Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Cost of Raising a Steer: How Much Does Our Beef Cost Us?

I just calculated the cost of our beef from the day we brought T-bone home on July 23, 2011 to the day we put the beef in the freezer in early December, 2012.



We bought T-bone from Gabriella Nanci, a Dexter breeder in the Atlanta area.  He was about 8 months old, the same age as Siobhan (in front in the photo above, still wearing her fuzzy calf coat).  Because T-bone was on the small side, we got him for $400.  T-bone was still intact when we got to Gabriella's farm, but she helped Herb use the California bander to "steer" him so we had no vet cost for that.  Gabriella told us he would gain weight better if left intact, but at his age we were worried about him breeding the cows so we opted to castrate him immediately.


That first winter (2011-12) we fed hay to the three cows and two horses.  I'm sure that Angel and Brandy (at 1000+ lbs.) ate more than the cows (with Sara the biggest at about 750 lbs. max).  By June 28, 2012 (almost a year later) T-bone had grown well although his hind end was still on the scrawny side.  Since it's impossible to know exactly how much hay any one animal ate, I calculated the cost as follows:

12 round bales @ $35 = $420 divided by 5 = $84 as T-bone's share of hay.  Because our cattle are strictly grass-fed, we had no other feeding costs.


Six weeks later on Aug. 12, 2012, T-bone was showing the results of eating plenty of good green grass, thanks to a rainy July.  The ideal age to butcher a Dexter steer varies between 24 to 30 months.  While discussing the best time with our butcher, Jeff McBryar, he advised that we should butcher T-bone shortly after the first frost when the grass would stop growing.  We could feed him up on hay for a couple of weeks first, but if we tried to over-winter him, he would lose so much condition on just hay that it would take most of the following summer to regain the lost ground.  For this reason, we decided to butcher him in November at 24 months rather than waiting till he reached 30 months in May 2013.


We took T-bone to Jeff for butchering on Nov. 20, 2012.  Jeff doesn't have a scale, so we weren't able to get a hoof-weight for T-bone, and his assistant Cory didn't get us a hanging weight, so unfortunately we can't calculate a rate of yield this time.  We'll know better next time!  What we did get was a total of 277.17 lbs. of beef.  Here's the final break-down for our first Dexter beef:

Production Cost for Our Steer
Purchase of 1 steer (July 2011)                      $400.00
Hay (winter 2011-12)                                        84.00
Butchering/processing Fee (Nov. 2012)          231.00
Total Production Cost for our steer           $715.00

That's a net price of $2.58 per pound.  We're thrilled with the dark red, tender, delicious beef we got.  Cory told us that these are some of the nicest steaks he's ever seen, and we can testify to them being some of the best-tasting we've ever had!  

16 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this Susan, I now have a better understanding of what its going to cost to get the pork and beef to the table. That seems like a great bargain. Grass feed beef here at some of the famers markets we go to get about 17.oo a pound.

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  2. To be strictly fair, Gordon, I probably should have included the cost of getting some electric fencing, but we would have done it anyway just to keep the horses and other 2 cows from over-grazing certain areas. This is, literally, just the costs involved in raising T-bone.

    Too bad we aren't selling our beef up there in your market, but then again, the cost of living is probably lower down here. We really do feel like we're getting a bargain!

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  3. How much acreage did you have him grazing on? I'm looking to get two Chianina steer and was wondering how much land I should lease from the neighbor.

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    1. Apparently I missed this comment back when my notifications were acting up. I'm so sorry. We had a cow and heifer at the time, plus two horses. We were grazing them on about 13 acres.

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  4. How about the time you spent taking care of the steer?

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    1. That's a valid question, Abrar, although very hard to answer. T-Bone took no extra care whatsoever. He moved from one pasture to another with our other animals, and he drank from their water tanks. So we didn't have to do any extra labor, at least none that was noticeable. Of course, we had to fill the tanks slightly more often with one extra animal, but that would be impossible to calculate. We basically decided that we don't get paid for our labor, which isn't a concern since the meat is for us. If we were going to sell a steer, we'd have to figure out somehow the amount of time involved and calculate a reasonable salary for ourselves.

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  5. If you were just raising the one, and only grass-fed, do you have a feel for how many acres would be required? My ex-father-in-law worked with cattle in Alberta after retiring from the Canadian military. He quoted 6 steer to an acre, but I wonder if that is based on 6 months in cold Canada, with grain fed on top of grass. Here they can be out for all 12 months.

    Also, were there no vet costs at all?

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    1. We had a cow and heifer at the time along with the steer, Dan, plus two horses. We have about 15 acres of pasture, which was quite enough back then. That winter we did keep them all in our barnyard and feed hay to rest the pastures during the coldest months. Now we have too many (horses, especially!) and have two sacrifice pastures that we've added. We didn't feed grain at all, of course. And no, we didn't have vet costs for that steer because we hadn't started immunizing them for tetanus and blackleg at the time. (We've learned as we've gone.) He was very healthy and never needed anything. We hadn't learned yet that loose minerals are much better for cattle, and we just kept out a horse block in the summer. He thrived on less care than our animals get now.

      As far as a feel for how many acres, it will totally depend on where you live. I'd say your best bet for an estimate would be to ask your county extension agent. So much depends on whether you improve your pastures at all, whether you rotate them or run them on one big pasture, the rainfall in any particular year, etc. It's really impossible to estimate.

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  6. I have a project for school due soon and one thing I have to figure out is how much it costs to raise a free range cow, versus the cows treated in factories, and how much money is made from each of them. If you happen to know any of this information that would be amazing and greatly appreciated for my project is due on Tuesday. Thx so much and pls respond asap, your information is already so useful and you seem like a very knowledge person for this type of thing, thx and hope to hear back. :-)

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    1. I'll try, but this question doesn't have a black-and-white answer that you can write down in neat columns to compare. I hope your teacher or professor will be open to seeing this. I listed the costs for raising our pastured steer in this post; unfortunately, I can't give you a comparative number as if he had been raised in a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) or factory farm. In fact, I doubt any such number exists, and here's why:

      The costs of raising beef in CAFOs far exceeds the list of expenses that get written down on paper. The feed is GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) and a high concentration of grain, which is not the natural food a cow's rumen is designed for. This creates health issues for the animal. In addition, the crowded conditions lead to disease and injury, which requires the use of antibiotics, which contributes to antibiotic resistance when the meat passes into the food chain for humans. Then there's the problem of waste disposal from all the animals crowded together in one place, leading to flies, pollution, odors and a general negative environmental impact. These are just a few of the related impacts which can't be quantified--and that is without even mentioning the quality of life for the animal.

      Here's a link to an article that has photos of two ways to raise cattle: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/12/feedlots-vs-pastures-two-very-different-ways-to-fatten-beef-cattle/250543/ I think that illustrates the ethical issue of humane treatment very clearly, in addition to the issues of overcrowded animals in unhealthy conditions.

      Here's an excellent interview with Michael Pollan on PBS, talking about a feedlot steer he bought and followed through its process to learn some of the things you're asking about. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/meat/interviews/pollan.html In this article he mentions the statistic that if an animal is fed grass or hay for the last few days of its life, the E coli in its intestines plummets by 80%. But the CAFO way of handling this problem is to throw antibiotics at the animal, and those are passed on to us in the beef. This Michael Pollan article is very long, but it's a thorough discussion of some of the issues I've mentioned, and more.

      You'll notice there aren't very many numbers in that article! But I believe it clearly shows that the cost of raising beef in CAFOs instead of on pasture is one our society can't afford. I hope this helps you with your paper.

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    2. I'll try, but this question doesn't have a black-and-white answer that you can write down in neat columns to compare. I hope your teacher or professor will be open to seeing this. I listed the costs for raising our pastured steer in this post; unfortunately, I can't give you a comparative number as if he had been raised in a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) or factory farm. In fact, I doubt any such number exists, and here's why:

      The costs of raising beef in CAFOs far exceeds the list of expenses that get written down on paper. The feed is GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) and a high concentration of grain, which is not the natural food a cow's rumen is designed for. This creates health issues for the animal. In addition, the crowded conditions lead to disease and injury, which requires the use of antibiotics, which contributes to antibiotic resistance when the meat passes into the food chain for humans. Then there's the problem of waste disposal from all the animals crowded together in one place, leading to flies, pollution, odors and a general negative environmental impact. These are just a few of the related impacts which can't be quantified--and that is without even mentioning the quality of life for the animal.

      Here's a link to an article that has photos of two ways to raise cattle: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/12/feedlots-vs-pastures-two-very-different-ways-to-fatten-beef-cattle/250543/ I think that illustrates the ethical issue of humane treatment very clearly, in addition to the issues of overcrowded animals in unhealthy conditions.

      Here's an excellent interview with Michael Pollan on PBS, talking about a feedlot steer he bought and followed through its process to learn some of the things you're asking about. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/meat/interviews/pollan.html In this article he mentions the statistic that if an animal is fed grass or hay for the last few days of its life, the E coli in its intestines plummets by 80%. But the CAFO way of handling this problem is to throw antibiotics at the animal, and those are passed on to us in the beef. This Michael Pollan article is very long, but it's a thorough discussion of some of the issues I've mentioned, and more.

      You'll notice there aren't very many numbers in that article! But I believe it clearly shows that the cost of raising beef in CAFOs instead of on pasture is one our society can't afford. I hope this helps you with your paper.

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    3. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!! THIS IS PERFECT, I AM SO GLAD I ASKED YOU!!!! THANK YOU FOR LENDING ME YOUR TIME AND I WILL BE SURE TO PUT A SPECIAL THX TO YOU ON MY PAPER!!!! THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I WAS HOPING FOR!!!! I WILL BE SURE TO NOTIFY YOU ON HOW MY PAPER GOES! THX AGAIN AND I WILL BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THOSE
      LINKS!

      And sry but I just wanted to ask one last question if that is ok. Do you know how much it would cost for you to fully raise one of your cattle and get it butchered and approximately how much you could make from selling the beef?

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    4. Thank you, Unknown, for inspiring me to write a post about your question. I included a lot of photos in it that I couldn't put in my reply in the Comments section, so be sure to show this to your teacher or professor: http://zephyrhillfarm.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-cost-of-raising-steer-on-pasture-vs.html

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    5. No problem, I'm glad to try to answer your last question. (Be sure to check out the link in my answer above so you can see the photos I posted in a more complete answer I just did--as a new post.

      So far we have not yet butchered a steer that was born and raised on our farm. That will happen this fall, probably, and I'll do a more complete post at that time. We have started giving some immunizations to our steers in order to prevent diseases such as rabies, tetanus and blackleg that could kill them. So that cost will have to be figured in next time. However, for the steer in this post, T-Bone, we did not give immunizations. So the only costs I calculated were hay, butchering and processing.

      For T-Bone, we spent a total of $715 on him. If you want to count the cost of going to get him, add $120 for mileage, making his total cost $835. For 277.17 lbs. of beef, this figures out to $3.01 per pound for our cost. We do not re-sell our beef, but I checked on current grass-fed beef prices for you. They start at $5.95 wholesale per pound for hamburger, all the way up to $14.50 per pound for ribeye steak. Those are current market prices. If you go to a store and have to pay retail, you would expect to pay even more. It varies by region and by season, too, but these are some ballpark figures for you.

      Do let me know how your paper goes! I hope the photos I posted help you illustrate the incalculable benefits of raising grass-fed beef!

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    6. Thanks a million! I am anonymous, I must have not been signed in to my account. This is absolutely wonderful. I am a high school student in Toronto but my grandfather did used to be an organic farmer on PEI so a lot of those pictures brought me some good memories. I am sure that my teacher will be absolutely stunned when he see's your blog. If you don't mind I would love to tell my teacher that if his students need any help in the future that you are a strong, reliable and generous source.

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    7. You are very welcome, Tristan! You're also very kind! You're welcome to offer my help to other students, for what it's worth. I'm always glad to help if I can because I've gotten so much help from others.

      I hope you don't mind me changing your name to Tristan in my post--it's so much nicer than calling you Unknown! :) How great that you have memories of your grandfather's organic farm. I understand PEI is beautiful, and it's on my bucket list of places to visit.

      Best of luck in school! I hope your interest in agriculture means you'll be following in your grandfather's footsteps. :)

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