Today is a continuation of our "How Stuff Works" series on How to Buy a Side of Beef. If you missed yesterday's post, go ahead and start with Lesson One: Buying shares in a live animal before moving on to today's post. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments section. Onward!
Buying a side of beef can be an economical way of filling the freezer
and supporting your local farmer but the process can be extremely
confusing for the first time customer. Here's a detailed primer on how
it works and what to expect.
In Lesson one we learned
about why buying meat direct from the farmer involves buying shares in a
live animal and the different options for processing. Now let's move on
to discussing the weight of the beef during different stages of
Depending on the farmer you purchase your
share from, the price of the beef will be based on the weight of the
animal or meat from one of the stages of processing.
- Live weight (also known as "on the hoof" or "hoof weight) - Refers to just what it
says, the live weight of the animal before processing. This is the least
commonly used method with direct to market meat sales because most
farmers don't have scales on the property (or the desire to load a 1,200
pound steer into the chute to get weighed). This weight measurement may
also calculate in shrink. Shrink is what folks in the industry refer to
the amount of weight the animal loses through *ahem* natural processes
and stress during handling and transportation to the processing
facility. If the animal is weighed before shrink, the customer is paying
for hoof weight that has already *air quotes* "exited the body".
- Hanging weight (also known as "on
the rail") - This term refers to the weight of the beef as it hangs in
the butcher's cooler once the head, hide, feet, organs and blood are
removed. If you think of any movie with a butcher shop scene and there
are sides of beef hanging from hooks on the ceiling, that is what "on
the rail" means. Since most every butcher bases the processing fees on
the hanging weight, it is the most widely used measurement by direct to
market farmers. Price quotes will frequently say something like "$3.00/lb
hanging weight plus cut and wrap (which refers to the butcher fees)".
Another term related to hanging weight is the dress percentage.
The dress percentage refers to the hanging weight of the carcass as a
percentage of the live weight. The dress percentage ranges between 50%
and 66% of the live weight. This number varies based on the breed and
class of cattle. For instance, the Hereford breed has a heavier hide
than say an Angus so it will have a lower dress percentage. If you are
purchasing a side of beef, you are most likely buying a side of finished
steer which averages a dress percentage of 62%.
- The cut and wrap yield
(or package weight) refers to the actual weight of all the packages of
individual cuts of meat that you will put in your freezer. When the
carcass is broken down into recognizable cuts, there is some loss when
cuts are deboned and fat is trimmed away. The carcass yield will also
depend on the types of cuts you selected for your side (especially the
amount of boneless cuts you choose). Grain finished beef tends to have a
slightly lower carcass yield than grass fed due to excess fat being
trimmed away. The carcass yield can vary greatly but a good average for percent cutability (carcass yield as a percentage of the hanging weight) is 76%.
each step of processing, some weight is lost. It is very important to
keep this fact in mind when trying to calculate exactly how much meat
your share will contain. Remember:
live weight x dress percentage x carcass yield = cut and wrap yield
For example if we have a 1,000 lb steer (a little small but easy on our calculations) and use the average percentages from above it would yield the following amount of meat:
1,000 lbs X 62% X 76% = 471 lbs of meat (117 lbs per quarter)
that we understand the difference between hanging weight (HW) and cut
and wrap weight (CW), we can move on to figuring the cost of a share of
beef since the price is almost always based on one or the other. This
will be covered in Lesson three: calculating the costs of a side of beef.