Raising Your Own Beef: Is It Worth The Time And Effort?

Hereford cow grazing

Home grown beef is a triple win: nutrient dense, you know how the cattle were raised and per pound it is a bargain!

Reasons to raise your own beef are easy to come up with, but what will it take day to day to get that deliciousness in your freezer?

The exact cost of raising your own beef will vary greatly depending upon the price you paid for the cattle, feed prices and pasture availability.

I love having a freezer full of it! Meal prep is easy, since beef goes with everything, right? Well it does for me! Plus, as a die hard bargain hunter, I love the cost per pound: steaks included!

We all love great tasting beef, no question! However, what will it take to get that meat in your freezer? Will it be worth it to you?

Let’s look into the things you’ll need to consider before deciding to raise your own beef.

I have a much more recent article that does a better job giving you the information (including numbers for your budget) that you need, Is Raising Your Own Beef Worth It? Read this article!

Accurately compare costs for home raised beef

First off, let me get the big question out in the open: will your home raised beef cost the same, or less than the beef you can buy at the store?

Maybe, but probably not. If you are comparing to the price of the creepy tubes of ground beef, definitely not!

The reason is simple: you are not comparing the same things. This is an apples to oranges kind of comparison.

The only beef that is available at the chain store meat cooler is not even in the same ballpark as what you will be getting when you raise your own beef.

I don’t want to come off as harsh, and I certainly do not want to seem like I am telling you what you should be valuing, not at all!

That being said, we need to be sure to be talking about the same things to make an accurate comparison.

If you are still on board with me, let’s look into the costs of raising your own beef and the options you have to do so.

Time to raise your own beef

I’ll start with the time to raise the calf up to finishing weight, since this is going to be similar for most cattle.

If you are feeding some grain, you can have your calf finished (at butchering weight and condition) in 16-18 months.

If you are going for only grass or other forages only to your calf, commonly called 100% grass fed and finished, you will need more time to finish out your beef.

A calf on only grass or other forages will be finished in 26-28 months.

Do not rush and butcher early! The last few months are when the calf will put on the fat that marbles the meat and makes for great eating!

Check out my article Using Grass To Feed Your Herd for more on grazing cattle.

I am figuring that you are wanting a full size beef steer (or heifer). You can butcher your calf anytime you want to, you’ll always get meat.

If you want marbled beef, now you need to wait until the calf puts on a fat covering after he is full grown.

Cost to get the calf

We are going to base this cost on the assumption that you do not already have cattle, meaning you do not own the brood cow (mom of the calf you will be raising).

We are going to figure you are looking to buy a calf and finish raising it at your farm.

The calf you would be buying is called a feeder calf.

A feeder calf, or just “feeder,” can be a male or female that is purchased to raise up to finishing (market or butchering weight).

If you get a bull calf you will want to get it castrated, making it a steer.

You will have quite a few options regarding the size and condition (fatness) of feeders, if you go to a livestock auction.

Take the time to go to an auction and see what is available and get a feel for what you like and what you don’t care for.

Another reason to scope out the auction, is to get an idea of what animals are out there and the prices being paid on the open market.

You should expect to pay at least top end of the market price for the steer you are getting.

Why? Because you will be going to a farm to get your first feeder calf! Please, do not go to an auction and purchase your first calf!

You have no idea how that animal was raised and more importantly if it is used to daily contact with people. This is a biggie! And here’s why: it’s story time.

A neighbor, where we used to live, purchased a few feeder cattle to eat some of his extra grass. Good idea, normally. This time it wasn’t.

These cattle were incredibly wild and scared of people. They ran loose for weeks until they were finally caught.

The cattle were not raised around people so seeing a person freaked them out and they ran. Through the fence.

The problem here is not that the feeders came from an auction, the problem is that the feeders were never around people or the people they were around lacked patience.

I’m sure that these cattle would have eventually settled down, at least a little. Be aware some cattle are high strung and will never be calm!

Even if these feeder would calm down in a few weeks, how do you keep them at your place until then?

On to the subject of cost: how much is this calf going to cost you? Short version here is it depends.

The bigger the calf the more it will cost to purchase and the faster it will finish.

The smaller the calf the less it will cost to purchase but the longer you will need to keep it until it is ready to butcher.

The best place to look for current cattle prices is in the market report for your closest livestock auction.

Here is an article with the details of reading a cattle market report, if you want to know how I came up with the following numbers.

The one of the bigger feeder cattle markets in Ohio had these prices last week:

Medium & Large Frame Steers & Bulls 
200-300# – 480.00165.00
300-400# – 2590.00170.00
400-500# – 3590.00164.00
500-600# – 3685.00146.00
600-700# – 2481.00132.00
700-800# – 1372.00110.00
800# & up – 860.0095.00

Information taken from Farm And Dairy Market Report, for the Muskingum Livestock Auction, in Zanesville. Ohio for Wednesday Feb 5, 2020

Using the chart above you can see that the feeders are divided up by weight and that their is a price range in each weight division.

Using this market report to figure cattle price

Here’s how you would use this information:

Let’s choose the 400-500# line and we will pay the top price of $164.00. First thing to know is that the price is listed per cwt (100 pounds).

That means you would have needed to pay $164.00 x the cwt of the calf to buy it.

If the calf weights 450 pounds, here’s the math:

450 pounds divided by 100=4.5 cwt(Remember, the price is per 100 pounds.)

4.5 x $164.00= $738.00 for the calf

Figuring the low end of the price range

If you purchased the same 450 pound calf at the low end of the price range, you’d pay $90.00/cwt.

Generally, buying the low priced calf is not a great idea because cheap means the buyers at the auction were all asleep (not likely!), or the calf is a mess, (likely), that you don’t want to deal with.

For the sake of another example and a look at the low price in this weight division, we’ll run these numbers, too.

4.5 cwt x $90.00= $405.00 for the calf

To sum it all up, at this auction a 450 pound steer would have cost you between $405.00-738.00 to purchase.

No matter what size of calf you are buying the cost is figured out the same way.

Dairy feeder calves as an option

100% grass fed and finished Jersey/Angus cross steer
A 100% grass fed steer at 25 months old. He is half Jersey and half Angus. He was born and raised on our farm. His mom is our family milk cow, Aleene.

An often overlooked option when it comes to raising your own beef is dairy feeders.

You can buy them weaned (don’t need a bottle anymore) or purchase them as bottle babies and do all of the calf raising yourself.

The pros of dairy beef

  • The calf will be less expensive to buy than a beef feeder
  • If you live in a dairy producing region, there will be plenty of these calves available, year round
  • Will be more calm than a cow raised calf

The cons of dairy beef

  • Uninitiated are skeptical about dairy genetics for beef
  • Lighter built frame than beef calf
  • High value cuts will have less marbling

Let me be straight with you, a dairy calf will not have the build of a beef calf. That being said, we have eaten plenty of dairy beef and it is great, even cows!

We normally have Jersey or Jersey cross, but we have had some super Milking Shorthorn steers, as well.

Other breeds to try would be Ayrshire, Brown Swiss and Holstein/Angus cross calves.

Many dairy farms are looking to get more money for their calves so they are using Angus or other beef breed bulls on the Holstein cows.

If you can find this beef/dairy cross, you are lucky! Those calves will make great raise your own beef projects!

Cost to feed the calf

Feeding your calf is where the money is really spent or saved!

If you are lucky enough to have a fenced in pasture that needs eaten down, good news! You will have the most economically raised calf for your freezer!

Your feeder calf can live and live well on forage alone. High quality forages, of course!

If your pasture is not up to par, or you want to supplement with concentrates (grain or pellets) your out of pocket costs will go up.

In order to keep you aware of all of your choices, it’s only right that I tell you that you will increase the daily gain of your steer by feeding concentrates. This is your choice to add or leave out.

Since cattle are ruminants, they do not ever need any grain! Don’t get suckered into the “you have to feed them grain” idea, you do not.

Concentrates will make them grow faster. However, feeding concentrates will also alter taste and cost more.

You’ll need to buy some hay

If you keep your feeder over the winter, you’ll need to buy some hay. Figure two tons or so per feeder.

The local market report will have prices for your area, or check online and see what people are selling hay for off of the farm.

For our area, I will say $150.00 per ton, so add $300 to the cost of your feeder calf for his winter or non growing season forage.

Time spent raising calf

There is no way around it, your feeder calf will take some of your time. Not a lot, you can take care of a feeder in the same amount of time it takes for any other livestock, like sheep or goats.

An additional place to spend your time is in moving fence. If you have the ability, dividing up your pasture and allowing the animals one section at a time will give you more grazing per year for the same amount of land.

The portable division fencing for cattle can be as simple as a single strand of wire and a small fence charger.

Easy to hook up and easy to move, but will take a bit of your time. Your time will be paid back in additional grass for your animals!

The “no time” option-healthy cull cattle

Another money and time saving option for high quality beef that people are not aware of is buying a cull cow from a beef or dairy cattle breeder.

As long as the cow is in good shape, you can get a freezer full of super high quality beef for a super price!

A caution when arranging the deal: look at the market report and plan to pay the high end of the cull cow price, at least.

It is only right, since the farmer is spending time and energy helping you arrange to get your beef!

Cost to butcher

The cost to butcher cattle is generally divided up into a few sections. If your butcher shop has their prices online, this will be easy to figure out. If not you can stop in and ask.

Most slaughterhouses will have a kill charge then a price per pound for cutting, wrapping, and freezing.

Anything extra that takes more work will cost you more per pound.

For instance beef sticks will cost more per pound in processing fees than steaks because the beef sticks take more work/time per pound to fill your order to your specifications.

The other thing to realize with beef, or any meat animal, is that the weight of the live animal will be much higher than the weight of the total meat you take home.

The processing prices will only apply to pounds of meat, not pounds of total animal.

Here is an example: if the kill charge is $80.00 and the base cost per pound of meat (cut, wrap, freeze) is $0.56 and you have 550 pound of meat you will pay the butcher $0.56 x 550=$308 + $80=$388 for the meat you put in your freezer.

Realistically, your beef butchering fees will at least include some ground beef and grinding will cost a little more per pound.

Unless you go crazy and get the whole thing turned into beef sticks (high processing cost per pound) or something like that, the majority of your butchering costs can be for just the basic (the $0.56 in this example) charges per pound.

Beef prices for comparison

Remember, you are going to be raising beef that is completely different than the beef you can find at the store!

If you want to see what high quality, home raised beef is selling for currently, here are a few websites where you can check out the prices to purchase what you will be raising for yourself!

Note: I don’t know any of these farms myself. I searched “home raised beef in Ohio” and these are the first few results:

White Clover Farm

This is a 100% grass fed and finished cattle farm in Southern Ohio.

The link above is to the sales page listing prices from $4.85-6.25 per pound, depending upon what you order.

Harmon Creek Farms

This is a Angus and Red Devon farm in the northern half of the state. Harmon Creek is 100% grass fed, as well.

This is a link to their retail beef sales page. I took a quick look through and saw prices ranging from $7.00 for a pound of ground beef to $25.20 for a 2 pack of strip steaks.

They have bulk prices, as well, which would presumably be lower per pound.

G. Burbick Farms

This is an Angus Farm in Columbiana, Ohio that raises and sells 100% grass fed and finished beef.

A quick glance through their site had beef prices listed from $6-8.99 per pound for boxed beef, which is a mix of ground and cuts together in set sizes, based on pounds.

They also have bulk orders available at $4.25 per pound for a whole or half steer.

Do the math for your own beef!

Using the lowest price listed above, the $4.25 per pound and the 550 pound estimate from the butchering section above you will get $2,337.50.

Can you raise your steer for less than that? Yes, you can! Remember, that we used the lowest example price listed above and you can still make it happen.

Don’t trust my numbers, look into this for yourself! Give raising your own beef a try, you’ll be surprised!

I know that I am always happy when I look into our freezer and see it chuck full of our beef!

Not to mention how happy I am with the taste and the cost savings since we raise our own! Give yourself a chance, you’ll be glad you did!

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