At some point in 2009, our friend Brian Tredinnick (“Tred”) told us one of our other friends, Jesse, was going to be buying a Holstein steer calf, raising it until it was of slaughter weight and getting it processed at a local processing shop. There were other calves available, Jesse had enough grazing room for another one, and Tred wondered if we might be interested in going in with him and splitting a “tasty cow?” I’d gotten meat from Harmony Valley Farm before, and it’d been delicious, but expensive. How expensive? Try about $400 for 50 pounds of organic, grass-fed burger and steak from a heritage breed of beef cattle. Yeah. Expensive. So, I figured, doing it this way had a pretty good chance to be at least tasty enough, and probably quite a bit cheaper.
My initial thought was, “Can you eat a Holstein?” Turns out, of course you can. No, they’re not traditionally bred for meat, but if they’re raised as a meat animal, they’re apparently quite tasty. So, we ponied up $50 for our half of another steer calf that we decided to call “Phil,” short for Philly Cheesesteak, and even went to visit him once when he was newly installed on the farm. Yeah, that may have been a mistake. He was small, adorable, and had a marking the shape of a heart on his forehead. Oh, and all he wanted was to nurse on my fingers, obviously newly weaned and lonely for his mom. I had to get out of there, quick, lest I take him home as a backyard pet.
Well, Phil and his field buddy (Jesse’s calf) hung out for a while, eating grass and putting on a little weight until tragedy struck. Tred came home to a note from Jesse at his house saying that Phil had met with an untimely, and apparently quite gruesome, death. Something about a head stuck in a fence and coyotes getting to him. I don’t know — I blocked most of it out. Yes, I’m a meat-eater, but I hate, hate, HATE suffering. Happy life and fast, painless death is my speed. All I could see in my head was the tiny calf with the heart-shaped mark on his forehead wanting to suck on my fingers and I shuddered thinking about what he must’ve gone through. Yes, I get the importance of natural selection and coyotes have to eat, but damn. Poor thing.
So, Phil was no more. We were each out $50, and the prospect of delicious beefs several months in our future was suddenly squashed. That is, until we heard from Tred that more steers had become available and he’d gone ahead and had Jesse buy another one. And would we like to try this again? We sighed for the memory of ill-fated Phil, mustered our optimism for this one being a little more dexterous around fences and hungry canids, and said “Sure.”
We didn’t meet this one as a baby. Nuh-uh. No way. We did see him, when we were at the farm checking out a new stud colt, but he was sufficiently adolescent, acne-pocked and brooding, and didn’t have a FREAKING HEART-SHAPED FOREHEAD MARKING. For simplicity’s sake, we just referred to him as “Phil II.” Jesse kept them on pasture until sometime this fall, and then started supplementing their diet with grain to finish them.
In December, we got the word that it was time for Phil II and Jesse’s steer to head to the slaughterhouse. No fences and marauding coyotes this time — I’m anticipating something more like a blissfully quick bolt gun to the head to render him unconscious prior to them ending his life, the way it should be. I hope he didn’t even know what hit him, but I don’t really need to know the details. Jesse took them both to Straka Meats, in Plain, WI, on a Wednesday, which is Straka’s butchering day. I got a hold of them early the following week and walked through their questionnaire of how we’d like our half of Phil II processed. The questions they asked were things like:
- How thick should the steaks be? (3/4″)
- How many steaks per pack? (2)
- How many pounds per package of hamburger? (1)
- Did we want all the roasts, or just the highest quality ones? (Highest quality — the rest go to burger)
- Soup bones? (Hell yes!)
- Did we want the heart, liver, etc? (Um…no)
Turns out, their standard questionnaire is really more of a guideline because, after I got off the phone with the nice lady from Straka, I remembered she hadn’t mentioned flank steak. We REALLY love flank steak, and you know, it goes for like $10/lb. So, I called her back and asked if they could maybe reserve the flank steak for us? Of course they could, and would we like the brisket, too? DUDE. Brisket? Do you know how many delicious brisket feeds we’ve had in Texas? YES. WE WANT BRISKET.
Phil II was all processed and ready to go maybe three or four days after I gave them the processing order, but they said they’d gladly store him until we could get out there. They said, “If you leave it here a month, we’ll start to wonder.” No worries, we went and got him today, brought him home and packed him in our brand new 7 cubic foot chest freezer, purchased especially for this purpose. So, I’m probably going to forget something, but here’s approximately how it came out:
- Six boxes of Phil II, 329 pounds
- ~8 porterhouse steaks
- ~12-16 T-bone steaks
- ~12-16 ribeye steaks
- ~12-16 sirloin steaks
- ~16-20 cube steaks
- 1 flank steak
- 1 brisket, approx 3-5 lbs.
- ~6-8 chuck roasts
- ~4 sirloin tip roasts
- ~4 rump roasts
- ~10 packages of soup bones
- AN INSANE AMOUNT OF HAMBURGER. Seriously, probably at least 75-100 1# packages. We will be grilling constantly this summer.
Our brand new, completely empty chest freezer is now almost full. All Phil II. All 329 pounds of him. We reserved a package of ribeyes we’re going to have tonight, so I’ll report on the quality of the meat later, but Tred had already done a roast from his half last weekend. He reported that it was delicious and, after only four hours in the slow cooker, it was medium rare and you could cut it with a fork. Bodes well, Phil II, bodes well.
So, what about cost? Well, let’s break this down:
- Phil II cost us $50
- Grain to finish off Phil II after his raising on pasture cost $90
- Processing Phil II at Straka Meats cost $219.94
- Total cash outlay: Just under $360
- Six boxes of Phil II, 329 pounds’ worth
- Price per pound? About $1.10.
Let me say that again. $1.10 per pound. For everything from soup bones to hamburger to roasts to freaking PORTERHOUSE STEAKS. People, you can’t get commercially produced hamburger at the store for $1.10 per pound. Plus, we know where Phil II was his whole life, we know he lived on pasture like a cow should, we know he was wily enough to outsmart the fences and coyotes, and, by the look of Straka Meats, he met his end in a very professional, clean, small-town establishment.
Hot damn, that’s a good deal all around. Here’s to you, Phil II. Thank you for your sacrifice.