Sharing 1/4 of a Bovine

1/4 cow, butchered and ready to share

One of the benefits of being a chef is that when friends find out about something related to food, I’m often among the first to be told. So it went with my friend Andi, who is a veterinarian, when she found out that some people she knows had slaughtered and aged one of their pasture-raised beef steers and were looking to sell it wholesale. For a couple of days, it looked like we would have a 1/2 share of the cow to distribute among interested parties; then, at the last minute, our share had dropped to 25%. Still, though, that translated to 80 pounds of meat: enough for six families to get as much as they were interested in having of various cuts of beef.

When the meat entered our house two days before the “draft,” I was at first surprised by how little meat 80 pounds actually translated into. I hadn’t expected we would be able to house the entirety of it in our freezer. Turns out, it fit comfortably on two shelves of it. It wasn’t until the draft got underway that I realized how much meat we actually had on our hands.

There weren’t any good pieces for a nice roast beef; unfortunately, the sirloin tip roast went with the other 1/4 of the cow and the top round had been cut into steaks. However, there were porterhouses, T-bones (the former, if you don’t already know, is the same as the latter, but with more of the tenderloin muscle), sirloin steaks, and rib steaks, plus plenty of options for good braising meat: chuck roasts, rump roasts, and something called an English roast, which looked to be some sort of a cross section of the leg.

The different parties had different interests when it came to how they made their selections. Andi doesn’t like to be able to identify muscular tissues on her dinner plate, so apart from a couple of round steaks, she opted mostly for hamburger meat. Deanna was hoping for prime rib, so she centered in on the rib steaks. Joe and Chandra aren’t really fans of braised meats and pot roasts, so they got some steaks and then switched over to the ground meat option; same for Troy and Carin.

I happen to like braised meats, and I also like marrow (it’s just like beef-flavored jello), so after I got a package of porterhouse, I nabbed an English roast while there were still T-bones on the table because I was afraid that, despite the presence of the marrow (which others seemed to find a daunting prospect), neither of the English roasts would remain by the time my turn came back around. In the end, there was enough variety that everyone was happy with what they got, but I suppose that’s to be expected when you divvy up 1/4 cow.

Even better than the fact that our meat came at a wholesale price is the knowledge that it came from a cow that grazed on grass, had room to roam, and received no antibiotics or hormones—i.e., lived the natural life of a cow. The more I read about the way that agribusiness meat-factorizers grow their wares and the environmental implications of massive amounts of fecal matter running untreated into the groundwater supply, getting this beef fits into my resolution to virtually eliminate factory-raised animals from my diet. So long as I eat at home, there shouldn’t be much of a problem maintaining my resolve. Problem is when I go out, too often the vegetarian options on restaurant menus seem to be added as afterthoughts and I wind up ordering meat I wouldn’t otherwise buy because it’s what’s available and palatable.

9 Responses to “Sharing 1/4 of a Bovine”

  1. Mom Says:

    Your comment about liking the marrow is just one more indication that you are very much like your grandfather. He would always make sure he got the marrow when he had beef soup.

    As a former farmgirl, I would advise you to get your references to the animal straight. You refer to the steer being grass-fed, but then go on to talk about getting 1/4 of a cow. The two are not the same! I suppose this is being picky, but it is also payback and I don’t get to do that very often!

  2. Mom Says:

    I should have added that I’m glad you got some good beef. There is definitely a difference in the taste of meat depending on what the animal ate during its lifetime.


  3. jwsharrard Says:

    You caught me getting lazy with my language, using “cow” as a generic term for a bovine instead of more correctly as a reference to the gender of the animal in question… indeed the incredibly common nature of the mistake (to state that beef comes from a cow, not a steer), points to how we as a people have become disconnected from our food.

  4. tanabutler Says:

    Your mom totally busted you, dude. Heh.

    How much was the cost, and did that include the butchering?

    Looks great.

    (Hi, Mom!)

  5. MIL Says:

    In the middle of the US where beef on one’s table is common for nearly every meal…our options are more limited. Cattle close to our home are allowed to roam in the fields after the corn is cut and usually have plenty of space. The feedlots are not far down the road and are big business and not regulated enough. Corn fed beef is tasty….but comes with some hard choices. We eat as conscientiously as we can…..again, the options are limited when you are in the “middle of nowhere!”
    We are looking at the purchase of half a lamb in the spring….it will be free range. SO, get out all those great lamb recipes you’ve got squirreled away….we’ll be calling for some. Oh, and by the way, they eat squirrel around here and find it quite tasty, from what I hear.

  6. Andi Says:

    Not to get truly picky, but I actually have a BSAG from the Chicken College at Dupont University (translate that to majoring in Animal Science in the Agriculture School at the University of Delaware). A steer implies that the animal was castrated. Although most male cattle that is not intended to breed is castrated young (boy, it’s hard for me to type that rather than “neutered”), and this animal did belong to a vet so it probably was castrated young, it could have been a bull for all we know. Bull meat tends to be not so tender and not so tasty because of the effects of the testosterone so I will grant you that it’s not very likely.

    All this being said, it could have been a cow. Most farmers slaughter their steers because they intend to continue to have their cows produce more cattle to raise. This is a really small farm and it was a cross of a dairy breed for which there was not really milking equipment, so keeping the females is not necessarily what they chose to do.

    I absolutely have NO idea of the gender of this particular animal (but you know I’m going to find out now) so it leaves Jesse as being 1/2 right and 1/2 wrong no matter what. Either it was male (and likely missing parts) and he was correct in referring to it as a steer and wrong in calling it a cow. Or it was female and he should have never referred to it as a steer.

    Just had to put my $0.02 in and give everyone a little taste of my college class “Beef Cattle and Sheep Production.” I was required to take a production class to graduate and I chose this one because the professor was cool. But now maybe y’all understand why I don’t enjoy identifying parts on my plate.

    ps… I got the flank steak too! I didn’t take all hamburger meat!

  7. Palau Says:

    I suspect what’s called an English roast is what we English know as a piece of brisket: it’s very fibrous, usually used for slow cooking, either as a pot roast or sometimes for salt or spiced beef.

  8. jwsharrard Says:

    I doubt it’s brisket, seeing as it has a cross-section of bone with some nice-looking marrow, the presence of which leads me to my belief that it’s some sort of a cross-section of the leg: perhaps a non-veal version of osso bucco?

  9. Corduroy Orange » Blog Archive » Beef Cut Correction: Skirt and Flank Says:

    [...] couple of months since I held my 4th annual beef draft.  The event has grown quite a bit since the first time I wrote about it, having graduated all the way from 1/4 of a steer (in 2007) to a steer and a half in 2010!  [...]

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