Bob Engle checks on his cows kept on leased land at Jenne Farm in Ebey’s Reserve. Engle Farm sells meat through an on-line company, Crowd Cow, that allows people to buy individual cuts that are shipped to them. Photos by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

Coupeville’s Engle Farm has new steak holders

Crowd Cow connects ranchers to on-line customers

Pick a cow.

Tip a cow.

Cook a cow.

That’s the simple business model for Crowd Cow, an online meat market that allows customers to select cuts of beef from Washington state ranchers, including Engle Family Farms of Coupeville.

Started last year by two Seattle tech-savvy guys, Crowd Cow is catching on.

Currently shipping to the 15 westernmost states using beef from five Washington ranchers, Crowd Cow plans to go national this summer, adding Eastern ranchers and butchers to its world wide web range.

“It’s a new business relationship and it’s really blossoming,” said Bob Engle, who along with his mother and uncle carry on the family’s farming tradition that goes back five generations.

The Engle family started out in the dairy business and switched to beef cattle six years ago.

Some 200 Angus, Hereford or Hereford-Angus cross mixes are raised on Engle Farm that mostly leases large swaths of pastures throughout Ebey’s Reserve.

Crowd Cow typically orders six Engle Farm cattle every other week but recently called needing an additional six. They are butchered at either Puget Sound Processing or Heritage Meats.

Before being cut, the beef is hung and dry-aged for about two weeks, which enhances tenderness and flavor.

“I supply them the beef, they market it and sell it,” Engle said. “It’s opened up the farm to be able to sell on a much broader scale. It used to be people had to buy a quarter or half a cow. And that’s hard to do. It’s expensive and takes up all the freezer space.”

Not wanting to buy beef in bulk is how Crowd Cow got its start.

After founders Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry sampled a taste of their friend’s grass-fed beef bought direct from a rancher, they pondered why it had to be sold in bulk.

“My wife is a vegetarian and we don’t have a chest freezer,” Lowry said. “I wondered, how do we get access to that incredible beef without having to go full cow?”

The answer?

Crowd fund a cow. Of course.

“I thought, ‘Why don’t we see if we can find 50 people to buy in? To get the cuts they want and make a system for buying direct from ranchers.’”

The idea taps into the growing demand for high-quality beef from smaller producers. Unlike cattle raised on feedlots, the company’s ranchers do not use growth hormones.

Most of the cows are grass fed, which results in higher levels of healthful omega-3 fatty acids, research has shown.

Every week, a different ranch is featured on Crowd Cow’s web site with a back story on the owner and farm.

Prices and cuts of beef are listed. The average order is about 10 to 12 pounds.

Variety packs are also sold, such as four eight-ounce flat iron steaks, two 10-ounce chuck steaks and two pounds of ground beef for $69.

Once 85 percent of the cow is sold, it “tips.”

“That’s what we like to see, the cow tipping,” laughed Cheryl Engle, who handles the books for the family business. “It means the credit cards will be charged.”

To date, Crowd Cow has sold 300 cows. Orders are shipped every Monday, arriving in vacuum-sealed packs in an insulated box with dry ice.

After Bob Engle selects the animals and hauls them to Puget Sound Processing, his job ends and Crowd Cow’s social media marketing begins.

In a video featuring Bob Engle and his uncle, Len Engle, Crowd Cow emphasizes the family’s history, the farm’s location on the historically-preserved and picturesque Ebey’s Landing, and how the cattle are raised.

The herd is kept inside a long sprawling red barn on Hill Road during the winter to keep them dry, healthy and robust, Bob Engle explained.

“It’s better for feed efficiency,” he said. “They burn up all their food just trying to keep warm outside.”

The result?

“Steers that live calm, comfortable lives and eat well throughout the year,” states Crowd Cow’s pitch for Engle Family Farms. “You can say they’re fat and happy. And that makes beef tender and delicious.”

“We don’t sell Crowd Cow, per se,” Lowry explained. “We sell Engle Farm. When we’re getting it from different farms, there’s different marbling and different flavors. The farms cultivate a following on Crowd Cow.”

Laura Rath of Anacortes is one of those fans.

She’s ordered many different cuts from three different ranchers through Crowd Cow and raves about the quality.

“I have found the beef to be exceptionally flavorful, well marbled cuts,” she said. “I really notice the freshness in the organ meats I have prepared, such as liver, kidneys and heart.”

Rath knows of what she speaks. She’s bred, raised and harvested cattle herself for several decades.

“The Engles’ beef is as flavorful and fresh as any I have raised,” she said. “How the cattle are handled is reflected in the flavor and the tenderness of the beef.

“It is what keeps me coming back. I appreciate knowing where the meat I consume sources from. The cost is a bit higher, but the value is exceptional.”

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Engle Family Farms raises about 200 head of cattle, Angus, Hereford and some mixed.

Bob Engle, left, and his uncle, Len Engle, at the garage on the grounds of the former dairy farm and homestead. The Engle family, farmers since the 1850s, switched to raising beef cattle about six years ago.

Bob Engle raises about 200 head of Angus and Hereford at several locations around Ebey’s Reserve. Engle Family Farms has sold 61 cows in about a year with Crowd Cow, a Seattle-based start-up company.

After being raised on pastures, cattle selected for processing are housed and fed in finishing pens at the old dairy barn of Engle Family Farms on Fort Casey Road.

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