Bulk beef purchasing was once an option only available to those with the freezer space and about $600 to spare at one time, but a group of local ranchers wants to change that. They want to sell their meat locally by cut, rather than by the side.
Buying in bulk
Buying in bulk has its advantages, if you have the lump payment and the space. Per pound the meat will cost up to $2 less than grocer-bought beef, and it'll probably be the best beef you'll ever eat, Gardnerville rancher David Hussman said. He and his wife, Kathi, run the Hussman Ranch, which has been in the family since 1869.
"Our meat has been aged so it's tastier and it's tender and it has a better flavor," Hussman said. "But the downside is that you get it all, even the cuts you don't like."
You get the cubes for kabobs, the top sirloin steak and the skirt steak. The cuts you don't like can be ground or cubed.
Sisters Lisa Lekumberry and Sheri Walters run the Trimmer Ranch in Genoa, family- owned since 1909.
They produce grass-fed beef cattle, while the Hussman's are grain fed.
"The grass-fed to me is more mushy," Hussman said. "The grass-fed is leaner, so not as marbled as the grain-fed. But it depends on how you like your meat whether that's good or bad."
One thing they are sure about:
"I think we can beat the grocery store in quality," Hussman said.
The Hussman Ranch has 10 female breeding cows. Six or seven calves are set aside for bulk sale. The other 80 go to feed lots in California or Idaho and from there - who knows where. About 140 cows are raised at the Trimmer Ranch. At the feedlots, the calves are fattened, slaughtered, processed and immediately shrink wrapped and delivered to grocery stores around the country.
"You could be buying our beef and we'd never know it," Hussman said.
The only feedback they get on their beef is if a local bulk buyer comes back the next year. That's something they'd like to change.
The old-fashioned meat market - a new endeavor
For more than 10 years, the Hussmans have wanted to retail their meat to locals, those who they see while shopping, or at church. This also brings more profit to the producer, rather than the meat-processing plant and grocer. The Hussmans and other local ranchers just sell the animals based on the market price.
"The business we've been trying to do, with the help of UNR, is to sell retail, meaning you can buy as much or as little as you like of local beef," Kathi Hussman said.
The University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension is first surveying ranchers within 100 miles to determine if they are interested in local retail sales. A certain number of producers have to be willing to take the gamble. So far about 10 have expressed interest, including the Trimmer Ranch and the Hussmans.
"Then we'll do a business plan and that business plan is dependent on understanding customers and the market for the product," said extension educator Steve Lewis.
Locally raised beef could be an attractive item in restaurants, farmers markets or specialty markets. The Local Livestock Marketing Group secured about $120,000 from the USDA and UNR to fund a feasibility study that will determine how local livestock ranchers can process and market their product.
Lekumberry said she believes the market is there.
"Interest in food safety, the environment and alternative agriculture has piqued consumer interest in meat that comes directly from local, smaller farms."
The buyer will be able to see the cattle before slaughter.
"We're going to become a meat market," Kathi Hussman said. " A portion of the profits - if not all - can be realized by the producer."
But the ranchers have some obstacles, namely the lack of a USDA processing facility inspected for retail sales. A mobile unit, which would come to the ranch to slaughter the cattle, could cost up to $200,000. The carcasses would be stored in a refrigerated compartment on the trailer and then taken to a processing plant where it would be aged, or hung, for about two weeks. The meat would then be cut and wrapped for individual retail sales. This allows for specialty cuts of meat, which would be a big profit for the producers.
These ranchers all grew up going to a meat market - or eating their own - so it isn't inconceivable that the Carson City area could have another one stocked with local meat.
If the project is feasible then the venture capital comes next . A local processing plant inspected for retail sales could be possible in about two years, Lewis said.
How buying in bulk works
Contact a rancher and specify if you want a whole, about 600 pounds of meat, or a half, about 300 pounds. The price depends on the current market value. A half could cost from $600-$800. A whole could range from $1,200 to $1,400. The processing price is added on to that. That amount also fluctuates. The meat comes to be about 55-65 percent of the total live weight.
The animals are born from February to April.
About 20 months later they are ready to be butchered.
The rancher takes the calves to Fallon - where the closest USDA slaughter facilities are located. These plants only do bulk slaughter.
The meat is aged (or hung) in a refrigerated room for about two weeks.
The meat is processed (or cut), wrapped, labeled and frozen.
The meat returns from Fallon and goes in to your freezer.
Higher quality, aged beef. You know the producers and the condition of their animals. The cost comes out less than store-bought meat.
"If you know the consumer, you are least likely to have a bad product," rancher Kathi Hussman said.
Because there is no USDA inspected processing plant for retail sales, you have to purchase in bulk, which gives you everything, even some things you may not like. You'll be paying $600 to $1,200 all at once, rather than throughout the year. You have to store it all. Local freezer lockers are difficult to find.
Ranchers can offer opinion
As part of the feasibility study, the University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension has mailed surveys to ranches in northwestern Nevada to determine their interest in a USDA-inspected and producer-owned facility for slaughtering, processing and packing. The results of the survey will be available near the end of the year.
A local USDA facility would enable ranchers to directly sell their products to consumers, eliminating the middleman and increasing the ranchers' profits.
Ranchers interested in participating in the Local Livestock Marketing Group, or to obtain a survey, contact the Douglas County Cooperative Extension office at 782-9960.
- Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1212.