Finding the Simple Profit in Wholesale Grass Fed Beef
For grass fed beef, you really have just two major profit points – as long as you’re feeding hay:
- When they’re weaned.
- When they’re yearlings.
Anything else gets eaten up in the winter hay cycle. While a grass fed beef is only about 22 months old at harvest, it’s gone through at least 2 winters, usually 3. Because you have to add in the 9 months of gestation to the cost – which takes it up to nearly 2 1/2 years.
Cost of hay isn’t just baling it, you also have to fertilize the land it came from, or it won’t produce as well for you the next time (and eventually, you’d only be raising short, unpalatable weeds – or sand.)
So working to finish cattle actually takes the remaining profit out of that last 8-10 months. They are going to put on their final weight, but this is also where they lose their efficiency of gain – each pound of gain takes more and more pounds of forage to achieve. And so the relative efficiency of grain-fed beef, who are harvested at about 14 months. That is, if you have the cheap grain to feed them.
Trying to finish cattle on grass usually means another winter of hay, which is additional cost. Auction prices for beef gets you paid commodity prices, which are as low as buyers can get away with. So your fertilizer cost, plus equipment and fuel, eat up any profit from those last few hundred pounds.
Now Missouri has lots and lots of tough, but tasty fescue grass. So this is why it is one of the top beef-producing states. Mostly, it has feeder or stocker (yearling) calves which are then shipped off to feedlots for fattening.
Farmers' Market profits vs. Stockyard Auction prices
What’s becoming more popular are grass-finished beef, locally marketed. This is where you get your premiums and the reason for finishing anything at all. When you can jump the final price up above your costs for that last year, you can then simply be able to make any profit you want that the final consumer will pay for.
Now while cattle prices are surging all over the place, we are still currently (2012) able to get about $1200 for a steer on the hoof (live-weight). This will give you a your 520-pound carcass and will another $225 processing. While you get about 320 lbs of useful meat from that, you have arount $400 in that animal. Visiting the local big-city farmers' market found that just hamburger from a verified grass-fed beef was bringing $5.50/lb. and sirloin steak was $18-19.00 per pound.
Now, that was individually wrapped, USDA-inspected. (Which nearly doubles the "custom-exempt" fees.) Your break-even would be covering your costs, and then they pay the processing - that's wholesale beef, custom-exempt processed. At farmers' market prices (adding in the high overhead for big-city booth fees), it still shows that farmers taking over their own market can reap the profit harvest to the tune of somewhere around $3- $4,000 per animal.
If you only sell direct at wholesale prices, you can still take your auction price, add in a premium, and get somewhere around $1,000 profit per animal.
Without taking your own marketing into your own hands, you are really stuck with sellling stockers (yearlings) at auction, your next best profit margin.
Our current model is a mix. We turn the bulls into steers and direct market them as wholesale beef when 2 years old. Heifers are sold as feeders (or if they are lucky, picked up as replacement heifers) and we still more than double cost of keeping them overwinter and their shots. An average profit under this model goes around $14-$15,000 for a herd of 22 cows and bull, without other overhead. That's still got about $4200 in winter hay costs.
To create a sustainable farming solution, increasing profit on grass fed beef at commodity prices is to take out the hay costs – which entails something called mob-grazing. By intensively grazing cattle and letting the land recover (one expert at this says his cows only see the same spot twice a year) – this actually make the grass lusher and means you don’t have to feed hay at all, there’s plenty out there if you ration it during the winter.
The other point would be to get a premium above commodity levels – in other words, quit selling a commodity. This means direct marketing all your annual calf crop. With the Internet, this is getting easier.
If we were making $3,000 per steer by USDA inspection and selling to locals on a per piece basis, that would then be a lot more income, but also a lot more overhead in terms of time and expenses.
But I’ve got far more to study on this. A lot more pencils to sharpen and push. I sure would like to move onto finished cattle, but there’s going to have to be some changes in order to “mine them them hills” of grass to see more gold.
Don't Miss Out - Get Your Name on The List!
Sorry we missed you this year. Our beef was spoken for in 3 days this season, as people can see the value of buying direct from the farmer at wholesale prices. The good news is that we have more steers coming on this next year, so will be able to help more people with this incredibly good-tasting beef. Fill out that contact form today so you can get your name on the list for next year!
We only process so many beef a year. Because we are a small, local farm that is more interested in delivering lots of value through our beef.
And our harvest season is in Spring, right up to June, not all year round.
As more people find out about our farm, more people want our product. Unfortunately, we can't provide our beef to everyone. And some people simply live too far away.
So we did some research and found U.S. Wellness Meats for everyone else. They are another Missouri grass fed beef producer, who also deals in other produce from local farmers nearby. And they ship next day to your front door. Well worth checking out.(Get more info here.)
Note: We reserve the right to refuse business to anyone. Factually, we have a bit of a waiting list. This is a family business and we work to treat our clients like neighbors. No one is making us sell our beef direct, and we don't have to do this to make this farm sustainable. This is a work in progress. We improve our efficiency every year. We consider that other people should have the option to eat healthier, and so go the extra mile to make this quality beef available. We don't expect people to be perfect. But we also won't make the same mistake of selling to rudeness twice - there are other people in line as well. Sorry I had to even bring this up.