Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Buying a side of beef: Lesson two: Live weight, hanging weight and dressed weight

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 processing.

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%.

During 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)

Now 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.

2 comments:

susanander said...

Hello, there! love this blog! But wondering where Lesson three is?

Katia said...

Link updated! You can also follow this link to the whole list of topics covered in the buying beef series. Thanks for stopping by!

http://ranchsteady.blogspot.com/p/how-to-buy-side-of-beef-step-by-step.html

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