Understanding the True Costs of Humanely Raised, Quality Meat

Space, Quality of Live, and Premium Certifications Won't Be Purchased at $2.99 per Pound

More and more Americans are shopping for meat that has been humanely raised and handled. The farm-to-table movement has led many people to start asking questions related to animal welfare, while others are starting to understand that better quality meat as better for their health.

These shifts in consumer behavior have to lead to a boom in the meat industry as more people want higher quality, humanely raised pork, beef, and poultry. And even though more people are wanting to purchase higher quality products, many are holding back due to the price difference between humanely raised meat and traditionally raised meat. 


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If You Want Better Quality, It’s Going To Cost More

As a shopper, when you visit your local farmer’s market or butcher, you may notice that meat is usually double to the cost of what you find it for in a traditional grocery store. Chicken can start at $6+ per pound, lamb starts at $9+ per pound, pork and beef start at $10+ per pound. It may leave you saying, “Why does it cost so much!” Well, let’s start with the fact that’s it’s important to know is that the farmers that are raising their animals humanely aren’t trying to gouge their prices using terms like “grass-fed” or “pasture-raised.” So, what exactly are you paying the extra money for? A lot more than you may have thought.

cost of organic, quality meat, chicken, pork

When it comes to the most common types of livestock, each has its own specific reasons for the increase in costs that you see at the store.

Beef – From the time a calf is born until the time it is ready to slaughter, the cost to take care of the momma cow is roughly $350 annually. Keeping the bull is another $350, and raising the calf is another $350. That’s $1,050 just for one year. In year two, the farmer spends another $350 to raise the steer, uses $50 in fuel to haul a steer to the butcher, and pays $300 in butchering fees. Now take into consideration that the average steer weighs around 1,100 pounds but yields only 38 percent of its weight in retail product. That results in 420 pounds of meat that is turned into steak, premium cuts and roasts. Of that 420 pounds, nearly 40 percent of that meat will be used as ground beef or a lower-cost product.

This means that to just break even the farmer has to sell the meat for $4.17 per pound. That is not even taking into consideration any cost the farmer might have had to maintain his land, pay hired help, pay taxes on his property, etc. We all know that profit has to be made, so the price is going to increase from there.

Chicken – Some 95 percent of all factory-farmed animals in the U.S. are broiler chickens. The breeds of chickens used for this grow too fast and too big. Because of this, their bones, lungs, and heart often can’t keep up, so they suffer from lameness and heart failure. They aren’t allowed access to the outdoors and tens of thousands of chickens may be crammed together in one building. Because factory-raised chickens often suffer from muscle disorders, their meat may have up to 224 percent fat content and also be lower in protein. Where does the extra cost go?

For a chicken that has been humanely raised, the cost is roughly $5.27 per chicken compared to $1.73 per chicken at a mass production farm. Considering that the average chicken yields just two pounds of edible meat, that means the humanely raised chicken must sell for at least $2.64 per pound just to break even, compared to $0.87 per pound for the mass-produced chicken

Pork – Who doesn’t love breakfast bacon or a juicy pork chop? You need to be careful where your pork is coming from though. Pasture-raised pork is extremely nutrient-dense. While commercial pig operations feed their hogs a diet of grains, this isn’t what pigs prefer to eat. A pasture-raised pig gets a variety of grains but also gets grass, tree leaves, vegetables, fruits, and often scraps from other local farm businesses (like cheesemakers and dairy producers).

The average pig eats some 500 pounds of grain. If the producer is feeding conventional feed, this costs roughly $265. Organic feed can cost as much as $447. The farmer also has to pay for extra labor, transportation to get the pig to the butcher, and processing fees. This adds up to a cost of roughly $831 for pasture-raised pork compared to $649 for the mass-produced pig. If one pig yields approximately 123 pounds of saleable meat, to break even the pasture-raised pork farmer must sell his meat for $6.76 per pound just to break even compared to $5.28 per pound for the conventionally raised hog

This adds up to a cost of roughly $831 for pasture-raised pork compared to $649 for the mass-produced pig. If one pig yields approximately 123 pounds of saleable meat, to break even the pasture-raised pork farmer must sell his meat for $6.76 per pound just to break even compared to $5.28 per pound for the conventionally raised hog

If You Demand Better Meat, You Have To Be Willing To Pay For It

Now that you have a better understanding of the differences in the quality of life and costs of livestock at a smaller farm compared to industrial farms, do you still have questions as to why humanely raised meat costs more? Yes, the cost may be a bit more, but if you eat meat, the higher costs may be worth the investment if you want what you’re eating to have a positive impact on your health and our environment. So the question to ask yourself is, “why are you not willing to pay for it?”

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