Wednesday, July 13, 2022

About our meat supply...


In an article last week, I said:

I live in the heart of cattle country.  Texas agriculture is heavily oriented towards livestock.  I'm talking to those in the industry, and listening to what they have to say, and what I'm hearing is scary as hell.  Farmers are citing drought, fertilizer and pesticide shortages, supply chain problems, fuel costs and constraints, and general economic woes as reasons to begin culling their herds of cattle.  They worry they may not be able to obtain (or afford) enough feed (hay, grain, etc.) to sustain their herds through winter and into spring.  Meat processors and butchers, in their turn, are warning that meat prices are likely to start rising steeply in September or October as the current surplus runs out and fewer cattle are available for slaughter.  One went so far as to say that beef may be almost unobtainable next year at an affordable price, if the current situation continues or gets worse.  (Around here, everyone who can afford it appears to be filling their freezer[s].  I know one man who's bought two whole steers, and multiple freezers to store all that meat.  In today's economic climate, I daresay that may not be a bad investment.)

Looks like shipping problems are a major factor in that.  AgWeb reports:

Rail bottlenecks in the U.S. are not improving, and in some cases, growing more severe. Feed users in California and the Southwest are having issues sourcing grain ... Not only are feed users on the brink of running out of grain, but there are also concerns the rail issues could grow worse during harvest this fall.

. . .

“What I'm hearing from our members is fewer equipment issues and that the equipment and engines seem to be not breaking down, but the train times -  the amount of time it's taking to get the trains - and the reliability of receiving them is still quite a problem in in quite a few areas of the country,” says Mike Seyfert, President and CEO of NGFA.

According to, Foster Farms, the largest chicken producer in the western U.S., asked federal regulators to issue an emergency service order last week that would direct Union Pacific to prioritize corn shipments that thousands of dairy cattle and millions of chickens and turkeys depend upon.

​​”The point has been reached when millions of chickens will be killed and other livestock will suffer because of UP’s service failures,” Foster Farms wrote in its request to the Surface Transportation Board this week.

Seyfert says the emergency order shows the seriousness of the issue.

“At times in in the past several months, we have heard from more than one member that has had severe difficulty getting feed, sometimes being within several hours of being short,” says Seyfert.

There's more at the link.

I mentioned that an increasing number of consumers are buying freezers and filling them with meat in anticipation of much higher prices and/or shortages of supply.  However, unless the power supply is stable, those freezers might not be as useful as hoped.  Too much of Texas' power grid has become dependent upon renewable energy such as wind and solar power, and it's proving to be a lot less efficient and reliable than its proponents had hoped.  If you plan to keep a freezer full of meat, I think it wouldn't be a bad idea to plan to add an emergency generator to your preparations, plus enough fuel to run it for at least a few days.  If the power's out for longer than that, plan for a large-scale cook-out, and invite the neighbors!

I strongly suggest adding some canned meat to your food reserves.  It doesn't have to be Spam or corned beef:  there are other, more tasty alternatives.  Walmart offers house brand versions of roast beef, seasoned beef strips and pulled pork, and a number of specialized meat producers offer tasty canned products as well.  Miss D. and I have bought from Grabill Meats in Indiana for years;  their cost per can is higher than supermarkets, but the quality of the meat and its flavor are vastly better, and we consider it a very useful backup.  It's good enough that we use it regularly for soups and stews.  Shipping's a bit expensive, but in our opinion the quality of their products makes it worthwhile.  (No, they're not paying us for publicity - we just like their meat, and want to spread the word.)  Don't forget to include poultry, fish, etc. in your reserves as well.

I expect meat to get a lot more expensive come the fourth quarter, and more so next year.  I hope I'm wrong, but we're planning accordingly.



Sentenza said...

I live in Montana and it's fairly routine to drive by grain elevators and see piles of grain that are on the ground and covered with tarps.

I suspect that's because the elevators are full and the farmers and elevator operators can't ship it as fast as they can harvest it.

Well Seasoned Fool said...

FB post by the past President of the Colorado Cattlewomens Association.

Peteforester said...

If you're stocking freezers deep, be sure you have some way of monitoring them, both before and during a power outage. I had a smaller "deep larder" freezer in my barn. It was PACKED with meat. It died, and I didn't know until about five days later, when I started smelling decomp. I lost WELL over $300.00 US, pre-Biden, in meat!

At very least, get a wireless thermometer and put the sensor in the freezer. I actually did have one of these in place, but the battery in it died right around the time the freezer did. I now have a WiFi-enabled sensor system by the brand name of "Sensorpush." In good times, I can monitor what's going on in the freezers/refrigerators anywhere I can get an internet connection. During a power outage the sensors will still upload to the app on my phone when they're in Bluetooth range. I can just walk by freezers and the sensors upload. Oh; and I get alerts when the batteries in the sensors are dying, well in advance of the sensor going down.

Since putting these in, they've "saved my bacon" at least three times. Once due to a freezer screw-up, once due to the cat playing with a power cord and pulling it out of the wall, and once due to a door being left open. One "save" will pay for the Sensorpush setup!

EricW said...

Yep, all that investment in something that depends on the grid, when we're all prepping for a grid-down situation, does not make much sense. Canned is a smart option for a significant portion of your stores.

James said...

I have a couple of smaller freezers with quite a bit of meat and it is important since due to health issues I have to stay on a low carb diet, no choice. I have a pretty good amount of commercially canned meat also, but my biggest proportion of my food stores is home canned meat. I've been doing it for decades and it is a skill and this year jars are scarce and expensive, but it keeps for years and I know what is in it.
Since my water, hot water and stove are not totally dependent on the grid, canning is my back up for freezer failure. I just have to make sure that I have enough jars.

Drew458 said...

Canned meat might be the safer way. Visited the Grabill site, not a word about online sales, page not updated in 12 years. Dude.

Peter said...

@Drew458: Don't let Grabill's antiquated Web site discourage you. It gives the absolute basics about what they offer, that's all, plus their phone number. Call them to place an order. We've done that for years, and had no problems - and the quality of their meats means we'll go on buying from them.

Jonathan H said...

There have been train issues in the US for years as consolidation and buyouts run into problems.
I wouldn't be surprised to hear that some cargoes are prioritized because they pay more or are bigger customers; I suspect bulk feed is far down their list.

Andrew Smith said...

Funny thing about the supply chain and freight prices ...

Online store Bungie is charging $284 (auto-populated via 3rd party shipping widget in their online store checkout) just to ship your $185 Nerf Gjallarhorn to Canada. Users have noticed.

Charlie said...

We have had great results with canned meats from Keystone Canning Company in Lima Ohio.

I would think you would only need to run the generator a few hours a day to keep food frozen in a decent freezer. Stretch out your fuel supply quite a bit.

Old NFO said...

Yep, damned if you do, damned if you don't this year... Or as they say, you pays your money, you takes your chances...

nick flandrey said...

Just bought two more freezers. 7cuft chest freezers, they were what was available, but they have some pluses. They draw next to nothing, so they will run off a UPS in the event of a short term outage, or solar and batteries in a long term outage. And yes, I have both. AND generators, one dual fuel, one gasoline. One natural gas, and one that still needs some work before it's ready for use. Yes, I store fuel too. Propane and gasoline. During hurricane season, I normally keep 35 gallons of gas on hand. That will run the bigger gennie for 7 days, off and on. I don't have any real world experience with the propane conversion yet, but I store a dozen BBQ tanks. That is what prepping is, store the stuff you need, and the stuff you need to support the other stuff.

The other advantage is that by using smaller freezers, if one fails the other is likely still ok, and so I lose less of my total stored frozen food. Freezers are pretty reliable, but they do fail.

Chest freezers stay cold with very little input, if you leave the lid closed. I've got ordinary indoor/outdoor thermometers for each one, with the wire and outdoor sensor stuck inside the freezer. The display is stuck on the outside of the freezer. Every time I go into one I look at the temps on them all.

I've also got a wireless thermometer on the garage fridge/freezer so I can see it in the kitchen. It's an upright and the kids use it, so I'm always worried about the door not being closed. The remote display helps my peace of mind.

The new freezers will be going to my BOL. I think the two chest freezers, one upright, and one garage fridge/freezer are enough here at the house for now, and I don't have any chest freezers at the other place. If I can get more cheaply, I will though. I would like to be able to buy more meat when it's on sale, and right now I don't have anywhere to put it until I move some food to the new freezers.

There is always tension between building your supporting infrastructure, and buying the stuff you will use. You do need both. If you haven't started yet, you've got some catching up to do, but you can get pretty well set up, pretty quickly. ANYTHING is likely to be better than doing nothing.


riverrider said...

pleasant hill grain sells canned meat awa many other long term foods, free shipping over xx order amount. no affiliation.

Will said...

A remote temperature sensor for your freezers/fridges is a good investment.

Neighbor had a freezer die recently in his garage (less than 2 years old), and lost the contents. 95*F heat wave was a factor in the loss.