An American crowdfunding platform is making a tasty cut from the cattle industry. Crowd Cow, the brainchild of Seattle-based entrepreneurs Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry, offers clients shares in a beast before it is slaughtered.

It might sound bizarre but at least 67 percent of the animal has to be claimed online before it can be carved. The co-founders, who work with select Washington ranches, claim to promote sustainability and better tasting meat. “We believe that beef should be enjoyed like wine, with an appreciation for the varieties and a deeper knowledge of the source of the food you consume,” explained Heitzeberg.

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What’s the idea behind Crowd Cow?

Ethan Lowry (co-founder) was shopping for beef and was wondering where it was from and why it cost so much money. We started talking about a mutual friend who had managed to purchase beef from a local ranch. It was tasty steak but he had to buy over 200 pounds and store it all in a freezer in his garage. Neither of us wanted to get freezers or even to buy that much meat at once. Ethan suggested we “crowdfund a cow” so that 50 or 60 people could each buy an amount that would easily fit in everyone’s existing freezer space. We set out to meet some ranchers and to build a website. A couple of weeks later, our first cow was sold.

What’s the main point of it?

The main point of Crowd Cow is to give people a way to purchase the very best beef and to make that easy. It’s healthy, high-quality, sustainable meat produced by local farms and people who have dedicated their lives to doing it the right way. We believe that beef should be enjoyed like wine, with an appreciation for the varieties and a deeper knowledge of the source of the food you consume. The breed, how the animal was raised, and how the meat is cut and prepared are easily as rich a subject as grapes, and are worthy of our attention.

Could you explain how it works?

Crowd Cow finds ranches that produce high quality, sustainable beef. We feature a ranch on our site with the meat from a single animal available for purchase. Everyone claims a share and rallies their friends. When enough shares have been claimed, together you “tip the cow” and become a steak holder. Everyone gets exactly the cuts of beef they are looking for, and a small enough share that fits easily in any freezer. We process everything under USDA [U.S.Department of Agriculture] supervision, package it up and ship directly to the customer.

Don’t you think buying shares of a cow before it’s slaughtered sounds quite odd?

Well it may sound funny, but raising cattle takes time, and small ranches rely on the fact that their young cattle will end up making money for them eventually! So the earlier they know that their animal is sold, the better.

Do people really want to know where their meat comes from?

Yes, absolutely. When you’re in the grocery store walking down the beer and wine aisle, you have so much to choose from — hundreds of varieties from brewers and winemakers around the corner and around the world. At the end of the aisle you reach the meat department and you have beef, chicken, pork and a price per pound. We believe that beef has so much more to offer in terms of the breeds, cuts, preparations and story of the ranch (their natural environment and the way they produce the beef) that is fun to explore and affects how the meat tastes. When someone is out grilling a few burgers for friends, they’ll be able to say something like, “you gotta taste this purebred wagyu from Lopez island.” That’s a conversation starter; and it does taste phenomenal.

Why is it better to buy meat with Crowd Cow than at a normal store?

Over 84 percent of the beef sold in the U.S. comes from industrialized processes that people no longer want. Also, buying direct means more of the money goes to the independent ranchers who have dedicated their lives to trade. We also don’t have the overheads of a retail store operation. This lower overhead means that savings can be passed along to consumers. It also helps people explore the many cuts, preparations and varieties of beef that exist. Whether it’s dry-aged Angus beef from a ranch that has bred for over 30 years for natural marbling, or grass-finished purebred Wagyu from a small island in the San Juans raised as close to the Japanese Kobe-style beef as you can get outside of Japan, Crowd Cow offers access to incredible niche producers that are simply not sold in any store or other online retail outlet. We’re an e-commerce site, but we’re also a community of foodies who love to learn and share.

What’s next?

– We currently ship to over 1,000 cities and towns in the Pacific Northwest. We’re expanding that to more areas so that others can join in the fun. To that end, we’ve set up a special page where people can let us know where we should launch first.

– By Dmitry Belyaev