Thinking about buying a quarter cow? In this post, I share my experience buying a half cow and splitting it with friends. I including 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.
Table of contents
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. 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 and will result in leaner meat. Incorporating corn feed will give the beef added richness of flavor.
Luckily, we found friends that were interested in splitting a ½ 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. This may be a factor for you, especially if you're in a city center.
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 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 who they typically deliver to for processing, then call those facilities 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? Specify 1 pound, 2 pound or other increment for packaging ground beef.
- 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. 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?
Deciding what cuts you want:
If there are any custom cuts you'd like to request, make so to do so when you talk to the processor.
For example, you can keep rib 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?
- Would you like soup bones? Note: This is only good for making homemade broth.
- 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, no bone?
- 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. It is 93% lean beef, 7% pork fat.
- Would you like any organ meats?
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!
How Many Pounds of Meat are in a Quarter Beef?
I know this is not the answer you want, 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.
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 is mostly bones and moisture loss.
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 were 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 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.
How much freezer space will I need for a quarter of a cow?
For an average ¼ 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 ¼ 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 round.
1) Add round steaks into the mix for ground beef. We just don't use them but we use up the ground beef!
2) Cut T-Bones into strip steaks and filet mignon. This will stretch out steak nights out a bit!
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!