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Cowpooling: Team up to fill your deep freeze with local, all natural, grass-fed beef 

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Here's the beef.

How many cows are in that burger?

The answer to this question changed the way I ate forever. No longer were my rare trips through a fast-food drive-through a shameless indulgence.

One study of American hamburgers found that in a single four-ounce ground beef patty, the fewest number of animals, on average, that contributed tissue to a patty was 55, and the greatest number, on average, was 1,082.

Suddenly, I began searching labels claiming the meat was “all-natural,” “organic” and “grass-fed.” But it wasn’t until I shared the expense of a single cow with friends that I felt secure knowing, for sure, I was eating a one-cow burger.

Last year my family bought into cowpooling, splitting with friends a cow raised exclusively on organic pastures in Madras. For $190 each, five of us divided up the cut, wrapped, frozen and labeled beef into our own boxes, then tucked it into our freezers to enjoy over the winter and spring, saving hundreds of dollars over grocery store prices.

Our share consisted of various steaks, several roasts, packages of stew meat, cubed round, and plenty of ground beef for homemade, one-cow burgers.

I enjoyed finding recipes to use the less familiar cuts (like the cubed round) and ended up loving the strong, meaty flavor of the grass-fed beef.  The best part though, was the joy of showing my children by example that buying local tastes as good as it feels.



Aren’t all cows “grass-fed?” Well, yes and no.

While all cows graze on grass for the first six months or more, the bulk of the meat for sale in stores and restaurants comes from cows that were “finished” on grain.

The highest quality grain-finished beef comes from farms that don’t use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, hormones or antibiotics, earning the label “all natural.” These cows are finished on a diet of non-GMO corn, wheat, barley and/or other grains.

Grass-fed beef on the other hand is pasture-raised entirely, and in most cases, is all natural as well. Most importantly, decades of studies suggest a nutritional advantage of grass-fed beef over grain-fed.

According to studies by California State University’s College of Agriculture, U.S. grass-fed beef is lower in fat, has higher levels of healthy fatty acids like Omega-3 and CLA (cancer-fighting Conjugated Linoleic Acid), is higher in precursors for Vitamin A and E, and higher in antioxidants.

Most commercial grain-fed beef comes from giant feedlots. Feedlot cows are raised in close quarters, often fed genetically modified corn, wheat, soy and other grains, and pumped full of antibiotics to counteract the effects of close confinement. Most are also given hormones and steroids, resulting in a growth rate twice that of pastured cows.

Switched almost entirely to grains from their previous high-fiber pasture grasses, they quickly take on weight from their new high-carb diets. This creates the richly marbled meat that our USDA standards were designed to recognize and our taste buds have come to know. Unfortunately, most feedlot beef is also higher in saturated fats, lower in certain vitamins and minerals, and carries traces of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics.



Grass-fed beef has a stronger, meatier flavor, but due to the lower amount of intramuscular fat, has suffered the reputation of being tougher and chewier. I find when it’s ground, it gives superior flavor to sauces and burgers. And at medium rare, steaks are every bit as tender.

Grain-finished beef tends to be milder and more buttery, a flavor most of my generation grew up on and therefore favors.

Personally, I like both. Grass-fed, all natural, locally raised beef is what I prefer on my dinner table.  But if I splurge on steak while dining out, I am always pleased with a moist and tender grain-finished filet mignon.



Buying smaller mixed-cut boxes is another way to buy local grass-fed beef. Both Central Oregon Locavore and Agricultural Connections make this easy by delivering your one-time online purchase to area drop-off spots any time of year.



Sources for grass-fed, all natural, local beef in bulk

Prices per pound are figured on “hanging weight,” which is the weight of the whole animal after being killed and cleaned, but before butchering, including fat and bones.





DD Ranch

$3.75/lb. cut and wrapped

Whole, half or quarter cow


Cascade Highlanders

$575 whole, $300 half + $0.65/lb. cut and wrap fee

Ends up around $2.50/lb.


Dancing Cow Farms

$4.54/lb. cut and wrapped

Whole or half


Lundy Farm

$3.25/lb.+ $0.60/lb. cut and wrap fee

Whole, half or quarter





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