The article below considers buying beef, but is also relevant to buying lamb. Our
lamb is processed at a USDA inspected plant. Since we sell a whole (or half) lamb directly
to our customers, we are exempt from the inspection requirement.
Buying Whole Animals: Not Only Tasty but Thrifty?
By: Lauren Gwin, OSU Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics
The upshot? Based on the price and cut data we collected, a whole animal bought
live from a rancher and processed for me at a custom-exempt butcher shop would
cost $2195, see Table 1. The equivalent of a whole animal bought as retail cuts
would cost $2507, about 14% more. If the animal is processed at a USDA inspected
plant, which typically charges a bit more, the difference is only 10%.
These numbers certainly aren’t absolute: producers don’t all charge the same rate,
and neither do processors. If you only want to buy a quarter animal and not a half
or whole, you may pay a bit more per pound of hanging weight.
Again, prices will vary – even daily – for retail beef. Record-high commodity prices for
beef have nudged retail prices up, even for non-commodity beef. And the cut-out –
the percentage of the carcass represented by each cut – will vary somewhat among
carcasses (and processors).
All these caveats aside, what does our comparison mean? Some people (I’m one of
them) will interpret this math as good news: I don’t have to pay extra to buy high-
quality, delicious beef from an Oregon rancher. And for that rancher, selling by the
whole, half, and quarter can be far easier than by-the-cut sales, especially when
selling fewer than 100 head per year. By buying freezer meat, you can support a
livestock producer in much the way that community supported agriculture
subscribers support fruit and vegetable growers. Furthermore, I like to support small,
regional processors (though we absolutely need the mid-sized processors, too).
Others may see the negligible savings as not really worth the challenges of dealing
with frozen meat, owning a freezer (and paying for the electricity to run it), and
working with a processor directly (phoning in cutting instructions, direct payment,
picking up your meat).
In the end, whether or not you think it’s worth it to buy direct from a rancher will
depend on what else you value beyond the sheer cost. Buying direct is less
convenient in some ways – though a trip to my freezer is much easier enough ahead
to allow for thaw time.
Yet with that potential inconvenience come product choices and characteristics that
aren’t easy to find at the supermarket, even one with a local-food orientation. And
when you work directly with your processor, you can choose how you want your
meat cut and packaged.
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Buying a whole or half lamb
We are no longer producing lamb.
We sell lambs by the whole or half carcass. The lambs are slaughtered by
Frontier Custom Cutting here on the farm to provide a minimum of stress to the
animals. Frontier takes them back to their store in Carlton to age and then to
be cut according to the buyers' instructions.
We charge $3.25 per pound of hanging (carcass) weight which is usually 45-55
lbs. Once cut, assuming the roasts are boneless, it is about enough to fill a
paper grocery bag.
Frontier charges $75 (for a whole lamb) to the buyer; there is an extra charge
of about $2 for special cuts, such as boning or butterflying roasts.
This chart can help buyers with cutting instructions (I can email it to you for a
clearer picture). If it's still too confusing, you can ask Frontier to cut it as we do:
boneless leg roasts, rib and rack chops, shanks, ground, and stew.
|Cost of processing
|Total paid to
|Total paid to
|Total cost to the