed mixed with American organic grainfed. After that’s gone, I’m all in.

I’ve found a vendor of quality, local, grassfed meats just one town over. They sell beef tenderloin for around $20/lb, but I’ll be ordering the ground beef, stew beef, and mixed cuts of pork that average $5.50/lb.

I may have to close my eyes while entering my credit card number. I will try very hard not to think about conventional prices of $1.98 for ground round or pork shoulder at $1.79 or whole roaster chickens under $3.00 on sale.

This, after all, is simply how much food ought to cost. Unsubsidized, allowed to mature at a natural rate without being poisoned by a grain diet that would kill them in months despite heavy antibiotic loads, if they didn’t go to the slaughterhouse first, livestock is not cheap to raise.

In fact, given the dinner I enjoyed last night, $5.50/lb for local, grassfed beef looks downright reasonable. Yesterday evening, I cooked up two, broiled lamb chops with mint pesto and side of sauteed summer squash and onions with thyme.

Simple, right?

Sure, if you picked it all up from the grocery. But I didn’t. Those chops came from lambs born here at In the Night Farm. I grew the herbs and onion. The squash came from a co-worker’s garden.

Cheap, right?

Hardly. Not even if you picked it all up from the grocery. Which I didn’t.

Those chops came from lambs born here at In the Night Farm, remember? They were grass (actually, mostly hay) fed, which meant they took their time maturing to slaughtering size. Quite aside from the daily labor of caring for livestock, the monetary cost can’t be ignored. Care to have a look?

Quality alfalfa/grass mix hay runs $125 a ton around here. That’s about $0.0625 per pound. A sheep eats 5 pounds a day, for a daily feed cost of $.32. The sheep in question was 450 days old when slaughtered, and therefore consumed $144.00 worth of hay.

Well. That’s not too bad!

But wait. I also had to feed my breeding stock — one ewe and one ram. I’ll only add in the price of one parent, since the lamb I’m calculating was a twin.

So, $144 in lamb feed plus $144 for its mama’s feed (and that’s assuming I didn’t have to feed mama during gestation, which of course isn’t true), for a total of $288 in feed.

Now, add butchering costs. I paid $207 for both lambs, so let’s call it $103.50 for one.

$288 in feed plus $103.50 butchering = $391.50 for one lamb.

How much meat is in a lamb? About 40 pounds.

$391.50 / 40 pounds = $9.79 / pound.

Oh, my.

Is it worth it? To eat a healthy animal? A healthful animal? An animal I raised from birth, cared for daily through winter’s snow and summer’s blaze? An animal that, well-nourished, can provide real nourishment in return?

An animal that gave its life for mine?

$9.79 per pound.

That’s value.
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A Tale of Oregon Elk: On Food and Gratitude
Practically Impossible: The Challenge of Sustainable Living
The Organic Pocketbook: A Struggle Survived

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15 responses

  1. Well put… and you'll not regret the decision.

    July 29, 2010 at 12:02 pm

  2. Have you considered doing your own butchering? Do you butcher the fowl yourself?

    July 29, 2010 at 2:18 pm

  3. I've been struggling with the cost and haven't gone 100% grass-fed because of it. I'm feeding a family of 5 and am scared to even think what that would cost…but scared or not, I'm going to think about it now. I enjoyed your take. Thanks.

    July 29, 2010 at 2:22 pm

  4. Thanks for the encouragement, darius. Also, I enjoyed checking out your blog. :)Hey Funder! Yes, we've done the sheep butchering before, and will continue to do the poultry. It's a ton of work, though, especially without all the right equipment (particularly the mechanical hoist). This was my first time going with a pro butcher — had to do it because of the hot temps — I don't have cold storage big enough to let the carcasses age before cutting.

    July 29, 2010 at 2:22 pm

  5. Hi Annie 🙂 Hoo boy, I hear you on the fear of cost! (Did you read my post from a couple weeks ago about The Organic Pocketbook?) And I'm not feeding 5! It never hurts to check into the cost of grassfed cuts that are cheap and go a long way (stew meat, ground meat, slow-cooker roasts), but there's nothing to feel guilty about if it just isn't possible right now.

    July 29, 2010 at 2:24 pm

  6. Ooh, what a good point. I'm definitely going to start out raising and eating my own chickens. We'll see how it goes from there.

    July 29, 2010 at 2:26 pm

  7. Awesome — can't wait to hear about your chicken project!

    July 29, 2010 at 2:27 pm

  8. Yes go New Zealand!! All our supermarket beef and sheep is grassfed. Just have to watch out for the chicken and the pork but we have some excellent free range grass fed chicken and pork readily available at the supermarket too and not much more expensive. Yum yum yum!

    July 29, 2010 at 6:17 pm

  9. For me has never been about the cost. Fact is. Science makes food easier to grow and cheaper, saving many lives in areas of the.world that require cheap foodstuffs. Until people stop starving around the.world I think we should consider grassfed and freerange meats a luxury. Not a requirement.

    July 29, 2010 at 8:44 pm

  10. jem

    since you have a freezer why not buy a side or 1/4. i've been doing just that for years and have mostly found my ranchers on eatwild. it is important to be able to visit the ranch so don't skip that.i've also purchased from families that have raised a cow/steer and not needed the whole thing.my totals have never exceeded 3.50# after figuring processing, loss, etc. the ranch that's supplied me the past 4 years charges 1.75 hanging. all told it's about 3.15#.the family that supplies my raw milk offered me part of their beef today but since i'm single, the beef i've just purchased will last for 2 yrs (and yes, it is wrapped w that in mind).last year when i ran out, i had to buy from the market and it ended up dog food.i agree, you won't be sorry.

    July 29, 2010 at 11:28 pm

  11. Raven — Nice! Send me some! ;)Cords — I hear you, but I'm not sure I agree. Lierre Keith's The Vegetarian Myth is a good read for another perspective on sustainable farming's impact on world nutrition, vs that of big ag.jem — It's certainly on my radar! I haven't found a really good price on 1/4 (or more) beef from a business, but I have my eyes open for a homegrown steer and cowpooling buddies. 🙂

    July 30, 2010 at 7:41 am

  12. free

    >This, after all, is simply how much food ought to cost.

    at least in the U.S., grains are very much subsidized, which encourages farmers to grain-feed their animals. so the cheapness of grain-fed animals is partly through the taxes you’re paying for the subsidy. and if farmers weren’t ubiquitously using grains, the price of grass fed product would probably drop at least somewhat.

    September 25, 2010 at 1:12 pm

  13. Wonderfully written article, Tamara. I always look forward to your sensible descriptions of the state of the Food Industry. 🙂

    January 25, 2011 at 9:57 am

  14. Well said, as always. I am a bit curious. Lamb is not one of the more common meats people choose to eat. It seems to be your preference. Is there a nutritional reason other than you just like it?

    January 25, 2011 at 9:30 pm

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