What is a Cow Share?

The local food movement has been a boon to small farmers, and has also benefited us consumers through the very incredible fresh-from-the-farm food. But what if you can't store a whole cow? You share with other foodies like yourself, and also distribute its cost. It's called a cow share. For more on this, read on.
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Quick Tip
Some cow share programs allow you to choose the cuts of beef. Take advantage of this, and select the ones you like.
Beef has gotten out of control, price-wise. A grass-fed sirloin steak at Whole Foods can easily run $20.00/lb., and even if you're fine with factory-farmed grocery store steak, you can still expect to pay $10.00/lb. or more. Sure, you could save beef for special occasions, but you shouldn't have to. Saturated fat isn't the demon it was made out to be, and neither is sodium. Beef also has one of the most complete amino acid profiles of all meats.

Locating Cow Share Farms

No room to store a whole cow, which seriously is a lot of meat? Don't worry; most farmers who sell directly to the public also offer cow shares. In other words, you split the cow with someone else, and it's a win for two reasons - one, it's cheaper, and two, there is less meat to store. Some farms even have dedicated websites for this purpose. You can buy a half-share, a third-share, or even a quarter-share of the meat. The farmer's website will outline how much actual meat each share turns out to be. A cow share program or cow pooling is the most cost-effective way of buying fresh beef. Instead of paying grocery store prices for the delicious red meat, get it directly from the farmer. You may have to hunt around a bit for a good cow share farm, but not as much as you might think. There are some cattle farms which are located within an hour's drive from Manhattan. Conduct some online research and you will find a good cow pooling farm near your locality.

Selecting the Cuts of Beef

If you buy the whole cow, you would get everything from it - including the tongue, tripe, tail, etc. You are still likely to get such organs with a half-share, but you will be splitting them with the other person, so you won't get as many. Some share systems allow you to choose your cuts of beef ahead of time. So pick out your steaks and ground beef, but don't shy away from buying strange cuts which you don't know how to cook. Learning to cook new things is one of the best advantages of getting your meat through a cow share program. Most farmers offering cow share programs will send you a few marrow bones along with the cuts of beef. If you are too squeamish to roast them or make a soup, give them to your dog (raw). They won't splinter if you don't cook them, and every dog knows the value of good marrow!

Storing the Cuts of Beef

Once your share of the meat arrives, you will have to figure out what to do with it. It is advisable that you keep the best-looking steak out to eat that day (or at least the next day), because you would like to cook and enjoy it immediately. If you are planning to eat beef again within the next three days or so, keep that particular cut out as well. The rest will have to be frozen. Wrap the cuts individually in butcher paper, followed by a plastic wrap, then foil, and ultimately seal them inside a Ziploc bag. Label the bag with the kind of cut and the date. This means that even if you mix the cuts in a bag, you will have to label each cut for ease in its identification. Once they are frozen, unwrapping to identify them is a real pain. Your regular freezer will probably be fine, but if you have half-share or more meat, consider buying a deep freezer. As it stays colder and isn't opened much, your beef will last longer, and will also be less likely to get a freezer burn.

Trying Out Other Shares

Once you are used to having a seemingly endless supply of beef on hand, try exploring shares of other animals too. Goat shares are common, and they usually include milk and cheese. There are other types of shares where you pay a monthly boarding and care fee for a cow and get certain liters of milk every week. Pig shares are great too, and it will ensure that you have the freshest ribs in town. In fact, you can also learn to cure your own bacon. Much of the pork we eat is cured and/or smoked. So, some pig farmers offer this service additionally. Hence at times, your pig share may even include ham and bacon. There are some farmers who also offer chicken shares.

Now that you know what to expect from a cow sharing program or cow pooling, try to derive the maximum benefits from it. Remember, not all shares are of a single animal. Some farms offer shares that give you milk and eggs, others do a variety of cuts from whatever animals they raise. Once you find the farms you like, stick with them. If you plan it right, you may never have to go to the grocery store for meat, milk, or eggs.
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Published: September 20, 2013
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