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Empty meat cases have become the glaring regularity in grocery stores across the US.  In the land of plenty, how does a meat shortage happen?  And, how to buy local and keep your freezer full.

A quick heads up in regards to terminology.  I will be using producer as the term for someone who raises animals for consumption.  If you reach out to your local community to see who is selling meat.  They may refer to themselves as farmers, ranchers, or herdsmen.  

Causes of Meat Shortage

A Processing “Bottleneck”

The current shortage of meat is due to the lack of processing capabilities. NOT the supply of meat.  The stories of producers giving away their livestock are true. The inability to sell the animals leads to overcrowding and catastrophic financial impacts for farmers.  Click here to read more about the impacts of quarantine on meat consumption.


This one is pretty simple to understand when considering that large processing facilities produce a majority of the meat consumed in the US.  The plants were shuttered when line workers started testing positive for COVID-19. The Washington Post reported that this resulted in a 25% drop in production in processing.  Therefore, there is less meat in the market.

COVID-19 Behavior 

Your grandma said it best when she said “We all done lost our darn minds.”  While we should follow the health protocols that ensure the safety of our vulnerable populations, some of us acted like we could see a meteor headed straight for Earth.  People hoarded meat like toilet paper.  Since there were shortages due to high demand, the prices also climbed.  Frustrated you are paying $7.99 for a pound of ground beef? Thank the dude with the shopping cart with 180 rolls of toilet paper.  

Beef cattle

Support Local Producers

Keep Your Dollars Local

The sad truth is that the individuals who are responsible for the greater amount of time in the production of meat are those that are the least compensated. The Farm Bureau reports that farmers only receive about $.15 of every dollar spent on food products at the grocery.  Shocking, I know.  I recently saw a post from someone in California.  The five-pound package of ribeye steaks in the picture cost $16.99 a pound.  That’s OVER $86!  Granted, many hands are paid in the process from farm to table. The butcher, the folks who packaged the meat, the trucker who drove it to the store, and the grocer.  This is why buying directly from the producer is so much more affordable.  

Some folks prefer to know the origin of their meat. If this is important to you, purchase from a local producer. This will give you more control over how your meat was raised.  Savvy producers have adapted to meet the niches of the market.  This means you can buy organic, grass-fed, or even “Humane Certified”.  Yep, there are folks that focus on the handling of the animal as a selling point for their product.  

Interested in Buying Local?

Here are some things to keep in mind when purchasing from a local producer to avoid a future meat shortage…

Did you know only 1% of Americans farm?

Consider the upfront cost as an investment.  

Purchasing a side of beef, or pork is like shopping at a bulk food store.  The price upfront is higher but the price per serving is MUCH lower. Buying directly from the producer could save you significant money when compared to grocery store prices.

Pricing can vary by producer

Ask the person you are purchasing your meat from how they price their meat.  Some will charge by the cut, such as ground beef, steaks, roasts, chops or loins.  Another purchasing option is by the “hanging weight”. Others will charge on the live weight of the animal.  If someone quotes you “$1.50 per pound per live weight” then as a consumer, you would pay for the weight of the animal at butchering.  Let’s pretend that the steer went to market, weighing 1300 lbs. For a 1/4 of beef, a live weight pricing schedule mean your bill would be about $490.

Plan to include processing fees

If you are purchasing meat from a local producer, ask if they are including processing costs.  Processing costs are paid to the butcher to harvest and package the meat. In our neck of the woods, those prices will run about approximately $125 per 1/4 of beef. However, keep in mind that YOU often get input into the portions of the cuts.

Freezer space is a MUST  

If your grandma ever made you watch “I love Lucy”, there’s an episode involving Ethel and Lucy purchasing a side of beef.  Unbeknownst to them, they ordered many pounds of meat and were overwhelmed with white packages. They hide it from their husbands in the furnace and end up accidentally roasting all of it. To avoid a comedic repeat, you’ll need about 5-7 cubic feet of freezer space. A small chest freezer would be great for a Father’s Day gift!

Looking for some awesome recipes for beef? Check out these amazing brisket nachos from Shaw Simple Swaps!

How to Buy Local Meat

  • Does one of your friends have a freezer full of meat? Give him or her a call and ask where they purchased. The “I know a guy who knows a guy” referral method is great too. If your meat buddy brings more business to the farmer, you may be able to negotiate a better price.
  • Contact your local meat shop to see who they suggest. If they are associated with a processing facility or slaughterhouse, they can direct you to a local producer.
  • Go to a Farmer’s Market. Vendors selling meat are often able to sell larger quantities.
  • Call the local Farm Bureau Office. Click here for their website. They will be able to let you know if there are local producers and will provide you their contact information.

Thank you for reading this latest post on meat shortage! Interested in reading more about our farm? Check out the two-part series of Raising Kids in the Country.