Purchasing a side of beef from your local farmer

There is a lot of confusion around purchasing a side of beef. Processor fees, hanging weight, package weight, cut sheets. What does it all mean?

Thinking of purchasing a side of beef? Sometimes also referred to as a half beef, making such a purchase from your local farmer is a great investment. However, the details can get confusing. No two farmers are going to handle the sale of freezer beef exactly the same way, so it is a great idea to do a little research and know the correct questions to ask.

The process of buying beef directly from your farmer should be fairly easy. It’s generally as simple as contacting them, selecting a date and making butchering choices. Where it gets a little muddled is not knowing exactly what you are paying for.

We will start with the beef animal itself. A lot of people use the term “buying a cow.” More than likely, you would not intentionally purchase a cow for your freezer. It is a finished calf you want. Big difference! A beef cow has been used for breeding purposes and does not make the best quality beef. Once an animal reaches a certain age, there is a lot of variability in the quality of meat they will produce. Our beef calves are ready for slaughter around 18-24 months of age. Commercial feed lots process their calves around 36-42 months of age.

Ok, you’ve decided to purchase a half beef and your farmer has delivered your calf to the locally owned and operated processor for inspection, processing and packaging. What is involved there and just how much beef will be placed into your freezer?

All beef calves begin with a live weight. That is what the animal weighs when placed on a scale. Think of a beef calf standing on a really large bathroom scale. That’s exactly how that number is collected. Peek Farms calves have a live weight of around 850-1000 lbs when they are ready for processing.

For the sake of an easy number to work with, we will use 900 lbs for an example. The hanging weight is the weight of the beef carcass as it is placed on the rail to wait for butchering. At this point, the beef has had the organs, hide, and nonedible parts removed. It still contains large skeletal bones, many of which cannot be used. The hanging weight (also known as rail weight) is typically 60% of the live weight. So, sticking with our 900 lb live calf weight example from above, our hanging weight would be around 540 lbs.

The hanging weight is also the number that the processor uses to charge the customer, or the farmer (if your farmer is paying your processing fees). The higher the hanging weight, the higher the charge, since it is based on price per lb. There is also an extra fee that the processor charges, commonly known as a “kill fee.” This fee is for the slaughter, cleaning and hide removal of the animal to get it to the hanging weight stage.

After the beef is at the “hanging” stage, it will rest for several days. This allows for water evaporation from the beef (which also reduces weight) and allows the muscles to relax, becoming more tender. The hanging time results in higher quality beef. Our processor hangs our beef for approximately 12 days.

The next step is butchering. This is where the processor reviews your cut sheet (the directions for how you chose to have your animal butchered). The butcher will cut and package your beef accordingly. Quality freezer beef should be in individually packaged cuts and vacuum sealed. The package weight is also known as your “take home weight.” It is typically 65% of your hanging weight. So, continuing with our 900 lb live calf example from above, we saw that it yielded a 540 lb hanging weight. This hanging weight will translate into a package weight of around 350 lbs. This is for a whole calf. A side of beef this size should yield about 175 lbs of packaged meat.

Of course, your package weight can vary slightly, depending on your butchering choices. For example, if you select bone-in steaks vs boneless steaks, that is going to sway your “take home” weight. The same with rib selections and whether you elect to keep things like organ meats.

When you purchase in bulk, your price per lb is the same across the board. For example, you are paying the same price per lb for expensive cuts, such as filet or ribeye, as you are paying for ground beef.

Moving forward from April 2021, our farm is going to begin charging for a side of beef using the hanging weight from the processor. We believe that this will provide our customers with an increased fairness in pricing. After all, you are literally paying for the weight of your animal.

Our pricing details are as follows:

$4.85/lb on the hanging weight. No added fees, we pay the processing for you and do not charge to deliver the animal to the processor. You pick up at the farm or we can arrange local delivery.

Sticking with our example from above, a 900 lb live calf will yield around 540 lbs hanging weight (which totals $1309 per half). A side of beef, packaged, should produce around 175 lbs of beef. This means you are paying less than $7.50 per lb for packaged, locally grown, locally processed farm raised and finished beef.

We really hope this information has been helpful and if you have any questions, feel free to contact us peekfarmsbeef@gmail.com

*Our calves are pasture raised and grass finished. All animals are born and raised on our farm. We primarily raise black Angus beef cattle.

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