Are you thinking of buying a cow? Have you decided how much?
Most people usually think about buying half a cow, but did you know there other options. You can often buy a sixteenth, quarter, half, or whole cow from a farmer, so you need to do research and determine what quantity is right for your family.
We’ve been selling beef directly off of our farm for decades. Without a doubt one of the first questions people ask before buying a cow is “how much beef will I actually get?” That question is usually followed by, “If I buy a cow, what part am I getting? The front half or back half?”
The goal of this post is to show you how much beef you get when you buy a cow. We also have a step-by-step guide on buying a cow from a farmer, including what questions to ask.
To put it in perspective, we’ve made our home refrigerator the star of the video and photos.
We’ve taken these pictures twice, years apart. The first time we only took photos and we had a standard 18.1 cu ft refrigerator with a freezer on top. The second time we did this, we made a video and we had a newer refrigerator – a 22.1 cu ft refrigerator with french doors and freezer on the bottom. Hopefully, seeing the beef in two different refrigerators will help put it into perspective even more.
Is buying a cow worth it?
Yes! The benefit of buying a cow is that you will save money and get higher quality beef.
Every year, we compare the price of beef from our farm to local St. Louis grocery stores. With Clover Meadows Beef, the price is approximately $5.45/pound for all cuts of grass fed beef. This is compared to $7.03/pound at Walmart, $7.84/pound at a local St. Louis grocery store, and $9.86/pound at Whole Foods.
Please note, every farm and beef processor prices beef differently. You will need to do your own math on determining the price per pound if you’re not in the St. Louis area and can’t order from our farm.
Buying a sixteenth cow:
Here’s what our 22.1 cu ft refrigerator looks like with a sixteenth of a cow. At our farm, a sixteenth is approximately 25 lbs of beef. This includes 13 lbs of hamburger, 2 Ribeye steaks, 2 Strip steaks, 2 Filet steaks, 2 Sirloin steaks, 1 Stew Meat, 1 Short Rib, 1 package Soup Bones, 1 package Beef Liver, and 1 Roast.
Buying a quarter cow:
Here’s what our 18.1 cu ft refrigerator with freezer on top looks like with a quarter beef, which is 110 lbs of beef. As you can see, it’s a lot of beef, but it all fits in the freezer (without the freezer shelf or ice bucket).
So what comes with a quarter? That answer varies since every cow is unique and weighs something different, but here is how it typically breaks out:
With a quarter you get about 50 pounds of ground beef, and the remaining 60 lbs of meat is in steaks, brisket, roasts, stew meat, ribs, liver, soup bones, etc. Please keep in mind that everything is based on the individual cow and how the beef is cut, but typical, the remaining 60 lbs works out to be approximately 6-7 strip steaks, 6-7 ribeye steaks, 5-6 filets, 5-6 sirloin steaks, 2 short ribs, 4-5 roasts, 1-2 package of stew meat, 1-2 packages of liver, 1 brisket, and several packages of soup bones.
With a quarter, you also get the option of the one-per-animal parts like tongue, oxtail and heart. Since there’s only one-per-animal, these are first-come-first-serve based on the other who requests them first.
Here’s what our 22.1 cu ft refrigerator looks like with a quarter cow. Again, it’s 50 pounds of ground beef, and the rest of the beef comes in a variety of cuts like steaks, roasts, ribs, and brisket.
Buying a half cow:
So, what if you buy half a cow? What does that look like? With a half a cow, you’ll get approximately 220 pounds of beef. It includes 100 pounds of ground beef, and the rest of the beef are in cuts like steaks, roasts, ribs, brisket, and tenderloin.
Just for fun, we included a dozen eggs and a half gallon of milk in this picture so you would have some additional perspective 🙂
Buying a whole cow:
With a whole cow you would get approximately 440 pounds of beef. It will be approximately 200 pounds of ground beef, and the other 220 pounds are in cuts like steaks, roasts, ribs, brisket, tenderloin, etc. On average, we’ve found that a whole is great for families of three or more that eat beef with four or more meals a week.
What cuts of beef will I get when buying a half cow?
- Steaks like filet, sirloin, ribeye, strip, skirt and flank
- Roasts like chuck, sirloin, arm
- Ground beef
- Stew meat
- Kabob meat
- Soup bones
- Organ meat (if desired)
- And the list keeps going on and on!
How much freezer space do I need if I’m buying a cow?
The rule of thumb is 1 cubic foot of freezer space for every 30-35 lbs of cut and wrapped meat.
That means you’ll definitely want a stand-alone freezer when buying a cow. If you don’t have one yet, you can usually get a good deal at a warehouse store like Sam’s or Costco. We have both chest and upright freezers at our house and we like both of them.
Our biggest piece of advice when buying a stand-alone freezer is to get one with a lock and key. This is very important for child safety reasons and because a physical lock will make sure your freezer is securely closed. You can also purchase an aftermarket lock.
How much beef will I actually put in my freezer?
Great question! There are two ways to answer this question.
Our farm is somewhat unique in how we price our beef because it’s all-inclusive – we tell you how much beef you’ll get for a specific price. Our pricing includes all processing fees and free delivery to a specific pick-up locations in the St. Louis area.
A quarter cow is 110 lbs, half is 220 lbs, and whole cow is 440 lbs. We’ve chosen to sell our beef this way because we think it’s easier for our customers and there are no surprises – you know exactly what you’re going to get.
The other way to figure out how much beef you’ll put in your freezer, is to explain it with agriculture industry-lingo like hang-weight and package-weight. If these terms are new to you, here are quick definitions:
- Live weight (or “on the hoof”) is how much a cow weighs when it’s alive and walking around. This includes meat, bones, blood, etc.
- Hanging weight (or “on the rail”) is after the animal is slaughtered and all the unusable parts are removed (like head, skin and hooves), Hanging weight includes bones and meat. Typically, the hanging weight is about 60% of the live weight.
- Boxed weight (or packaged weight) is the weight of all the packages of individual cuts of meat that you will put in your freezer This is typically about 60 percent of hanging weight.
So, what does this mean in plain-terms? If you’re told it’s $3.75 per pound hanging weight, then expect to pay approximately $6.25 per pound ($3.75 / 0.60) PLUS the butchering fee, which is usually about $600.00 for the entire cow (you’ll split this fee if you’re sharing with another family).
No matter who you buy from, make sure you know exactly what you’ll be taking home before you buy so you have adequate freezer space.
How long will the beef last?
Approximately 1-year if frozen and vacuum sealed. The amount of time will be shorter if it is packaged in paper or shrink wrapped.
How should the beef be packaged if I buy a cow?
Most farmers will give you an option between paper, shrink wrapped, or vacuum sealing packaging. We recommend vacuum sealing because it will keep the beef fresh for longer.
Here’s an example of what a vacuum sealed steak looks like.
How do you buy a cow from a farmer?
So, do you still want to buy a cow? If you’re in the St. Louis area, let us know. We are happy to answer any questions you may have.
If you’re outside of St. Louis, read our step-by-step guide on how to buy a cow from a farmer. It will tell you how to find a farmer, the right questions to ask, and how to know if you’re getting a good deal on beef.
One more thing
Do you want to learn more about our farm and how we raise beef? Join our weekly e-newsletterwhere we share farm happenings, recipes and beef availability. Or, we have an entire ebook about beef that goes through purchasing and preparing beef from a cattle farmers perspective.
And here are a few other blog posts you may like:
- What everybody ought to know about beef cuts
- Buying a Cow. How Much Beef Is It?
- Is It Done Yet? The Best Meat Thermometer
- How We Raise Our Grass Fed Beef
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