Buying the whole cow


What if you want to buy a whole one of these?

By Amy Brozio-Andrews

For a few years now I've heard of people who buy a whole beef, that is, all the beef from a single cow, at one time. It takes a pretty sizable freezer because we're talking more than 300 pounds of meat.

How hard could it be, I figured, to find a butcher to order my whole cow through?

A lot harder than I thought.

After cold-calling a long list of local butchers, I got in touch with Chris Kenmah at Honest Weight Food Coop who put me in touch with Paul and Phyllis Van Amburgh at Dharma Lea Farm in Sharon Springs, NY.

I talked to Phyllis Van Amburgh and learned more about where my beef comes from than I could have ever imagined. Turns out that fall is actually a pretty good time of year to order your beef.

At Dharma Lea Farm, you go out and choose your own grass-fed cow. You buy the cow first (around $2,300 or so, with the final amount depending on the weight of the meat). Most of the cows at Dharma Lea Farm are medium frame -- Angus, British White, and Devon -- with hang weights of about 550 pounds and about 55% yield. Once the cow has been slaughtered and sent to the butcher, then you can go pick up your beef. If you'd prefer to go with USDA-certified, then the final cost is a bit more.

If a whole beef is a bit more burger than you'd like, you can also order a half beef or a split half, or go in on the purchase with family or friends.

Paul and Phyllis Van Amburgh
Dharma Lea Farm
Sharon Springs, NY (map)
(518) 284-2546

You might also try:

Sweet Tree Farm
East Dummerston, VT (near Brattleboro)
(802) 254-4634
According to its site, Sweet Tree takes reservations for whole beefs in February for spring and June for fall.

Michelle Hicks
Rhinebeck, NY
(845) 453-4903
Celina, of CelinaBean, has gotten a whole beef (and freezer lamb) from Michelle.

photo: Flickr user Fiona MacGinty


There are other places around to get good, local, grass-fed meats. We've gotten lamb for years from Mary Pratt in Schagticoke; her lamb is good enough that she's supplied the Governor's Mansion and a number of restaurants in NYC.
We get a variety of meat (beef, pork, chicken) from Adele Hayes at Sap Bush Hollow farm in Cobleskill. Adele's daughter Shannon has written a cookbook focused on grass-fed meats that's available at most local bookstores.

Okay, so you buy a cow for $2,300, then get 55% × 550 pounds = 302 pounds of meat. That works out to be about $7.60 a pound. Considering that not all of the meat is top prime steak, I don't think that sounds like a very good deal at all.

$2300 seems awful high (choice beef was going for $152 per cwt the other day), but then "grass fed" and "organic" are buzz words these days that carry a premium. Never mind that grass is cheaper than corn these days thanks to the ethanol debacle. My family were Texas ranchers raising beef cattle for steak houses and doing so with methods that today would garner the organic designation. At the time, it was just called "old fashioned" and didn't get a penny extra, though. Times, they do change.

James, I think the point is not buying in bulk to save money, but that you know what you're getting and who you're supporting. This is a farm, no BJ's. These are grass-fed (not corn-fed) animals whose owners you actually get to meet (not to mention meeting the meat itself). Trying to get pastured, grass-fed, local beef anywhere would probably give you comparable prices once you really break it down.

For those who consider meat to be something shrinkwrapped on some colored styrofoam, not concerned with where it came from or what went into it, all this knowing what you're eating and paying good money for good product stuff sounds superfluous, I'm sure.

Amy: Do you know exactly what you get out of this aside from the meat? I mean, do you get the liver, kidneys, sweetbreads, tongue, tail, suet, marrowbones, etc.? I guess that depends on what butcher you go with but I'm curious to know if you looked into it.

Hi B,
I'll be glad to get those details for you!

Once again, the Capital Region is now just discovering the wonderful markets in Schoharie County. In addition to Sharon Springs, you can get Schoharie organic grass fed beef (fresh frozen) at the Carrot Barn on Route 30 in Schoharie.

We ordered a quarter split of a cow (grassfed) from Nagimor Farms (in Schoharie - they also vend at the Farmers Market at the Crossings).

Nancy Chichester, the owner, said that for approx. 200 lbs of meat, it will cost about $600+ a "processing" (butchering) fee, that was another $100/$150. Our cow was on the small side, and we got about 160lbs, for which a 5 cu. ft. freezer sufficed.

We got approx. 30lbs of ground beef, maybe 15lbs of stew meat, the liver, the heart and the rest in steaks of all kinds.

Its easily been the most delicious meat we've ever had - we've made a meatloaf, and grilled steaks, including the flat iron steak, which was insanely tender.

If you can swing the freezer space, I say go for it. It supports local farmers, is economical, and healthier than factory farmed beef.

I'm going to start trolling craigslist for a giant freezer.

I want a whole cow. Isn't it hunting season soon? Can I hunt my own cow?

There are some wild cattle somewhere on the planet. You could try stalking some Chillingham Cattle but that might cause an international incident. If you hurry, you might be able to bag a gaur in India. Personally, I think it would be much more fun to go on a Cape Buffalo expedition.

> I want a whole cow

and I want a pony.

Sebastien, I hear pony meat is kind of stringy. Plus, I don't think you have enough room in the freezer, what with it being filled with bottles of Jaeger and the stiff remains of Bill & Ted's Excellent Alcatraz Adventure.

>Do you know exactly what you get out of this aside from the meat? I mean, do you get >the liver, kidneys, sweetbreads, tongue, tail, suet, marrowbones, etc.?

I talked to Phyllis Van Amburgh at Dharma Lea Farm and she says yep, you definitely get the liver, kidneys, sweetbreads, tongue, tail, suet, marrowbones, etc. If you have any specific instructions about what you want (or don't want) done, you need to make that clear ahead of time.

And for anyone who's interested, a recent cow (about 600 lbs.) from Dharma Lea Farm yielded almost 300 lbs. as follows:

4 lbs. flat iron steak
4 lbs. chuck steak
12 lbs. chuck roast
18 lbs. stew beef (with and without bone)
3 lbs. brisket
18 lbs. bottom round roast
16 lbs. london broil
13 lbs. top sirloin steak
2 lbs. skirt steak
13 lbs. sirloin tip steak
18 lbs. crosscut shank
3 lbs. filet mignon
12 lbs. top round roast
6 lbs. short ribs
10 lbs. ribeye
8 lbs. eye round roast
3 lbs. flanks steak
5 lbs. shoulder london broil
10 lbs. New York strip steak
115 lbs. ground beef

Mrs. Van Amburgh says to keep in mind that this was a very large cow with a very good yield; for the average cow, you'd probably get 15-20% less than this, with some variability.

Who would think that an immigrant would have a pony? Who would leave a pony country to come to a non-pony country? It just doesn't make sense.

Trying to contact Dharma Lea by phone. No answer and after several rings I get disconnected.

I was given a gift cert for Christmas and I would like some sort of price list or would like to speek to someone - anyone - about that.


I don't really see how a grass fed cow coming from a "family" you get to meet justifies that outrageous price. You got ripped off. Around here you can get a cow from many places. But you won't be looking at $1000 or more. They are all grass fed too. No need to go to some fancy farm. There are a lot of low profile farmers out there who spend less on fancy fencing to pass the savings on to you.

I am the owner of Highland Hollow and we offer grass fed Scottish Highland and Hereford Beef. We sell by the whole, half, and quarter and our beef is also dry aged for 21 days. We also sell heritage breed pork in the Whole or Half, Thanksgiving Turkeys, and Heritage breed Lamb.
I am 4th generation beef farmer and 3rd generation butcher. We provide the capital region with the highest quality and healthiest food you can put on your table. Feel free to call with question.

Dave Raylinsky

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