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Buying a Cow: A Guide to Purchasing Quality Beef in Bulk Direct from Ranchers

This post may contain affiliate links – see disclosure & disclaimer.

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Shields Valley Ranchers. All opinions are my own and were not influenced by any parties.

If you’ve considered buying a cow or a portion of beef from a local ranch, this guide is for you! Decide if it’s right for you and your family + how much to purchase.

Buying a Cow: A Guide to Purchasing Quality Beef in Bulk Direct from Ranchers

If you’re considering buying a beef, or a portion, for your family, this guide will help you figure out if it’s right for you and your family and the important things to consider before purchasing. In this article, you’ll find:

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  1. Why buy a cow?
  2. Where to buy a cow?
  3. Shields Valley Ranchers
  4. Deciding how much – 116, 18, 14, 12, or a whole
  5. Common questions
Rump Roast with Veggie Sides

Why buy a cow?

There are many different reasons people choose to purchase cattle for meat. Here are just a few:

  • Quality, prime tasting meat for your family – when you buy beef direct from ranchers, you know where the meat is coming from and can feel good about feeding it to your loved ones.
  • To support local small businesses – my husband and I put a lot of thought into the purchases we make and the companies we support, especially after all that’s happened with the pandemic this past year. Buying your beef direct from ranches is a great way to support your local community.
  • Make meal planning easier – having a supply of meat on hand can help with meal planning. You know what cuts are in your freezer and can plan the week’s meals around what you already have. It can also help cut down on last-minute trips to the grocery store.
  • Emergency food supply – buying beef in bulk can help build your emergency food supply. My husband and I regularly assess the amount of food we have on hand in case of shortages in the supply chain or other emergencies. Keeping beef in the freezer can allow you to have up to a one-year supply on hand.

Where to Buy

When you start looking for local ranchers who sell their beef direct to consumers, you’ll likely find several options. And chances are they all operate a bit differently, so you’ll want to do some research before you commit to purchasing.

Here are some important questions to ask:

  • What is the total delivered cost?
  • What does the price include? (butchering fee, delivery/shipping)
  • Is shipping an option, or will you need to pick it up locally?
  • Will the seller store a portion of the meat for you? What does the storage cost?
  • Will they donate a portion to the food bank for you?
  • How are the animals raised? Is it home-raised beef? Sustainable, raised with care, and using methods that ensure the meat is healthy for your family?

Shields Valley Ranchers

Living in Montana, we have several options that sell beef direct to consumers. It can be overwhelming to find the best option. When I learned about Shields Valley Ranchers, I was so impressed with how informative their website is and how easy they make it for families to order quality, prime beef in bulk online—including free shipping anywhere in the United States. Read on to learn more about them + the meat we sampled.

Who is Shields Valley Ranchers?

Shields Valley Ranchers is a group of ranchers in Shields Valley near Wilsall (in Southwest Montana) providing premium beef raised in our great state of Montana. It is a ranch-to-table operation with sustainable practices, raising their livestock with compassion and care.

What Makes Them Different?

This group of ranchers has streamlined the process to bring local beef direct from their ranch to your table. I initially found buying a cow or even a portion to be overwhelming—however, Shields Valley Ranchers makes the ordering process simple, with free shipping or local pickup.

Their focus is providing healthy food for families while intentionally considering the impact on the land, the environment, and the livestock themselves.

Shields Valley Ranchers Taster Box

I had the pleasure of sampling their beef with a taster box. This sampler included a rib steak, rump roast, and two packages of ground beef.

The wonderful thing about prime meat is that it takes little effort for your meal to taste incredible. I prepared the rump roast by rubbing with olive oil and beef rub. Then I seared it for 20 to 25 minutes on high on our grill and roasted it for a few hours, at around 225 °F—until it reached an internal temperature of 145°F (medium). Then let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes.

I added a few simple sides, and we had a meal that was so simple and delicious. Look at that beautiful roast. Yes, it tasted as good as it looks.

The meat is phenomenal. I felt so good about feeding this beef to my family, knowing exactly where it came from and the care they put into it.


Deciding How Much

Now that you’ve decided to buy a whole beef or a portion, here’s how to determine how much you’ll need and the essential information to gather before investing.

Plan before you buy

There are certain things you’ll want to know before purchasing. Here are some top questions you’ll want to ask yourself.

  • Who is buying? You’ll need to determine who’s buying. Will all the beef go in your freezer, or will you split with family and friends or maybe a few neighbors? Or perhaps a portion of the animal will go to your local food bank.
  • What is your budget? Decide the amount you’re willing to spend. Knowing your budget will help you plan how much to buy and determine if it makes sense to find a group and split the cost.
  • What freezer space is available? Freezer space is a significant consideration. How much room do you have to store the meat? Read on to find out how much room you need for a portion to a full cow.

Sixteenth, Eighth, Quarter, Half, or Whole?

Here is approximately the amount of meat you’ll receive for a sixteenth, eighth, quarter, half, and whole beef. Including the types of cuts, the number of meals, and freezer space you’ll need. Please keep in mind this is based on Shields Valley Ranchers, and other providers may differ slightly.

We’ve assumed a family of 4 or 5 eats 1.5 pounds of beef per meal, on average eating beef three times per week. Here is how you can calculate the total meals & weeks supply for your family:

[total pounds of beef] / [average lbs. your family eats for one meal] = [# of meals]

[# of meals] / [average times per week your family eats beef] = [# weeks supply]

Buying a Sixteenth
  • Pounds: 20 to 25 lbs of beef
  • Cuts: 10 to 12 lbs of ground beef, 1 t-bone steak, 1 rib steak, 1 sirloin steak, 1 chuck (or top round) roast, 1 filet mignon, bottom round cubed, and stew meat.
  • Meals: 12 to 18 meals for a family of 4 or 5
  • Week supply: 4 to 6 weeks of meals, eating beef on average 3 times per week.
  • Freezer space: 1 to 3 cubic feet
  • Shipment you’ll receive: 1 box
Buying an Eighth
  • Pounds: 40 to 50 lbs
  • Cuts: 20 to 25 lbs of ground beef, 2 t-bone steaks, 2 rib steaks, 2 sirloin steaks, 1 chuck roast, 2 filet mignon, 1 top round roast, bottom round cubed, and stew meat.
  • Meals: 24 to 36 meals for a family of 4 or 5
  • Week supply: 8 to 12 weeks of meals, eating beef on average 3 times per week
  • Freezer space: 3 to 5 cubic feet
  • Shipment you’ll receive: 2 boxes
Buying a Quarter
  • Pounds: 80 to 100 lbs
  • Cuts: 40 to 50 lbs of ground beef, 4 t-bone steaks, 4 rib steaks, 4 sirloin steaks, 2 chuck roast, 4 filet mignon, 2 top round roast, bottom round cubed, and stew meat.
  • Meals: 50 to 70 meals for a family of 4 or 5
  • Week supply: 15 to 25 weeks of meals, eating beef on average 3 times per week
  • Freezer space: 6 to 8 cubic feet
  • Shipment you’ll receive: 4 boxes
Buying a Half
  • Pounds: 160 to 200 lbs
  • Cuts: 80 to 100 lbs of ground beef, 8 t-bone steaks, 8 rib steaks, 8 sirloin steaks, 4 chuck roast, 8 filet mignon, 4 top round roast, bottom round cubed, stew meat, 1 rump roast, 2 eye of round, 2 flat irons, 1 flank steak, 2 skirt steak, 1 tri-tip, 1 brisket, and 8 lbs short ribs.
  • Meals: 105 to 135 meals for a family of 4 or 5
  • Week supply: 35 to 45 weeks of meals, eating beef on average 3 times per week
  • Freezer space: 10 to 12 cubic feet
  • Shipment you’ll receive: 8 boxes
Buying a Whole Beef
  • Pounds: 320 to 400 lbs
  • Cuts: 160 to 200 lbs of ground beef, 16 t-bone steaks, 16 rib steaks, 16 sirloin steaks, 8 chuck roast, 16 filet mignon, 8 top round roast, bottom round cubed, stew meat, 2 rump roast, 4 eye of round, 4 flat irons, 2 flank steak, 4 skirt steak, 2 tri-tip, 2 brisket, and 16 lbs short ribs.
  • Meals: 210 to 270 meals for a family of 4 or 5
  • Week supply: 70 to 90 weeks of meals, eating beef on average 3 times per week
  • Freezer space: 22 to 24 cubic feet
  • Shipment you’ll receive: 16 boxes

Making the Purchase

Now that you’ve done the research, know where you’re going to buy, how much beef to order, and the space you need—you’re ready to make the purchase! Use the button below to shop Shields Valley Ranchers.

Common questions


How long does beef (meat) last in the freezer?

Beef lasts for approximately 1 year in the freezer. You’ll want to be very careful to keep the freezer closed and plugged in to prevent spoilage. Consider having a lock on your freezer to make sure it stays safely closed. Learn more about beef food safety and home storage guidelines here.

How much freezer space do you need for a half beef (116, 18, 14, 12, or a full)?

Be sure to read the guide above for detailed information. Here is a quick breakdown to give you an idea of the approximate freezer space you will need.

  • 116: 1 to 3 cubic feet
  • 18: 3 to 5 cubic feet
  • 14: 6 to 8 cubic feet
  • 12: 10 to 12 cubic feet
  • Full: 22 to 24 cubic feet

How many steaks can you get from one cow? How many t-bones steaks?

You will receive approximately 16 t-bone steaks. Here is a breakdown of the type and cuts of meat in a whole beef:

160 to 200 lbs of ground beef, 16 t-bone steaks, 16 rib steaks, 16 sirloin steaks, 8 chuck roast, 16 filet mignon, 8 top round roast, bottom round cubed, stew meat, 2 rump roast, 4 eye of round, 4 flat irons, 2 flank steak, 4 skirt steak, 2 tri-tip, 2 brisket, and 16 lbs short ribs.

The above is based on the Shields Valley Ranchers cut list. This may vary, and if you are purchasing a whole animal, you may have the option to customize your cuts.

How much does a full butchered cow cost?

Costs can vary from different providers and will change over time. We recommend visiting Shields Valley Ranchers’ shop for current pricing information.

When shopping around, make sure to compare apples to apples. Is shipping included in the price? Is the butchering cost included? Is there a discount for local pickup?

Can you buy meat directly from ranchers?

Yes! You can buy meat directly from ranchers/farmers. Typically when you purchase beef directly from ranchers, you’ll have various options to buy in bulk so you can find the best option for you and your family. Your choices can range from one-sixteenth to a whole beef.

Is it cheaper to buy beef from a rancher?

Yes! It can be more cost-effective to buy beef from a ranch. When comparing beef pricing at the grocery store vs. buying directly from a farm – be sure you compare like cuts of meat. When purchasing a cow, or portion, you will receive much more than ground beef. Many cuts will be prime cuts (flank steak, filet mignon, t-bone steaks), and you will need to take that into account.

How do I buy locally?

To find a local provider, you can 1) search for ‘where to buy a cow near me,’ ‘home-raised meat near me,’ 2) talk with family, friends, and neighbors, or 3) ask in local social media groups for recommendations. If you live in Montana, you can pick up locally at Shields Valley Ranchers, or they will ship to anywhere in the US for free.


Buying a Cow: A Guide to Purchasing Quality Beef in Bulk from Local Ranchers

Beef recipes you’ll enjoy:

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