Guide to Buying Bulk Beef From Local Farms

Are you looking to buy bulk beef for the first time? Have you had a bad experience buying bulk beef? There are a few things to consider when buying from your local farmer.

What’s for dinner? When you and I have a healthy, balanced diet, it shows in how we look and feel. If you mainly eat salads, vegetables, and fruits, you’ll be much leaner than the person who eats lots of carbohydrates, protein, and sugar. If you are looking for lean beef, find a rancher who only feeds grass and hay to their herd. For those looking for more marbling in their beef, search for farms feeding corn or another food source to their herd. There is a large market for both categories of beef, so do your research on the farm’s feed program prior to purchasing.

Been here long? The age of the animal will directly affect the tenderness of the beef. Ask the farmer for the age of the cow when it goes to processing. Around two to 2 1/2 years old is a good age to process. At that point they are relatively young but have had enough time to pack on some pounds. The younger cows may be more tender, but they haven’t put on much weight yet. Some farmers send their “cull cows” to the processor. The reasons could vary from a cow getting injured to a mama cow not producing calves. The beef from older cows will not be as tender. For those of you who have with negative experiences buying bulk beef, there’s a good chance you were duped into buying a cull cow.

Is this quality beef? When buying a quarter beef or more, the current law states that you don’t have to complete the USDA inspection. Although it’s an option at most processing plants, some farmers may not get the USDA inspection because it costs extra money, plus it’s not required when selling beef in bulk. I personally feel much safer knowing the meat I’m feeding my family has been inspected by the USDA. If you purchase beef at a farmers market, look for the USDA stamp on the packaging. To sell individual cuts to the public, the law says each cut must be inspected. When you see the USDA stamp, you can eat your beef with confidence that it passed the USDA inspection at the time it was processed.

What’s it like there? Where a cow is born, grows up, and is processed matters. Are they born and raised on the farm? Do they get to roam freely in a pasture? Are they treated humanely throughout their lives? Ok, that may be too many questions to ask, but you get the idea! The living conditions matter, which is part of the reason you find a much better taste in farm raised beef versus the beef from the major beef producers.

How much? The most common way to price bulk beef is by using the “hanging weight”, but what all is included? To get your real total, make sure the beef, processing fee, USDA inspection fee, sales tax, and the delivery fee (if available) are all included in the final price. Some operations will only charge you for the beef and tax, and then you pay the processor directly for the processing fee. In many cases, you pick up the finished product from the processor. Does one farm charge more than another? If so, why? There are many factors that contribute to price differences, such as the expenses to run the farm, the feed program (huge factor), the farm’s location to a processor or viable market, etc. Understand why there’s a difference before making your final decision.

Can I get what I want? One of the perks of buying in bulk is that you typically get to customize your order. Do you want steaks bone in or bone out? How thick do you want your steaks? This is part of the fun for our customers! Some operations will discuss your cut preferences with you, while others will have you contact the processor directly. Some processors request that the two quarters on a side of beef match perfectly. In this case, you many not get everything that you request, but they can typically get you very close to what you want. When you buy a half beef, or side of beef, you get to fully customize everything! For those who consistently purchase bulk beef, buying a half beef is their preference.

You should now have a good idea of what to expect and what questions to ask when purchasing bulk beef. It’s a big purchase that many do without much knowledge or experience. Finding the right farm that will walk you through the process and answer your questions is key. You’ll eventually develop trust with your “beef guy” or “beef gal.” The hope is that both sides of the deal feel great about the relationship and continue working together for many years.

 Good luck in your search for your own beef guy or beef gal! We hope this guide helps you make the right choice the first time. If you live in Arkansas, you’re invited to learn more about Barham’s Ozark Beef at Now the only question is… what’s for dinner?

Ed Linck, Chief Beef Snob
Barham’s Ozark Beef