How to buy meat directly from a farmer or rancherI grew up on a farm in southwest Oklahoma, and when we needed beef, my father took a steer to town and had it butchered for the family. This rural tradition continues today. Most rural custom butchers can refer you to a local rancher who will sell you a whole beef or maybe even a half or quarter beef. A thousand pound steer will yield 350 to 400 pounds of meat, which is a year's worth of beef for the average American family (average annual consumption per person is about 67 pounds).

We think there are serious health advantages to buying 100% forage and grass fed, free ranging beef. These are cattle that have never been in a feedlot and haven't been fed grain and corn. 100% grass fed beef has less fat and calories, about the same amount of fat as in a boneless chicken breast. Grassfed meats have high levels of Omega 3 oils, which are very healthy for your heart and your brain and may also help suppress certain cancers. They are high in Vitamin E and conjugated linoleic acid, which are also defenses against cancer and good for your heart. Ir pays to look around, though, and find someone who is experienced with forage-feeding of cattle.

Most families can't buy a whole year's worth of beef at once, but families can split a beef. The butcher will pack it however you specify, and it is easy to divide a whole beef into four or even eight portions. You can specify how you want the beef cut (thickness of steaks and roasts, size of frozen packages, etc.) Some of the butchers sell beef by the half, quarter, or eighth beef, so you may be able to get less than a whole beef directly from the butcher, or the producer may have other customers who want to split one with you.

After you buy it, the producer takes the animal to the custom butcher, and then you pick up the meat from the butcher, frozen and wrapped in good quality butcher paper or a heat sealed plastic film. Unless included in the original price to the rancher, you will pay the custom butcher's processing charges. There is also a market for buying pigs directly from farmers. Farm-raised pork is truly a premium product, but it is quite reasonable in price.

How do you find a custom butcher? Look in the classified ad section, in the Yellow Pages under "Butchers" or "Custom Butchers", "Wild Game Processing". Watch for roadside signs, especially during hunting season. Ask around. A good custom butcher can help you develop your family's food security. They are worth looking for. Robert Waldrop

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Robert Waldrop