As an example, let's use an 1100-pound steer or heifer (female cow).
Cost: Something around $1200 to the rancher, and $550 to the meat preparer.
Results: About 450 pounds of grass-fed meat and 150 pounds of bones.
(The bones are valuable - almost as valuable as the meat - and are sought by foodies.)
Purchase of the steer:
Expect to pay the rancher in advance.
Expect to pay by wire transfer, or by mailing a check, or by bringing a check in person.
Ranchers are not guaranteed to have cell phones, not guaranteed to have email addresses, and will probably do their banking at a local bank rather than a large, interconnected one like Chase or Bank Of America.
Trust the rancher. Pay well in advance. If you don't trust the rancher, why are you even doing this?
Prepping the steer:
Let the rancher suggest a slaughter and prep place that is close to them. (If you think transporting meat is difficult, think about transporting a live steer.) It's likely they'll have a place they use personally and are familiar with.
Once you've arranged to have the steer brought to the locker, you need to call the locker up and tell them exactly how you want the meat cut and packaged. You'll need some knowledge of meat to do this.
How big should a roast be?
How many pounds of ground beef per package? (2lb is common.)
How thick should steaks be - 1/2 or 3/4 of an inch? (1/2-inch is common.)
Grass-fed steaks are best marinated a long time and cooked fairly fast.
Have the meat prepared at least three days in advance because it will need to sit in a freezer for three days in order to freeze completely solid. This is serious business: If you pick it up before it has had three full days to freeze, the meat locker will have you sign a waiver from the USDA declaring that you understand the risk.
It's up to you to transport and store all this meat once you pick it up from the locker / slaughterhouse.
You will need coolers, dry ice, and a large vehicle. A full-size truck or cargo van will do. Anything smaller is inadequate.
Four 150 quart coolers: $84 x 4 = ~$370 with taxes
Buy these from Costco or Walmart. Buy them in advance because it may be hard to find them on the road.
If you pick up in Wyoming and deliver to California, you will need to drive at least 1000 miles. This is not possible in one day.
Dry ice for 2 days and 1 night of driving: $240, or, approx. $40 per cooler per full day
Almost all Safeway stores sell dry ice. They are the most reliable source. Chances are you'll find at least one in every large city you pass through.
The meat locker place may have advice on where to buy some at a discount locally, or they may not. Don't rely on it. Unpredictable weather can cause a run on the local dry ice supplier, leaving you with nothing when the day comes.
Dry ice will be sold to you as large chunks in plastic bags. A pair of gloves of any shape or size will be sufficient to handle the dry ice as long as it stays inside the bag. Never pick it up with your bare hands, especially when it's outside the bag.
Do not use regular ice! It's bulkier and will turn your meat into a soggy pile of bloody paper along the way, and create a very high risk of disease. Do not cheap out to save a hundred bucks on ice only to lose a $2000 investment.
The meat will be given to you as packages, mostly the size of a large burrito, wrapped in butcher paper and tape. There will be a lot of packages.
Load them into the coolers evenly, leaving about four inches of space at the top.
Place enough bags across the top of the meat to cover it. (Usually 4 bags per cooler.) Smash one of the bags with a wrench or hammer to make large chunks - this one will "melt" a little faster than the others. (Leave the bag sealed.)
Close the cooler, and if you like, you can tape the lid down or put a strap around it to hold it closed.
Handy tip: Crumple up some newspaper and pile it on top of the dry ice, to slightly slow the dispersion of the cold air through the lid.
If you are using an enclosed vehicle like a cargo van (which I recommend), keep the air conditioner or vents on at all times. As dry ice "melts" it turns into carbon dioxide. You need to keep driving fresh air into your vehicle, around yourself, in order to counteract this or you may feel drowsy and sluggish even in the middle of the day. If you start feeling that way even a little, roll down the windows immediately.
Do not buy all the dry ice up front. You will need to buy more each day.
The reason is this: Your meat is already frozen solid, i.e. frozen below the point where water becomes ice. Dry ice is much colder than that. (Ice is 0 degrees C at minimum, and dry ice is -78.5 degrees C at minimum.)
As dry ice melts, it does not accumulate cold water at the bottom of the cooler - it becomes gas, which is pushed out through the lid of the cooler by pressure, and once that air is outside the cooler it is useless for cooling. If you buy all your dry ice at once, you will be pushing the temperature of your meat farther below freezing for a shorter period of time.
(That said, feel free to spend as much as you want on dry ice, and pack the coolers full at all times. You'll still come out ahead.)
You will need a very large freestanding freezer. Probably two, located in the garage, or outside the house in the shade with a lock on them.
Kenmore 7.2 cubic foot chest freezer from Sears: $180 x 2 = $360
You can attempt to borrow one from a neighbor or co-buyer, or buy one used on Craigslist if you live in a large city.
Have these installed and cold when you return with the beef, and load them up. (Remember that every extra day you need dry ice is $160.)
If you're going in on this with friends and neighbors, it makes accounting sense to divide the meat into lots, each containing the same amount of the same cuts of meat. Then each of you can pay for one or more lots.
To get things exactly even you'll want to get a small scale.
If you want to cover your expenses, and possibly make a small profit on top, ask for something like seven bucks per pound per lot.