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How Much is a Half a Cow?

How many pounds of beef will you get from a half side and how much will it cost? Great questions! We'll break it down for you...

When looking to purchase a side (or share, as it is sometimes called) of beef, there are many variables and pricing models to consider -- all of which may leave you feeling overwhelmed, or even confused. Not surprisingly, questions about how much a half beef costs and/or how much meat is provided, are some of the most common questions we receive. In order to answer those questions, let’s first define a few terms, and then we’ll look at some calculations to best understand how your money is being spent.

Let’s start at the beginning of the process. At our farm, the animal is loaded on a trailer and weighed, headed for its processing date. Logically, this is the live weight of the animal. Once at the processor and immediately following slaughter, that animal’s hide, head, hooves, and several organs are removed and we are left with the hanging weight (literally, what hangs on the rail at the processor). Most producers sell sides of beef based on hanging weight, so you’ll hear things like “our price on the rail.”

Now, there are three more losses to consider before we get to the finish weight, or the number of pounds of meat ready to fill your freezer. First, as the carcass hangs, it undergoes moisture loss and “shrinks,” thus reducing its overall weight. Secondly, within the hanging carcass there are remaining bones and organs (including the liver, heart, and tail), plus excess fat that are either inedible, or frequently discarded. Removal of those items decreases your finished weight. And finally, there are losses incurred as the remaining carcass is broken down into packaged cuts and ground beef according to your preferences.

Calculating live weight to finish weight for your side of beef.
Beef Conversion Calculations

Ready for some math? Our target goal for finished animals is 1400 pounds. So, let’s say that tag 70 walks onto the trailer at exactly that - 1400 pounds. We expect our animals to hang at 60% of their live weight. In the case of animal #70, 60% of 1400 = 840 pounds of carcass on the rail. (Remember, the processor has removed the head, hide, and internal organs.) At this point, the carcass hangs for 17-21 days (depending on the locker) for an aging process that develops tenderness and flavor. After it is aged, your meat is cut and packaged per your specifications. Following deboning and trimming, your take-away freezer beef is generally 50-52% of your animal’s hanging weight. We’ll use 50% for easy math. So, if we assume that 50% of tag 70’s hanging weight (which was 840 lbs) can be converted to retail cuts and hamburger, that comes to a total of 420 pounds of meat from animal #70, or 210 pounds in your half beef.

You may notice that we are talking in approximations or estimations. That’s because every animal and every producer is different. Live weight variables include the age and sex of the animal, what the animal was fed during its lifetime, and whether the animal was finished on grain. Carcass yields are majorly affected by cutting style -- this is most easily explained by the number of bone-in versus boneless cuts you request and how lean or fatty you prefer your ground beef. Just remember, when you are researching sides of beef, it’s important to know the rail weight of the animal, so that you can figure the final calculation of approximately how many pounds of beef to expect in your freezer.

Hopefully, you now know approximately how much packaged meat is in a half beef from Eck Agriculture, but how much is all that meat going to cost?

Quarter vs. Half vs. Whole
Side of Beef Comparison Chart

Our hanging weight price per pound fluctuates slightly, proportionate with input costs. At the time of this writing, we are averaging $2.75 - $2.95 per pound on the rail. (This fee can fluctuate along with the markets, as input costs increase or decrease so does the price per pound. Please always reach out for current pricing quotes.) Additionally, there are fees that we pass on from the locker. Most lockers charge a per-pound processing fee (again based on the hanging weight) and a kill fee. The following sample invoice shows you how those calculations compute and a grand total for our example animal, at the high end of the pricing scheme, with all fees and taxes included.

Depending on the live weight of your animal, your cost for meat in your freezer averages out to $7.50-$9.50 per pound. While that may sound a little high initially, remember that we are talking about more than just ground beef. You are receiving prime cuts of steak and delicious roasts at that per pound cost as well. That means you’re spending $7.50 per pound of hamburger (which is comparable to most retailers for this quality of meat), but you’re also receiving High Choice to Prime ribeye steaks, or even filets, at $7.50 per pound. Try finding that deal at your grocery store!

While we hope this helps to explain the cost and finished product you can expect when purchasing a side of beef, we realize this process could still seem a little daunting and may bring up more questions. We are always here to answer your questions and we want to assure you if you decide you’re ready to invest in a side of beef to feed your family, we’ll simplify the process as much as possible and walk beside you every step of the way!


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