Posted by: A Part of the Solution | November 16, 2011

Why is Pastured Meat so Expensive?

There you are, with your consciousness all raised. You watched Food, Inc., American Meat, and Supersize Me. You read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and Omnivore’s Dilemma, and a couple articles by Joel Salatin. You went to the farmers market and were shocked, shocked, by the prices on the pieces of meat for sale.

You wondered how it could be so expensive, those little packages of animal protein. After all, aren’t those animals eating from the land? Isn’t that ‘free’? Where on earth do those outrageous prices come from, then?

Let’s begin at the beginning. You can go to a livestock auction and pick up a feeder pig for $25. You can have day-old chicks delivered by the USPS for way less than a dollar a beak. You’d pay more than that for a turkey poult, around five dollars a beak. But what if you choose a heritage breed animal? An animal not engineered to live in overcrowded conditions, not bred to ingest only feed from a bag, not confined in one place for its mercifully short life.

Our heritage breed piglets come onto the farm with a price tag of $125 on each of their adorable little heads. Our chickens cost about $1.10 each. The turkeys were in excess of $10 a piece. And all of that before we started housing and feeding them.

The chickens range freely, and pick up a lot of their food along the way. But we still put out feed for them twice a day. The turkeys are not only fed three times a day, we move them onto fresh pasture every other day and have for these last three months, using our ingeniously constructed port-a-pens (light yet sturdy enough to keep the predators out, though not as inexpensive to build as we might have wished). Talk about recurring labor expenses! And our pigs are moved from pasture to pasture out in the woods. The overhead on that involves constructing their dens, buying the straw bales which keep them sheltered, wire and posts and batteries to keep them safely contained, and their supplemental feed and whey regimen to allow them to grow comfortably and healthfully.

If you’re beginning to feel dizzy imagining the overhead on all of that, I’ve got news for you. That’s just the beginning! Because we haul water for them, dig wells so that we don’t have to haul water for them, bring them apples and acorns (not free once we run out of what the farm can provide), and accept that heritage breeds grow more slowly than their commercial counterparts–so they’re on the farm longer, and more necessitous of attention as we gauge their health and development through observation and what is coming to be called ‘high-touch’ practices.

Then there are the costs of slaughtering and packaging the animals to sell them for their meat. Small operations, such as all diversity farmers are running, have few options for their animal butchering. Often the butchers are far from the farm (increasing fuel costs and time away from the farm for the farmer), and the price of having animals killed and processed and packaged is only a number that goes up, not down, over time.

But if you ask a livestock pasturing farmer, s/he will tell you there isn’t really another way to raise animals for consumption ethically. The happiness and well-being of pastured livestock is exponentially greater than that of their commercial counterparts. This allows us diversity farmers to look ourselves in the mirror without shame and to take pride in our choices and the satisfaction of our customers.

Small farmers aren’t eligible for the subsidies provided by the get-big-or-get-out policies of the USDA. When you pay a pasturing farmer for meat, you’re paying the real cost of the food you intend to eat. None of this takes the sting out of the price-tag. But it does ease the digestion of one’s choices as a practicing omnivore.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for setting all of this out for us. I think people don’t realize that a) they can, and perhaps should, be eating less meat over all, which b) would allow them to pay more for the healthier, ethically raised meat they do consume when they choose to eat meat. We’ve gotten too used to the cheap costs of factory-farmed meat, and don’t understand the real price we’re paying, health-wise and environmentally, when we eat “cheap” meat. Great reading. 🙂

    • You’ve summarized that beautifully. And it’s all too true. People don’t want to look at the real costs of milk, eggs, cheese and meat. Let alone what goes into growing a tomato to market readiness. One of our WWOOFers said he now understood that vegetables are essentially like infants: you have to feed, water and maintain their health with daily care from the planting of the seed all the way to transporting them to market. I literally cannot envision what it would take to produce a tomato which sold for a dollar a pound. And the plants are nothing like as labor intensive as the animals.

  2. Good write-up. Cheap meat has a price. And we pay that savings in shocking ethical lapses, environmental degradation, questionable unhealthy substances in the food itself, and excessive water and fossil-fuel use-per pound of commercially raised protein.

    Similar to those low, low Wal-Mart prices. Yes, it’s cheap, but the cost is your tax dollars going to subsidize their poorly-paid staff (in Medicaid and welfare), gutting the American economy because all that stuff came from China, contributing to global warming with the fossil fuels used in transporting the crap, and voting with your dollars on a company that is well-known for opening stores in smaller economic areas, undercutting the locally-owned businesses, and then when the local economy collapses because of the mom-and-pop stores going under, they pull up stakes, and move on, leaving a smoking crater in their wake.

    Ooops. I’m a little off-topic. I’d be happy to support Buckland Farm, and only wish I was closer so that I actually could. In lieu of being able to purchase Buckland products, I will be a staunch cheerleader.

    • Thank you. Thank you very much!

  3. Maybe this can help you with your slaughtering costs: http://www.theonion.com/articles/latest-gop-debate-concludes-with-candidates-wrestl,26610/


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