How Much Meat Can You Get from Beef on the Hoof? A Breakdown for Buyers

For many consumers looking to fill their freezer with high-quality beef, purchasing a live steer or heifer directly from a rancher is an attractive option. But figuring out how much meat you’ll actually end up with from an animal “on the hoof” can be confusing.

If you buy a 1,400 pound steer, does that mean you’ll get 1,400 pounds of packaged beef for your freezer? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple There’s quite a bit of math involved to determine the amount of usable meat you’ll get from a live beef animal

Let’s break it down step-by-step so you know exactly what to expect when purchasing beef on the hoof:

Live Weight vs Hot Carcass Weight

The live weight is how much the animal weighs at the time of harvest. This will be substantially more than the final packaged meat.

That’s because the next important measurement is the hot carcass weight (HCW). This is taken immediately after harvest and is the weight of the carcass before chilling and processing. For most cattle, the HCW will be 60-64% of the live weight.

So for a 1,400 lb steer, the HCW would be approximately 880 lbs if the dressing percentage is 63%:

(880 HCW ÷ 1,400 lb live weight) x 100 = 63% dressing percentage

That 880 lb HCW includes bones, fat, and moisture that will be lost during processing. It is not the final take-home weight.

Factors Affecting Dressing Percentage

The dressing percentage (HCW/live weight) varies based on several factors:

  • Breed – Beef breeds dress higher than dairy breeds

  • Degree of finish – Fatter cattle have higher dressing percentages

  • Gut fill at weighing – More gut contents mean lower dressing percentage

  • Pregnancy status – Pregnant cattle dress lower than open cattle

So dressing percentage provides the first big weight reduction from live to HCW. The next reduction comes from chilling.

Shrinkage During Chilling

After harvest, carcasses are chilled rapidly to prevent spoilage. This causes moisture loss, so chill weight is typically 2-5% less than the hot weight.

For our 880 lb HCW example, it could lose 35 lbs in chilling to weigh 845 lbs headed to the meat locker.

Breaking Down the Carcass

Now the carcass is ready to be broken down into primal and subprimal cuts for retail packaging. This where we really start to lose weight.

The carcass is first split into the basic primal cuts:

  • Chuck (26.8% of HCW)
  • Rib (9.6% of HCW)
  • Loin (17.2% of HCW)
  • Round (22.4% of HCW)
  • Brisket, shank, flank and plate (the rest)

Each primal contains fat, bone, and lean meat (typically 70-75% lean). The lean meat is what gets packaged into retail cuts.

After deboning and trimming our 845 lb carcass, we would get approximately 570 lbs of lean beef for packaging. And that’s before any cooking shrinkage!

Estimating Final Packaged Weight

For a 1,400 lb steer with 880 lb HCW, here is the final meat breakdown:

  • 570 lbs packaged retail cuts
  • 280 lbs unused fat, bone, and trim
  • 32 lbs trim loss, shrink, and other waste

So out of 1,400 lbs live weight, only about 570 lbs ends up as packaged beef for the freezer. Keep this in mind when purchasing live cattle for custom harvesting.

Freezer Space Needed

Since you’ll get significantly less final packaged weight than initial live weight, make sure you have enough freezer space. Some guidelines:

  • Quarter beef = 4.5 cubic ft capacity
  • Half beef = 8 cubic ft capacity
  • Whole beef = 16 cubic ft capacity

Purchasing beef on the hoof can be economical if you have the freezer space. But accurately estimating yields is crucial. Ask the rancher detailed questions about the cattle’s characteristics that affect dressing percentage and yields.

Understanding the conversions from live animal to carcass to final retail cuts means no surprises when your beef order arrives. You’ll know exactly how your beef on the hoof transforms into pounds of packaged meat for the freezer.

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What’s the price of beef on the hoof?

All current beef pricing trends are based on USDA data as of April 24, 2024. Last week’s trends refer to the USDA market for the week ending April 19, 2024. Live cattle sold mostly between $1.81 and $1.83/lb.

What is the average price of beef hanging weight?

Hanging weight refers to the weight of an animal before bones are removed. The hanging weight of a quarter of a beef will be about 225 pounds and cost you $670.50. The average cost to process 1/4 beef is $200. The total estimated cost for a quarter of beef would then come to $870.50.

How much is a 900 lb steer worth?

Apr. 19
600-700 lbs.
+ $1.26
700-800 lbs.
– $2.05
800-900 lbs.
– $5.16

How much meat do you get from a 700 pound cow?

Hanging Weight (lbs)
Packaged Weight (lbs)

How much does it cost to butcher a pound of beef?

For example, kill fees can range from $55 to $65 per animal, while hamburger trimming and grinding fees can be around $.25 per pound. If you want your beef made into patties, you can expect to pay even more. Unfortunately, butchers are having to pay their employees more to keep them on board, as well as paying more for packaging supplies.

How much does beef cost per pound on the hoof?

The cost of beef per pound on the hoof varies depending on the breed and quality of the cow. Generally, the **dressing percentage** (the weight of the carcass after it has been cleaned and dressed) ranges

How much does it cost to slaughter beef?

These fees can include everything from kill fees to packaging costs, and they can add up quickly. For example, kill fees can range from $55 to $65 per animal, while hamburger trimming and grinding fees can be around $.25 per pound. If you want your beef made into patties, you can expect to pay even more.

What does beef on the hoof mean?

When referring to beef on the hoof, it means the live weight of the animal before it is processed into meat. This weight includes everything, from bones and organs to muscle and fat.

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