Cow sharing, or cowpooling, isn't anything new. Buying a portion of a cow is something people have done ever since the invention of refrigerators and freezers. With the increased focus on humanely raised meat over the past 15 years or so, cow sharing has become popular — as long as you have the freezer storage for a quarter or half of a cow.
But not everyone does have access, and not everyone wants to eat that much beef. Yet, those people may still want to support small family farmers while getting a product they can trust.
Crowd Cow, a Seattle-based startup, is one way to make it happen. The site allows small farmers to sell an entire cow through this crowd-sharing method. The cow is divided up into all its edible parts, and people purchase the "share" they want, whether it's filet mignon or tongue (every edible part of the cow is up for sale). It's a first-come, first-served situation. If you want the filet cuts, you need to be one of the first people to claim a share when a cow goes up for auction. The hitch? The cow has to "tip" before you get your meat — meaning enough shares of the cow have to be sold for any sales to go through.
Crowd Cow says on its website that it only works "with the very best local ranches — those that are committed to sustainable agriculture, who treat their animals well, and who raise antibiotic-free herds." They also say they visit each ranch they work with to "ensure that we only work with the very best local, sustainable growers, whose beef is typically only available at specialty markets, high-end restaurants and here on Crowd Cow."
What's in it for the consumer?
You can expect to pay a little more for beef through Crowd Cow than you would in the average grocery store. (Photo: Crowd Cow/Facebook)
This is beef that you can't buy in a grocery store, and its price reflects that. The current cow under consideration by "steakholders" — that's what Crowd Cow calls customers — must be 100 percent sold to tip. As of writing, it has 64 percent sold, and there are six days remaining before the auction is over.
Some of the most expensive cuts have already been claimed. There's only one share left of "thick cut filet and top sirloin" option at $104 (plus shipping). If the cow tips, the person who claimed that share will get two 12-ounce tenderloin steaks and four 8-ounce top sirloin steaks.
But not all shares are that expensive. About 10 pounds of premium ground beef go for $59, or about $6 per pound, which is comparable to higher-end butcher shops or even Whole Foods. A three-pound piece of liver runs $9, or $3 per pound.
So consumers get a quality product with convenience — which they pay for — and the knowledge that they are supporting a small, sustainable farmer while eating beef that was humanely raised.
What's in it for the farmers?
According to The Guardian, Crowd Cow started in mid-2015, and the farmers who sell their cows through the website have seen many benefits. Because they know they'll be able to sell their cows through the site throughout the year, they keep more of their calves to graze in their pastures instead of selling them to factory farms.
They also see more of a profit from the cows sold though Crowd Cow because they have they don't have to market and sell their products through traditional methods. Rancher Becky Harlow told The Guardian that she sells "three steers to Crowd Cow every four weeks and gets a steady yearly payment." She's able to put her time and energy into running her ranch and raising her cattle because she doesn't have to worry about the sales.
So the farmers get the ability to raise more cows humanely and (almost) guaranteed sales because most of the cows on Crowd Cow do tip.
Is this cow-sharing method sustainable?
With less than two years in, it's still a bit of a novelty and the question is, "Will 'steakholders' stick around for years?" At the moment, the business is doing well and expanding the regions it ships to. Crowd Cow only ships to Washington, California, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming, Texas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, but when I put my South Jersey zip code in along with my email address, I got a message they'd love to ship to my town and they'll let me know when they're ready to do so.