Doing the math

A few weeks back we decided to slaughter two cows from our Dexter herd. Chardonnay, our oldest mama, had suffered a breeding injury before we bought her, and this injury was making it increasingly difficult for her to get around. She was beginning to lose weight and probably wasn’t getting to the watering trough often enough. It was time to make some hamburger. In addition, we had a steer who was about 18 months old and looking mighty tasty. We had them both slaughtered and processed at the same time for convenience’ sake.

Tom Ball Custom Meat in Orland was my first call, since I like to keep my business local. I can’t tell you how impressed I was with his whole operation. (There’s only one thing that smells nicer than a pipe tobacco shop, and that is a small town butcher shop.) Mr. Ball handled my order personally. Judging by the greeting cards and other items laying about, the owner is clearly a man of deep Christian faith. When I picked up the meat I was more than $100 short of cash. He allowed me to take the beef home anyway and return the next day to pay the balance.

Tom Ball charges $60 per animal for ranch butchering, and $0.69 per pound – hanging weight – for processing. Each cow weighed about 330 lbs each after gutting. That amounts to less than $600 for 660 lbs of beef. Oh, but the cows did cost us something. Chardonnay cost $500.00. Junior, on the other hand, came with his mother, Camelia: we paid $500 for the pair plus about $300 in veterinary and travel expenses. Splitting the difference, Junior cost us $400. So that brings our total outlay up to $1,500 for both animals, or about $2.27 per pound.

$2.27 per pound. Obviously there are overhead expenses – irrigation, fencing, stock trailer, etc. – but I would guess this doesn’t amount to more than $50 per head, and even less if the goats are included. So if we really wanted to be conservative, we could call it $1,600 for both animals, or $2.42 per pound. Keep in mind that these expenses will decline with every new calf in the coming years.

Store-bought, mass-produced, hormone-injected, grain-finished retail beef averaged $3.48 per pound for the first quarter of 2007, depending on the cut. At $2.42 per pound we come out way ahead. But it gets even better when you consider grassfed beef prices. A local ranch not too far from here sells their own grassfed beef at $6.50 per pound! And I have to tell you, our grassfed beef is the tastiest beef I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. Those who have sampled our beef among friends and family all seem to agree.

Photography notes: These photos were taken yesterday by my daughter, Amy, here at St. Isidore Ranch in Orland. The first photo is of Blackberry Blossom and her calf, a steer about ten months old. The second photo is profile of Camelia, who is about five years old and now pregnant. The third photo is a close-up of Blackberry Blossom. She has only one good eye and is very skittish around people. 


4 thoughts on “Doing the math

  1. Hi Jeff!

    Gotta tell you a little story about Tom Ball’s location. It was not always Tom Ball (and I’ve heard only WONDERFUL things about his business, and that’s the truth). It was a butcher shop before it was Tom Ball’s. Let’s just say Mr. Ball had perhaps an uphill climb to build a reputation? I worked in the business sharing a building with the original purveyor and, well, I was happy with grocery store beef. ‘Nuff said.

    So glad to see you back! I may need to buy some eggs from you now that Insane Baking Season is here.




  2. William: Cute? I think they look ferocious.

    Kimberly: I didn’t name the cow, but it helps to have your farm animals named for something you would expect to find on the dinner table!

    Laurie: Really? I never would’ve guessed … the place was squeaky clean. He must have succeeded in building that reputation because he was booked solid two-weeks out by the time I got there. As for eggs, we’ve got plenty, so come and get ’em while they last! Production will be dropping soon …


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