More than a decade ago, third-generation farmer Kevin Jablonski sold the family dairy herd. He accepted an off-farm job and leased his Argyle, New York, barns to other farmers.
When the last tenant left in 2013, Kevin’s son suggested they buy a few beef cattle from a local farmer who was downsizing. They bought several bred cows and turned them out on the fields for grass control.
Then Jablonski met his partner, Karen Christensen; she eventually moved to the farm. When Christensen read The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, she wanted to know what the cattle in their pastures tasted like. That inspired their decision to begin a freezer trade business, selling directly to customers, for their herd of 75 to 90 Angus cattle.
Developing a freezer trade can be a lucrative revenue stream for livestock farmers selling meat products. Cornell Cooperative Extension research shows that selling meat by the quarter, half or whole animal is more profitable for the farmer and more affordable for the consumer.
Adding a freezer trade business to your farm requires a little planning to be successful. Here are five things you need to know before jumping in.
1. Know the Freezer Beef Market
When Jablonski and Christensen decided to try the freezer market, they knew local farmers markets already featured several beef producers.
Instead of trying a saturated outlet, they decided to sell out of their house. They started by selling across the dining room table. Later, they converted a portion of the basement into a retail space with freezers.
2. Consider Certifications
Customers are more engaged with how their food is being produced, including how the animals are treated.
Mack Brook Farm is Beef Quality Assurance Certified (BQA), Animal Welfare Approved and American Grassfed Certified, a message they communicate to customers.
“It’s important to think about certifications and to determine if it is worth the time and money to pursue them as it relates to your customers,” said Steve Hadcock, Cornell Cooperative Extension Beginning Farmer and Market Development Educator.
3. Calculate Your Costs and Sell Price
An online tool called Meat Suite helps producers determine prices based on the butcher’s cut sheet and the total income a farm needs to earn per pound. The calculator is also helpful in adjusting prices mid-year as inventory levels fluctuate.
To use the tool effectively, you have to know your costs and customer preferences.
“If you’re running long on some products and out of others, Meat Suite helps you decide if and by how much you can bump up prices on fast sellers and drop price on slower sellers to even out on total income on the entire steer,” Hadcock explained.
4. Decide on Finishing Method
Mack Brook Farm is a grassfed operation. Others grain finish their freezer beef cattle.
Talk to other farmers and attend conferences to find resources on what may work best in a geographic area or a farm’s setup. Local cooperative extension agents and NRC staff can also be helpful resources
5. Spread the Word
Marketing is key to successfully selling meat products.
Social media has overtaken print advertising, but Jablonksi said that while they use Instagram and Facebook, they are not technologically savvy. Instead, they focus on producing quality meat products.
“If you’ve got quality product people will come back. We are in the middle of nowhere and sell 75 to 80 percent of product here at our house,” he said.
Enticing shoppers to buy locally produced meat is only part of the equation for a successful freezer beef trade. The process begins with raising healthy, high-quality animals.