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Buying Beef: Hanging Weight vs Cut Weight

>9 June 2011
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hanging weight vs cut weight side beef

We bought a quarter of a cow today from the farmer up the road. It ended up being a lot less meat than we’d expected though; about 97 lbs.

If you’re like us, that just doesn’t sound right does it? A cow weighs like 800 lbs or something, how could a quarter of it only be 97 lbs?

Well, it’s because of something called hanging weight vs. cut weight. Which we didn’t really understand before we made our purchase, and so we ended up paying more than we’d expected per pound.

Let me explain.

When you buy meat from a farmer, they usually require you to purchase at least a quarter of a cow at a time. (You can split it with friends or family to share the expense.) And they will charge you per pound of “hanging weight”.

Hanging weight refers to the slab of meat before it is cut up and processed. After it has cured for a couple of weeks, the butcher will trim the meat of fat and bones and stuff, and package it up for you. The end result is “cut meat”, which due to the trimming, is a much smaller piece of meat than you started with.

This means that when you calculate the end result with the price per pound that you paid, it will end up being much more per pound.

In our case, the farmer charged us $2/lb hanging weight, which ended up totaling $382 (thank goodness for a tax refund!). But when we calculated how many pounds of meat we actually brought home it ended up being about $3.90/lb.

It was definitely a good deal for locally raised, grass fed beef. But still much more than we’d expected to pay. We had actually planned on splitting the meat (and the cost) with some friends. But what we have isn’t enough to share.

Honestly, I can’t complain though. I’ve looked around, and the average price I’ve found for grass fed beef ranges from $3-$4/lb hanging weight, so you’d end up paying almost double that for the cut meat.

Plus, this includes pot roast, round roast, london broil, chuck roast, sirloin steaks, sirloin tip roast, ribeye steaks, t-bone steaks, and short ribs. Not to mention tons of ground beef, and some soup bones.

So, we are still pleased with our investment. But it’s good to know what to expect next time we plan on buying beef in bulk like this. And hopefully this lesson has been helpful to some of you as well.

Do you buy beef by the quarter or half a cow? I’d be interested in knowing what you pay per pound hanging weight!

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  • Christy said:

    Yes, we order a quarter each year too…have been doing so for several years now. We go in with a bunch of friends on a few whole cows, and I think last year ended up paying $3.50/60 per pound of meat that we received (but i have also paid about $4 per lb before too). When buying grass fed meat it is helpful to remember that these cows tend to be smaller than ‘normal’ cows because they aren’t fattened up. One of our cows last year was just 600lbs, though that was the smallest. As you know, the cows (and therefore their meat) are naturally leaner because of the cow’s diet. We’ve always been told to expect to lose 30-40% of the weight…which is a helpful fact to know when trying to figure out your actual cost up front. It sounds like you lost on the higher end of things for whatever reason…I believe how long it is aged can affect that too. I’ve lost closer to 30% before and I’ve lost around 40% too. But the weight of meat you receive will also vary depending on your cuts…do you order lots of ground beef or do you order more bone-in steaks or roasts? Any cuts with bones still in will weigh more. Last year I ordered about one third ground beef, the rest roasts and steaks. Remember too that you’ve got bones for making stock, which will save you the money you would have spent on stock. And like you said, it’s still a great deal bc of the type of meat and all the cuts you get. We get filet mignon and delmonicos, brisket and roasts…and it is quality, fresh, good-for-you meat…not to mention you’re supporting a local farmer in the process. I hope you guys enjoy your meat!

  • Homemade Alaska said:

    In the interior of AK we paid $3.80ish per pound hgwt. I can’t quite remember, and looking it up, now it’s $4.30 hgwt for a hind quarter, 3.50 for a front quarter. We ended up with 125# of meat, and love, love, love it. Before that all we ate was hamburger because that was all I could afford at $6 per pound for grass fed beef. We enjoy t-bones, porterhouse steaks, roasts, in addition to lots of hamburger for less per pound than we were buying hamburger. It’s soooo good!

  • Monica said:

    we are beef farmers here. when we sell a steer to someone we charge them the current market rate per pound. That would be live weight…right now it is around $1.40 per pound. So if my steers weight when I take it to the processor is 950 pounds I would get $1330.00. You then would pay the processor his processing fee. Generally you can expect 60% of the total weight in meat. In this case about 570 pounds. At least this is how it works here in Missouri…You will enjoy that meat though! It looks great! With grass fed you will probably have to add a little oil to the pan as it will not produce much if any fat for cooking…

  • Bobbi said:

    I wish I could do this but we have no freezer room and are not able to have a separate freezer due to electrical issues. Someday I will have a small chest freezer and would love to do this. :) Thanks for all the info, it is good to know (beforehand) what I will be getting in the end. :) Hope that lieel baby boy (and everyone else) is doing well.

  • Amanda said:

    We have been VERY fortunate this year. My husbands sister bought, I think a 1/4 of a cow for us this year, though I’m not sure how much she paid. I would have to agree with you though, in the end the price that you paid isn’t all that bad because of what you are getting. But, it’s really, really nice to know all of this,of which I wasn’t aware of any of it.

    I appreciate you laying all the facts out there about things like this and the raising goats and the real cost of things. We live on an acre too and while we do raise a very large vegetable garden along with some fruit trees. We’ve never raised any animals. But have been thinking about it. I have to tell you how helpful your posts on this has been to us.


  • Megan said:

    I really really hope to get a dairy cow and a beef steer one day to raise!

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:


    I’m so glad you find what I write to be helpful!! I do hope that my experience doesn’t deter you from seeking your own goals, but that you are much wiser than I when pursuing them :)

  • Rebecca said:

    We buy our beef by the quarter, and LOVE it. I know it looks like a lot, but grocery stores in our area are charging close to $3.00 a pound for what I call “junk meat.” I figure it’s worth it to pay a little more for meat that I know was grass fed–like you said. One thing that can save a little money is shopping around for a cheaper butcher. We have some friends that run a shop thats about 20 miles out in the country and they charge less for their services. They also charge less for paper wrapped beef–rather than vacuum packed.

  • Jen said:

    We order 1/4 grass fed beef every fall, and pay about $3 hanging weight, so you got a GREAT deal! Our total cost is about $550. I always ask for ALL the bones, not just the soup bones they usually give you. They are labelled as “dog bones” on our invoice, but I use them to keep us supplied with beef stock all year long. They make excellent stock! I ask for any organs too, but since the cow is split 4 ways, they divide the organs 4 ways. Organ meats are great in stock, or you can use them on their own to prepare a meal as well. They are extremely good for you.

    You could also ask for the trimmed fat to render tallow. It’s an extremely nourishing fat to cook with when it comes from grass fed cows (makes excellent fried chicken and homemade french fries). You could also use it to make homemade soap. It makes a harder bar, which helps the soap last longer.

    Because I ask for all the bones and trimmed fat to use for our family, I’m actually getting most of the hanging weight. Which makes for a really great deal. Just a note as to how valuable the bones and fat are: I ordered once from an online company that charged $99 for a 5 gallong bucket of grass fed tallow, and $6-7 per pound for grass fed bones! RIDICULOUS!!! That was before I had a local source for grass fed beef, but I knew how nourishing these “by-products” really are.

  • Nikki R said:

    We raise our own steers and I have no idea what we end up paying per pound.I know we get a good deal though.Most of the meats we would never get to enjoy if it were not coming from our own steers as we could NEVER afford to eat the best steaks etc.they are soooo good.This year we canned about 60 quarts of the lower quality cuts and they are so good.Perfect when I want some “fast food”!

  • Valerie said:

    I concur with Jen.

    Did you speak to the processor to order your cuts?
    I ask for all the bones- even if they are just for the dog! Some are really really huge though!
    Most people don’t want that stuff.

    Frankly, I use chicken stock for everything. I don’t care much for beef stock. I had a few pot roast recipes that called for chicken stock- which at the time I thought was little weird. Now I’m hooked. But knowing how to make a decent beef stock or any other ‘by product” is valuable knowledge.

    But scraping off the fat and using it for pie crusts is awesome. so flaky…..

    All your steaks should taste delicious regardless of cut. Eating grocery store steaks or burger will be a dreaded thought from here on out!

    You may have gotten less pounds, but you got less yucky stuff like dyes to make your meat look fresh shelf life deterioration and bacteria. Now you can giggle if you go into health food stores and see grass fed burger whose freshness is questionable for at least $7.99/lb.

    Excellent point for newbies.

  • Robin said:

    I just pulled my butcher invoices for the past three years (I like to compare year-to-year).

    Each year have one FULL beef in the freezer and every other year we raise hogs and do the same. We are a family of three (adults). Our costs break down to about $3.25/lb. another year $3.10/lb. Now where can you buy fillet mignon’s for $3.25/lb. or even a roast for that matter?

    Here’s a rough breakdown of what we get:

    Rib steaks 16
    Flank 2
    Sirloin tip 16
    Top sirloin 19
    NY (we have the beef cut different so no T-bones and more NY’s) 27
    Fillet Mignon 22
    Top round 17
    Bottom round 18
    Tri-tip 2

    Chuck 15
    Cross rib 6
    Prime rib 1
    Rump 4
    Sirloin tip 2
    Eye round 2
    Short ribs 9
    Stew (1 lb. pkgs) 19
    Ground Beef (1 lb. pkgs) 127

    Many soup bones, dog bones and tail.

    Where our cost differences come in the play is the price of beef at the time of purchase. Our butcher cutting and wrapping fees have been consistant for the past three years at .72 lb. along with the scrap recycling fee of $7.00. Keep in mind this does not include the kill fee which I believe is around $100 or $125. So, when purchasing meat, all these costs need to be taken into account. When you’re dealing with hogs, you’ll have an additional fee for smoking.

    DOG TREATS: Asking for extra bones for your dogs are great. We actually ask for all we can get since we have two dogs. BUT, I also take the livers when the ranch kill guy comes out. A while back I went into one of those fancy dog stores and came across a cute little bag of dog treast. They looked exactly like (the texture and lines in the meat) the livers I prepare each year for the dogs. From information I found online I boil the livers first. Then bake them in the over thereafter. Once cooled, I slice and freeze on cookie sheets. After their frozen, their placed in a small ziplock bag. We only give these treats about once per week since I read it’s not good to give liver daily to dogs.

    In addition, we no longer grain our beef. We raise a bunch on our road of country neighbors and have found no difference between grass or grain feed beef with regards to flavor or cooking. I quickly asked my dh about the % difference between live weight and hang weight which he stated is about 30%. :)

  • Lisa said:

    We raise beef for ourselves and to sell. We sell by hanging rate at the current market rate for our area. This spring was about $1.86 a pound plus the .40 a pound for the processing. The ground beef usually isn’t a cost savings but you make up the difference in the roasts and steaks.
    We also ask for pretty much everything. If we’re splitting one with family, we also ask them to get everything. Then we can trade back and forth. For example, my mom and SIL don’t take the stew meat (which is scrap meat) but I love having it for stir fries, straganoffs, and soups and stews.

  • Rachel R. said:

    One of our homeschool families just offered 1/8th of grass fed cows for $300 per unit of mixed type meats. It worked out to over $6.00 per pound in my freezer.

    The difference between grass fed and grain fed any animal – the grass fed ones will put on fats rich in Omega 3, while the grain fed ones rapidly (even if they are only on a grain diet for a few weeks) have Omega 6 in their fat stores.

  • Kandice said:

    I was wonderng if anyone knows of a good grass-fed and finisher in the Loveland CO area? I would be greatful for as much information as you have!
    Kandice From Colorado

  • Shannon said:

    I have a quarter of an only grass fed steer on the way & I’m paying $4.95/lb hanging weight. I was told the total hanging weight is 450 lbs, so it’s on the smaller side. I’m paying for it to be cryovacced which will add $0.18 per lb.

    I haven’t been given the total cost yet, but I’ll be picking it up in the next 2 weeks.

    $4.95 sounds like a lot per hanging weight pound when only a year ago you paid $2 per pound. Possibly depending on your location it might vary some but that is a lot. Hope I got a decent deal.


  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Hi Shannon,

    Beef prices do fluctuate depending on where you live, but it’s no doubt beef has gotten more expensive, along with almost everything else! Be glad you bought as much as you did. I bet the price will be much higher in another six months.

  • Robin said:

    I happened upon this site while I was comparing hanging weight to meat received. We live in Northern Michigan. My husband and I just did this, as a matter of fact, we picked it up this morning. Our hanging weight was 211 lbs and we ended up with 150.5 lbs of meat. Our cost was $370, plus .40 lb for processing and wrapping, which averages $3.06 lb- still cheaper than the grocery store. We are hoping we can at least eat this, as the meat we have been buying at the grocery store is 80-90% inedible. This is why we chose to buy a quarter of beef. We are looking forward to it.

    I didn’t know to ask for all the bones, but next time I will. We ended up with: 53 lb. hamburger, 2 pot roasts, 4 lb. stew meat, 8 chuck roasts, 2 tip roasts, 2 bags of soup bones, 3 bags of liver, 5 sirloin steaks, 8 round steaks, 2 large packages of short ribs, 4 T-bones, 2 porterhouse, and 4 rib steaks. We think we did well.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Sounds like you got a great deal, Robin! Enjoy!

  • Coco Magallon said:

    I just purchased 1/2 a cow 349 lbs of different cuts and mostly ground beef for $550…..after seeing all your posts I realized I got a great deal on the meat I live in central California where the cows roam free our neighbor here gave us a great deal very happy with our purchase and we will have meat for over a year.

  • Jaime said:

    We Raise Our Own Beef And Figured It Out To Be About 3$ APound

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