How to Order a Quarter Beef

We’ve all seen memes like this as we’ve faced the recent market disruptions of Coronavirus and inflation over the last two years.  As simple as the process seems to us farmers, ordering a quarter or half beef can be significantly more intimidating than we’d like to believe.  Many buyers have several questions going into the process and like many things in agriculture, it is based on an old system that people are no longer familiar with.  Most of us are used to walking into the local grocery store and picking up a freshly wrapped individual steak and taking it home for dinner that night or later in the week.  For most of us, the process of ordering freezer beef is a new challenge and I intend to make it simpler for you.
How much beef will I get and what does it cost?
First let’s talk about what you’ll get and how much it costs when you order a quarter cow.  It is simple math but you have to know the assumptions.   You bring home 60% of the hanging weight of the animal and this is what you pay for.  The formula looks like this.
Animal Weight x .6 = Hanging Weight
Hanging Weight / 4 x Price = Total to the Farmer
Hanging Weight x Processing Fee + Kill Fee = Total to Processor
Your Bring Home .6 of Hanging Weight as Freezer Beef
So, if you buy from a steer that weighs 1250 lbs. you will be purchasing a quarter from a carcass (hanging weight) of 750 lbs.  ¼ of that carcass is 187.5 lbs.  This is what your pricing is based on and it calculates the $647 you’ll pay to the farmer and $154 you’ll pay to the processor as shown below.  A quarter beef in our example costs a total of $800.  Freezer beef, what you bring home, has one additional calculation and that’s the 187.5 lbs. of the carcass you paid for x .6, 115 lbs.  At our current prices you can expect to pay $6.95/lb. for freezer beef.
1250 lbs. X .6 = 750 lbs.
750 / 4 x $3.45 = $647 to Farmer
750 / 4 X $0.65 + $32 = $154 to Processor
Total = $800
Hanging Weight x .6 = Freezer Beef lbs.
750 / 4 x .6 = 115 lbs.
Freezer Beef at $6.95/lb.
What about the cuts?
Selecting your cuts is both exciting and intimidating.  Our farm usually brings back 24 different cuts of beef from every animal.  Of those 24 cuts 10 are steaks and 2 are roasts.  Steaks are typically cut from the loin and rib primals located in the center of the animal.  These primals make exceptional steaks as they are very tender and flavorful.  A general rule on flavor is that flavor decreases as you move from the head to the tail.  This explains why Ribeyes are tastier than Porterhouse and T-Bone.  The most tender cut is the Tenderloin, located as pictured below.  I like Chuck Steaks a lot because of their flavor and as you can see their location at the very front of the animal makes them a very underrated cut.  I coach our customers to get their Chuck Primal cut into Chuck Roasts and Chuck Steaks because of their exceptional flavor but it also converts more of your beef that would typically be ground into steaks and roasts.  This is important because the number one criticism I’ve heard is that people bring home more ground beef than they anticipated.  Expect half of your quarter to be trim that is typically made into Ground Beef.  Getting more Chuck Roasts and Chuck Steaks is a great way to mitigate being surprised by a lot of Ground Beef but Stew Meat, Soup Bones, and Beef Brats are other great options from your trim.  Having a freezer filled with 20 – 30 pounds of chunked up Stew Meat is handy for your stews, stir-frys, beef and noodles or other mixed dishes.  Soup Bones can be a unique challenge for many or a real treasure for some. Having a few of these in your quarter make for an exciting opportunity to make a hearty beef soup from your own homemade stock.  Beef Brats are an option our processor offers and if you like a nice gourmet hotdog I eagerly recommend these.  I didn’t make this list exhaustive for reading purposes, the last thing I’ll share is that you want to ask the processor for the specialty items.  The Hanger Steak and Skirt Steaks are very flavorful and the skirt steak is used to make many great Hispanic dishes.  Our processor Caledonia Packing has done a nice job of breaking down how much beef you should expect from each primal.

How much freezer space do I need?  


    The amount of freezer space required can also be intimidating.  It’s remarkable how much beef will fit in the freezer.  The rule of thumb I use is 30-35 lbs. per cubic foot of freezer space.  I’ve always fit a Quarter Beef comfortably in our 5 cubic foot chest freezer and our 50 lb. 1/8 Beef package fits into the freezer of a standard size upright refrigerator freezer unit.


I hope I’ve boosted your confidence through this blog post.  Ordering a Quarter Beef is very exciting!  I’m confident that the advice I’ve given you will help you have a truly enjoyable experience with your beef.


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