Thinking about buying a quarter cow? In this post, I share my experience buying a half cow and splitting it with friends. I include the cost, final weight and what questions to ask your farmer and processor!

Last summer, I took a big leap and purchased a quarter beef. To be honest, I was nervous through the entire process! But I was pushed into action when I saw the prices of beef skyrocket in stores. I knew that we could do better on price if we went direct to the farmer.

I was raised on beef direct from the farm, and I knew it tasted better. But, the process of buying direct was intimidating, and I just didn’t know where to start!

There are two key parts to buying beef direct. First, you need to find a farmer. Second, you need to find a processor (a butcher) that has availability when the cow will be ready and at a good weight.

Check out my tips, costs and lessons learned below. This turned out to be a long post! Feel free to click on the links to jump directly to the area you need help with.

How I found a farmer and processor:

I asked around, and my brother-in-law knew a farmer! This was lucky, because someone I trusted could vouch for the quality of the beef.

You can use the internet to find your farmer and processor, but I would start with a little networking to find the best prices. Ask friends, family and/or your neighborhood Facebook page for recommendations! You’d be surprised who “knows a guy” (or gal)!

The farmer we found sold in whole or half cow increments. His beef was pastured (allowed to eat grass, etc.) but corn finished. For me, this combo feeding was perfect, but you may have other preferences. Generally, allowing the cattle to graze on grass increases how nutritious the meat is, and will result in leaner meat. Incorporating corn feed the entire time, or just a few months before butchering will give the beef added richness of flavor.

Luckily, we found friends that were interested in splitting a 1/2 beef with us. I thought a quarter beef was perfect for our smaller family of three. And, our deep freezer is pretty small, so I knew we couldn’t store and entire half beef.

The farmer had a relationship with a processor he recommended. And, he already had timeslots scheduled for processing his cattle. Finding a processor right now can be difficult, so we jumped on the opportunity.

The processor was three hours away, but I was willing to drive to pick up the meat. Distance to the farm and/or processor may be a factor for you, especially if you’re in a city center.

a photo of frozen beef in a cooler
We hauled our 1/4 cow home from the processor in coolers (shown). It was frozen when we picked it up, and stayed frozen the entire 3 hour drive.

Questions to Ask and Answer When Purchasing a Whole Beef

Questions for the Farmer:

  • What is the average hanging weight of a quarter beef/ half beef/ whole beef from your farm?
  • Do I pay you based on the live weight or hanging weight? What is your hanging weight cost per pound? How and when would you like for me to pay that fee? Note: I recommend paying on hanging weight only.
  • What are your cows fed? Inquire if it is grass-fed beef or if there are an other dietary requirements for your family.
  • Do you have a processor that you use? If so, do you have space reserved with them? If so, what day/week/month will it be processed? Note: If they don’t have one, ask what processor they typically deliver to for processing, then call that facility to arrange a timeslot.
  • Do I pay you or the processor for the processing fees? Note: You will typically pay the processor.

Questions for the Processor:

  • What are the processing costs (butchering fees)? Cost per pound?
  • For ground beef: Extra costs for addition of fat in ground beef? Let them know if you want 1 pound or 2 pound packages of ground beef. They can generally accommodate any request for package size.
  • Can you label with my name (and any other details you’d like)?
  • How long from the butchering date will it be until I can pick the beef up? Note: Most processors will let the beef hang for a few weeks before cutting it down into individual cuts. Some processors have an even longer aging process, adding months of age to the meat.
  • Will the meat be frozen? Should I bring coolers/ice? Note: We brought four medium sized coolers for our half beef, and that was perfect.
  • What type of payment do you accept? Will you take credit cards? Note: Some are cash only.
  • When do I pick it up?
an overhead photo of ground beef in a deep freezer

Deciding what cuts you want:

If there are any custom cuts you’d like to request, make sure to do so when you talk to the processor.

For example, you can keep rib-eye steaks intact to make a standing rib roast, or choose to have certain cuts ground up instead of kept whole.

The processor will likely ask you the following questions, so think about these questions ahead of time:

  • Would you like short ribs and stew meat? Note: If not, this can all be turned into ground beef.
  • Would you like soup bones? Note: This is only good for making homemade broth. If you won’t do this, have them shave the meat off and turn into ground beef.
  • Would you like the less desirable steak cuts like flank steak and hanger steak?
  • Would you like your sirloin cut into sirloin tip steaks, sirloin tips (bits and pieces, like for beef stroganoff), or left as roasts?
  • How would you like your steaks cut? Particularly, would you like T-Bone steaks, or would you like them divided out into strip steaks and filet with no bone?
  • How thick would you like your steaks? Typical thickness is 3/4 inch or 1 inch, but again, they can accommodate almost any request. Remember, the thicker you have your steaks cut, the less steaks you’ll receive!
  • Would you like your ribeye steaks cut into steaks, or left together for a bone-in ribeye roast?
  • What amount of fat would you like added to your ground beef? 3%, 5%, 10%, 15%, 20% and “as lean as possible” are all fine answers. I asked for ours to be as lean as possible which gave us 93% lean beef, 7% pork fat.
  • Would you like to keep any organ meats?
  • Would you like round steak or cube steak? If you do opt in for these cuts, I recommend using this delicious Easy Crock Pot Round Steak recipe to make them nice and tender. Remember, these are tougher cuts and you’ll need to use cooking techniques that tenderize them. If you don’t plan to use these cuts, you can ask to have them turned into ground beef.

Keep in mind that whatever cuts you opt out of can be converted into ground beef.

So, it’s okay to say no if you won’t use a cut, but you will use it as ground beef!

a photo of frozen beef in the freezer
Our freezer is running low, but still stocked with a few roasts and steak cuts!

How Many Pounds of Meat are in a Quarter Beef?

I know this is not the answer you want to hear, but it varies. Ask your farmer what is an average-sized live animal for their farm. This will help you go into the process knowing how many lbs of meat to expect.

You can expect the typical hanging weight to be roughly 60-75% of the live weight of the animal. I was never told what our live weight was, just the hanging weight once it was butchered.

Our half of beef had a hanging weight of 259 pounds, so we sat right at 129.5 pounds hanging weight per quarter beef. Again, our whole cow was on the small side, which we were fine with. We were unsure how much beef we would eat in a year, so small was good.

Our quarter beef ended up consisting of a bit over 100 pounds of final take-home meat.

This 100ish pounds included 34 pounds of ground beef, packaged in 1 pound increments. For the rest, there were roasts and steaks (sirloin, ribeye steak, T-bone). And, about 10 pounds of short ribs and stew meat pieces.

{2023 update} Our cow this year was a bit larger, with the hanging weight on our half beef coming to 278 pounds. For each quarter share of beef, we ended up taking home around 110-115 pounds of meat.

What is the Total Cost of a Quarter of Beef

Your final cost will be the sum total of what you pay to the farmer and what you pay to the butcher/processor. I recommend doing the math before you commit. This will help you make sure the price you’re paying is lower or comparable to in-store prices, if that is a goal for you.

We paid our farmer based on the hanging weight of the animal. Our processing fees were also based on hanging weight, NOT on the final pounds of meat processed.

Remember, you will lose 20-30% of your hanging weight during the process of butchering. This decrease in weight is mostly bones and moisture loss from when the carcass is allowed to hang/age.

So, to find your final average cost per pound, make sure you’re calculating your average cost using the FINAL weight of meat received, not hanging weight. I know, I know. Between live, hanging and final weight, it’s confusing!

Our cost, broken down, for a quarter of beef:

  • Farmer Fees: 129.5 pounds hanging weight X $3/pound= $388.50 (paid to the farmer)
  • Processing Fees: $90.63* (paid to the processor) (see note below)
  • Total cost for a quarter of a beef: $479.13

We brought home right around 100 pounds of beef for our quarter, roughly 77% of the hanging weight.

To find the average price of take-home meat, I divided our total cost ($479.13) by our final meat received (100 pounds). This totaled roughly $4.80 per pound of take-home meat.

Overall, I am very happy with the price of our beef! With prices consistently above $5 for lean ground beef in grocery stores, it definitely saved us money. The flavor is delicious. And, not to mention we’re getting high-quality steaks and roasts at that same average price!

*Within the processing cost was a processing fee of 53 cents per pound of hanging weight, a fee of .40 cents per pound for pork fat added to the ground beef, and a small fixed fee for bundling and labeling our two separate quarters so we would not have to sort it out between the two families. That was money well spent.

{2023 Update: This year, prices went up a bit both from the farmer and the processor. We paid the farmer $3.50/pound hanging weight and then $113.45 per quarter beef to the processor. This put us at an estimated $5.45/pound all-in}.

How much freezer space will I need for a quarter of a cow?

For an average 1/4 beef, you’ll need approximately 7 cubic foot of freezer space.

I still have plenty of room left for other items in in my 7 cubic feet chest freezer! Since our cow was smaller, our 1/4 beef took up 4-5 cubic feet of the available space.

Would I do it a second time?

Yes! I love having lots of beef in the freezer and it has helped us save so much on meat costs this year. We are looking forward to getting another quarter beef this year!

Now that I understand the specific cuts of beef better, I will ask for two modifications on our next order.

1) Have round steaks turned into ground beef. We just don’t use them but we used up all of the ground beef!

2) Cut T-Bones into strip steaks and filet mignon. This will stretch out steak nights out a bit, and T-bone steaks are just a little hard to cook!

Feel free to leave a comment with any questions you have, and good luck purchasing your beef!

Need a way to use up your beef roast? This Slow Cooker Pulled Beef is the best!