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Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
4 Dec

Cowpooling: Share a Side

cowpoolingYou grow much of your own produce, visit your local farmers’ markets for the foods that you can’t grow yourself and have even started participating in a food co-op, but you’re still left high and dry when it comes to purchasing a decent steak.

Enter Cowpooling, the latest buzz term for the practice under which a group of neighbors team up to purchase a whole cow from a local farm. The cow is then butchered to order and the various cuts divvied up among the neighbors (who presumably aren’t going to argue over who gets the last T-bone!)

But, beyond the nifty name (seriously, cowpooling? Genius!) how exactly is it any different to good ol’ fashioned cow-sharing? Well, typically when you sign up for a cow-share, you’re signing up to have access to the cow’s fresh raw milk as opposed to, well, the actual cow. In addition, when you’re participating in a cowshare, you generally have to pay for a portion of the cow’s upkeep, usually in the form of a holding fee to the farmer.

So, now that we’ve got the “what” down, lets take a look at the who, why and, most importantly, how of this whole cowpooling thing!

Who?

Currently, the practice is gaining popularity with “locavores,” that is, those who choose to practice food sustainability by eating only food from local farms. However, essentially anyone with a few family members of friends (or the ability to find some!) can participate. Another criteria for participation in cowpooling? You really have to like – and more importantly, eat – a lot of meat and have the capacity to store it. Now, we’re not talking about having access to a full-scale meat locker, but if you’re living in a cramped city apartment with nothing more than a fridge-freezer combo, cowpooling probably isn’t going to work out for you.

Why?

There are a couple of reasons you might want to consider cowpooling:

  • Buying Local: There certainly is something to be said for buying locally. Not only do you support your local farmer, but you also support your local butcher and your local meat packer. Not bad, ey?
  • Keeping Control: Want to avoid purchasing hormone-laden, corn-fed beef or make sure that the beef you’re buying comes from a happy cow? Cowpooling allows you to shop around for a local farmer that can accommodate your request.
  • Health Helper: You’ve heard the horror stories about people ingesting contaminated beef, but purchasing a side of beef – as opposed to the composites of meat sold in grocery stores – significantly reduces the risk of cross-contamination.
  • Wallet-friendly: Ok, we’ll be honest here – sometimes it is more expensive to cowpool than it is to purchase meat from your supermarket, especially if you’re a whiz at clipping coupons and shopping the sale section! However, in today’s economy, where the cost of food can fluctuate so drastically, it is nice to purchase enough meat to last you a few months at a flat rate.

How?

So, you have the storage space and you sure like meat, but how exactly do you get involved in a cowpool?

The first step is to ask around – ask friends and family if they know of any local cowpool groups (because recommendations from a friend are always the best!). If you’re hitting a dead end, however, there’s no harm in asking your local butcher or even a neighborhood grocery store if they have any recommendations. Still coming up empty handed? Head down to your local farmers’ market – they might know of a farm who might be interested in starting a cowpool up. Another great resource? Hit the Internet! You’d be surprised what a simple Google search will show up!

The next step is to consider how much meat you want to purchase. Cowpooling doesn’t have to necessarily mean that you buy the whole cow. Rather, your cowpool can choose to purchase a side (or half a cow in laymans terms!) or even a quarter and then split it up among your fellow poolers. Essentially, you’ve got to look at your storage capacity, examine your own meat eating needs and then work with your group to come up with a purchasing situation that will suit everyone.

The third step? Get cookin’!

If you’d like to learn more about cowpooling, these resources are particularly helpful:

  • The Oklahoma Extension Service offers tips (PDF) about purchasing beef in bulk and how to best store it (plus a nifty little survey to help you figure out whether buying bulk beef is a good choice for you!)
  • Want to know how much meat a typical cow will yield? Ask the Meatman.
  • J.D. at Get Rich Slowly details his experience of buying a side of beef.
  • Jason Krause at Chow.com shares a similar experience.

Further Reading:

Cheap Meat Round II: Thrift Cuts

Did Grok Really Eat That Much Meat?

Is Living Primal Good for the Environment?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Why is my local farmer, butcher, ect. better than one that isn’t local?

    What is the definition of local anyway? Houshold? Neighborhood? City? State? Country? Continent? Hemisphere? Planet? The notion of “local” is completely arbitrary.

    Neal W. wrote on December 4th, 2008
  2. I love it! Unfortunately my neighbors and those I know would be more apt to “grainpool” or “sweetpool”. I think O am going to do the selfish thing once I can afford a big garage freezer and just buy the cow myself.

    The SoG

    Son of Grok wrote on December 4th, 2008
  3. I’m lucky enough to have a certified organic, grass-fed and -finished cow and pig farm 5 miles from my house. We recently split a 1/4 of a cow with a person I know, giving us each a ton of beef. The farmer lets us buy by the 1/4, then he waits until the rest of the cow is spoken for to get it butchered. No need to find friends – he gets enough people calling him to take a portion themselves. Good stuff!

    http://www.localharvest.org and http://www.eatwild.com are great places to find local farmers and markets in the area.

    -Rob

    Rob wrote on December 4th, 2008
  4. Just called a local farmer/butcher. They sell a rear quarter (200lbs) of grass fed hormone free goodness all cut and wrapped to your specs for about $350. Forget the pool part.. that is all me.

    The SoG

    Son of Grok wrote on December 4th, 2008
  5. Yep, works sweet.

    Just bought a 1/2 for around 800 bucks(spilt 4 ways), grass fed, really know and like this farmer.

    Bought a hog a few months ago, from another local farmer.

    Got to love it.

    Jay Cohen wrote on December 4th, 2008
  6. Great post, as usual. My only words of caution are to make sure to specify what it is you are buying. Some farmers sell their sides/quarters by hanging weight which includes some weight that will be discarded during processing. If you buy by the pound it is important to know if it is hanging weight or actual finished product weight you are paying for. If you can use all of the various cuts you get buying in bulk it is a great way to go!

    Rodney wrote on December 4th, 2008
  7. Neal,

    Certainly there are varying degrees of “local,” but I think the idea is that if you buy from the farmer down the road, your money stays in your community. He spends it on a haircut at the local barber, who gets a check-up at the local doctor, who buys a cabinet from your furniture company. Everyone benefits rather than Tyson chicken taking your money, giving you contaminated meat, and then investing your money in foreign bonds.

    Bill Williams wrote on December 4th, 2008
  8. SoG,

    Wanna go half on a side? Hahaha, this sounds like an awesome way to keep us all eating more meat, which the PB has shown time and again to be a very good thing.

    Thanks for the post!

    All the Best,

    Andrew R

    Andrew R wrote on December 4th, 2008
  9. Do you or anyone out there know owt about DHA and appetite ?

    Have found some things but written in papers.

    Have changed fish oils and seems (only thing i have changed though that means not that much in the grand variable scheme of things ..THOUGH CAN DO !) my appetite has been almost halved and the DHa content of new huile de fishies is far higher than previously used one

    Any ideas please Squire ?

    simon fellows wrote on December 4th, 2008
  10. The local farmers do offer sides of beef or 1/4’s, as well as lamb. I missed their deadline for orders this year. I’ll have to see how much they run. My dad has a freestanding freezer, but it’s not a real big one (think coffin-sized) like we used to have when we were kids. But still it might be ok for 1/4. I had to bum space off of him for my last haul at the farmers’ market, since they are only open once a month in the winter.

    TrailGrrl

    TrailGrrl wrote on December 4th, 2008
  11. This certainly isn’t an option for me at the moment. Currently sharing two fridge freezers combos between 5 people :-(. It does sound like a great idea though.

    Tom Parker - Free Fitness Tips wrote on December 4th, 2008
  12. I grew up on a farm, there was nothing like going to the freezer and getting out an 18 ounce steak and doing it up. We got sick of steak, there was som much. I am thinking about butchering a cow next year, buying meat in shops is a joke.

    Fitness Blogger wrote on December 4th, 2008
  13. I have 2 friends that do this back home. They share it and in the long run it costs less than if they’d buy it otherwise.

    This is a wise investment for those who have a BIG freezer to store it, it actually saves money by doing it this way and time because you don’t keep going back and forth to buy it, it’s right there at hand!

    Donna wrote on December 5th, 2008
  14. Just wanted to add that you dont need a humongous freezer to store the meat. We bought a 5 cubic ft chest freezer for ~$225 and that should easily fit a 1/4 cow after its all cut and packaged.

    Rob wrote on December 5th, 2008
  15. Hi Rob,
    Yes, you do have a point there, i guess i was thinking about a BIG cow…L.O.L.

    My 2 friends back home split the cow meat , they each get 1/2, they tell me it takes a big freezer but YES Rob, i’m glad you added that for a 1/4.

    Everyone, i wish you all a happy, fun weekend!

    Donna wrote on December 5th, 2008
  16. Bill Williams,

    If you were to follow your reasoning to it’s logical conclusion, why should I buy ANYTHING that isn’t local? If it’s so great to buy local beef because the money stays in the local community, why not buy only locally produced computers, cars, shoes, clothes, books, TV’s, ect?

    Furthermore, if we don’t buy things from “non-local” sources, how are they going to buy things from us? Should we just isolate ourselves from the rest of the world? Also, who cares if someone invests in foreign assets? If a foreign asset seems like it will be profitable, then investing in it will improve the standing of the foreign country and they in turn will be in a better position to invest and buy imports from your own country.

    The whole “buy local” mantra violates the principle of the division of labor. http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/ComparativeAdvantage.html#CEE_pg_69

    Now, I’m not telling anyone not to buy local. If the local selection is cheaper, or if the quality is better or whatever, then great, buy local. But the reason given for it, that it’s “good for the local economy,” is just plainly false.

    Neal W. wrote on December 6th, 2008
  17. I shared a buffalo this summer. It was a 2 year old animal and it mostly filled my apartment-sized deep freeze. I’m loving having whatever cut I want at my fingertips, and the meat is very low in fat. Perfect for the bbq season and now for the slow cooker.
    Buffalo/bison ranchers in my area do a fair bit of advertising, so we had no difficulty finding one.

    Andrea wrote on December 9th, 2008
  18. Check out http://herdshare.com. Join and watch us build herdshares (CSA co-operatives) for raw dairy across Australia. Once that’s done, we’re coming over the ditch to US and Europe.

    The Nourisher wrote on December 18th, 2008
  19. dear rob,
    if you and you fiend split a 1/4 and you each got a ton of beef the cow would have weighed well over 16,000. Should I assume the “ton” of beef was figurative? Or have you just not spent any time around livestock?

    arbust wrote on January 14th, 2009
  20. Dear Arbust-
    I live in Wisconsin. Our cows are huge. I think you need to take a drive up here.

    -Rob

    Rob wrote on January 14th, 2009
  21. To Neal W. -yes I know his post was in 2008-

    “Buying local” when you are talking about an agricultural product is also protecting the open space, view sheds, and property values in the towns one lives in. I am all for buying everything local too but when it comes to supporting local agriculture there is a huge payoff to the community above and beyond the “local economy” argument.

    susan wrote on January 30th, 2010
  22. Love this post…I was intrigued when I saw “Cowpooling”; only wish I had come up with the term. We are one of the “local” farmers that sell the beef, and I can tell you from first hand experience, it is good stuff. Most of our clientele are family and friends. But we have been doing this “aggressively” now for 2 yrs. and we are growing.

    The meat is tender and tasty, but you can do things to make most cuts of beef “good”. The thing I like most about our beef has already been pointed out…no hormones or unnatural matter that makes the beef grow excessively fast. Also, the stress level in the cows are low…they are born and raised right here on our farm.

    Anyway…I just wanted to let you know I love your post.

    crenloe wrote on February 7th, 2010
  23. My husband and I were just talking about buying a side of beef. We weren’t sure how to do it and then *THIS* appeared in my inbox. (he sent me the link)

    Thanks, Mark.

    Giovanna wrote on April 29th, 2010
  24. Help me please. I am in Tennessee and I have been asked to go in with a guy I know to get 1/2 cow. The cow is organic and I’m told the costs will be somewhere in the 500-600 dollar range. I have never done this before and I wanted to know do I just accept whatever the cuts of meat the guy gives me or do we share one for you one for me or am I suppose to tell them what kind of meat I want, etc? Thanks for any help or suggestions.

    karen wrote on May 3rd, 2010
  25. Karen, when you get a price quote on a whole, half or quarter of a beef, make sure they give you the grand total price. Most places sell “on the hoof”, which means you pay for the live animal. The amount of actual meat you receive out of a steer will vary, depending on how much meat that particular steer will yield, and how the meat is cut up. Usually you pay the butcher for his charges, and this can suddenly make a “good deal” not look so good anymore. Just be aware of this. It is not a dishonest system by any mean, it’s in fact very common, but can be confusing to a first time buyer. We used to sell like this, but to simplify for our customers we added the butcher charges to our “live” price, and came up with a total cost per pound of beef you actually receive, all inclusive, no surprises. We also started selling 10 and 20 lb. beef packs since many people don’t have the freezer space, or don’t eat that much meat. They are easy to ship too.

    As to Cow Pooling, I think it’s a great idea, both for you the consumers, and us, the producers, it’s a win win. We have many customers in larger cities in New Mexico and we are looking into helping them get a cow pool started. If you’re interested check our our website http://www.leannaturalbeef.com. Happy eating, Mimi

    Mimi Sidwell wrote on May 27th, 2010
  26. many farms also sell freezer packs. So you can buy 30-40lbs of beef from them – 30lbs will take up most of the freezer of a standard over/under fridge/freezer combo.

    a quarter is roughly equivalent to 3x that , a side 6x that, so even if you only have a regular freezer you could still do this, you just have to split with more people and make sure your freezer is mostly empty beforehand.

    also – the weights mentioned in some of the comments – 200lbs etc. Those are likely hanging weights. That’s what the farmers use and sell. The weight of the meat after it’s been processed will be significantly less. It’s worth clarifying how much (approx) meat you’ll actually be receiving since the hanging weight isn’t that relevant to the consumer.

    Chris wrote on July 18th, 2010
  27. I consider local to be in the same city to the next ones over.

    Jeff wrote on November 12th, 2010
  28. Cowpool.org combined with Mobile Meat Processing (MobileMeatProcessing.com) minimizes impact on the environment and the animals. It is humane and Temple approves.

    Cowpool.org wrote on May 23rd, 2011
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  31. Lol, I have heard and seen many things in my time but cowpooling? That is pretty cool.

    Evan wrote on July 21st, 2011
  32. Cowpooling: How to Buy a Side of Beef | Mark's Daily Apple I was recommended this blog by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my trouble. You are incredible! Thanks! your article about Cowpooling: How to Buy a Side of Beef | Mark's Daily AppleBest Regards Nick

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  33. My fiance and I are interested in getting either a whole cow or a side of beef. How big of a freezer will we need to store it?

    Antonie wrote on March 30th, 2012

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