I'd like to try cowpooling -- but before I do, I'd love to know from someone who actually done it, how it turned out from a practical aspect.
Did you get sick of eating the same meat all the time? Freezer burn? Did you buy a new freezer? Did you have to negotiate for the good bits of the cow?
Was it worth it? Tips?
I have been buying grass fed beef from local farmers for a couple years now. At first I bought individual cuts in packs of 20-30 pounds. That would fit into a standard refrigerator freezer. I would suggest this if it's an option for your first time ordering. It gave me the chance to get used to each cut, how to cook it, and what I preferred without feeling overwhelmed. If it's not an option that's ok, go with 1/4 cow if you can.
Last time I ordered I bought a 1/4 cow. I contacted the farmer ahead of time and asked about what cuts to expect, what about organ meats and bones, how to arrange for delivery etc. It's worth it to just call them, they are usually a friendly bunch :) I didn't fight for 'good cuts' because I don't like steak, so I just asked for as many organ meats as possible, stews, ribs and roasts.
The farmer let me choose what size I wanted the packs to be in. Since I'm cooking for 1 or 2, I asked for 1 pound packs. They cut the roasts fairly small for me at about 1.5 pounds each. I got a good mix of roast, stew, steaks and ground. Everything was labeled clearly. I picked up my order at the farmer's market and it was about 120 lbs. He actually had tons of organ meats that he gave me for free, at least another 20 pounds. I got liver, bones, kidneys, tongue and heart. I had to ask for beef fat and buy it separately. The farmer normally sells it to soap-makers but had 5 pounds of it for me. If your farmer doesn't offer the fat, maybe try asking if he usually sells it for soap-making.
I suggest a deep-freezer for 1/4 cow or more. It will not all fit into a refrigerator freezer. I only eat beef about twice a week so I also bought lamb, pork and chickens in bulk from another farmer. I never had a problem with freezer burn and some of the meat I've eaten after 8 months no problems. I get my meat wrapped in freezer paper. Sometimes they have the option of vacuum sealed plastic, but I prefer to stay away from plastic. Only advantage of plastic is you can defrost quickly by submerging in warm water.
This is the second year that I've bought a part of a cow. (Steer?) I ordered with the farmer who lives 10 minutes down the road from me. I got a half of the animal, but had no say in the cuts other than to ask for any extra marrow bones and liver she could give me. The butcher pretty much divides it all up evenly.
I got a few (3?) roasts, and many steaks of different cuts, some T-bones, some tournedos, etc... I also got a few bags of beef cubes and lots of ground beef. I didn't get as much liver or as many bones as I would have liked, unfortunately. It also doesn't seem to be an option to get the fat, or to receive fattier cuts. And the meat is definitely leaner than commercial stuff.
I believe I paid roughly $350 for the 1/2 cow in November, and I still have a fair number of steaks and about 10 bags of ground beef left over. However, I have also supplemented with some inexpensive store-bought beef, especially to get larger, fattier roasts, or when making a big pot of chili/hamburgers for guests. I'm a little stingy with my good meat. lol
I'll be placing another order this spring, for sure. The meat is definitely more flavourful, and I like knowing that the animal was raised really down the road from me on pasture by someone I know and trust.
I'm quite sure that I get my money's worth, although I haven't attempted to calculate or compare. And given the quality of the meat, I'd say I definitely get bang for my buck.
I bought a whole cow from a farmer here in NJ. I inherited a large freezer and stuck most of it in there. Even so it didn't all fit, so I ended up taking up most of my normal freezer and had to beg space for the "misc organs" box in my aunt and uncle's freezer.
This was back in November. I'm eating VLC and the cow has been the staple of my diet since then. I estimate that I have a month or so before I've completely consumed it.
I haven't noticed any decline in quality since then. If the meat is vacuum packed it should last for a very long time before developing any problems. My main issue is forgetting to defrost stuff. That, and I stupidly asked for 2" thick steaks (I no longer remember why) which means that cooking a rib steak takes forever.
A lot of this will depend on your local farm population. Google around and call farms to ask how they do things and get price checks. In my experience getting a call back can take some time (they're farmers, they have a lot of crap to take care of), and they're generally very friendly and willing to talk. I guess getting into the direct-to-consumer grassfed beef business isn't something you do if you're a grouchy uncommunicative farmer. I highly recommend vacuum sealed plastic packaging if it is available. I have some other beef ordered at about the same time which is not vacuum sealed, and it has developed some minor freezer burn. The vacuum sealed stuff is fine.
As for "getting sick of it", that mostly depends on you. I'm constantly perplexed by the idea that eating cow every single day is somehow boring or makes you get sick of cow. Eat when you're hungry and steak will taste amazing every time, provided you don't massively overcook it or something. My working hypothesis is that if you have developed a strong social or emotional framework around food, you might run into some mental issues eating the same thing all the time. But you're doing that to yourself - it's not the food's fault!
All in all, I highly recommend it. Also, volunteer to be the person to go to the farm and pick it up (don't let them ship it to you). Talking to the farmer about how he does things is always interesting.
My son in Palo Alto cowpooled with another family a couple of years and it worked out fine. This year he is taking the whole side of beef himself.
He was able to ask for certain sized packages that suited his family and the various cuts were well marked. I know because I raided the freezer to cook at his place!
We're on our second side of beef obtained direct from the farmer. The main thing for me is simply remembering to set something out to thaw before work. If you have a big dog, also beware of their ability to snag things from the counter top. :D