It all started with rabbits. When Patrick Beck, a grass-fed-beef salesman for a local farm, decided he wanted a personal stake in the local protein business, he and a few friends bought silver-fox rabbits. Beck grazed them in a field near his home and sold them to local chefs, who were “very excited to have a superior. all-natural pastured rabbit,” he said.
From there, Beck started to dream big, 1,100-pound big. He co-founded New England Grass Fed LLC in March 2011. As director of sales and marketing, Beck has expanded his local protein operation to include beef, pork and lamb. The company received its sales permit in August and made more than $20,000 in sales by the end of the year. Beck expects to sell $100,000 worth of protein in 2012.
New England Grass Fed raised eight cattle for slaughter last fall and plans for four more to finish grazing this spring. Beck just purchased five cows and hopes to add between 30 and 40 cows to the grazing program this year.
Beck buys yearlings that weigh about 500 pounds from grass-fed herds throughout the Northeast for an average of $1,200 each, he said. He currently has contracts with two grazing pastures and hopes to add more this year. The cows are grazed rotationally, to allow the pastures time to replenish, until they weigh approximately 1,100 pounds, which can take up to a year. At that weight, the cattle have enough fat to allow the meat to be dry-aged in a cooler for two weeks, which Beck said is “the key” to the beef’s quality.
“We have a wonderful, natural product, but then it needs to be moist and flavorful. That flavor comes from fat, and the tenderness comes from aging,” he said.
With purchase price, grazing, trucking, slaughtering and packing expenses, a 1,100-pound cow will typically cost approximately $2,400 to bring up to 450 pounds of meat to market, where the meat is sold for an estimated $3,600 per animal.
The cattle are taken to the U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved Rhode Island Beef and Veal plant in Johnston for slaughtering, then aged at Westerly Meat Packing Company. New England Grass Fed sells its meat to Rhode Island restaurants and at the South Kingstown Farmers Market. With help from college students, the business will begin selling at the Cross Mills Farmers Market in Charlestown in May.
High-quality steaks, including ribeye, T-Bone and Porterhouse, sell for $18.50 per pound on average, Beck said. Customers can also purchase 20-pound, mixed-pasture packs for $200.