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, o