Bastrop Cattle Company sells quite a few half and whole carcasses to private customers. This is a great way to save money on beef, but you very much need to know how the procedure works to avoid being surprised by end results.
Bear with me here – it’s probably going to get a little graphic – but it’s worth it if you are thinking about purchasing beef in bulk.
When a calf steps into a kill box it is what we call “live weight”. This is the weight that if it stepped on your bathroom scales it would register. For our purposes, let’s say this particular calf weighs 750 pounds (and right now you’re seeing a calf in your bathroom standing on his back hooves on your scales thinking how fat he looks!).
Now he moves along to calf heaven real quick. (OK! You’re feeling bad because just a moment ago, he was standing on your bathroom scales). He’s gone, we’re looking at a carcass now.
The carcass is hoisted up by its back legs and moved over to a bleeding area. I’m not going to go into detail here. Let’s just say, the carcass is bled out as thoroughly as possible.
It will then be moved to another area of the kill floor where it will be “field dressed”. Guts, hide, head, lower legs, etc. are removed.
After inspection, washing, antiseptic, and generally being cleaned up, it will be weighed again. This is the “hanging weight”. This is the weight that will be registered on the carcass as it goes into the chill down cooler.
The difference between the live weight and the hanging weight can be several hundred pounds. All that stuff that was drained out, cut off, stripped away weighs quite a bit. It can represent anywhere from 40 percent to 50 percent of the whole animal.
Wow! You say. So say I. BCC is obsessed with that loss – it represents a large portion, and since we pay by hanging weight, the less lost is both good for the rancher and for us.
Grass-finished animals – the ones that are weaned and then fattened on grass until they weight about 1,100 pounds will lose anywhere from 45 percent to 50 percent of the live weight. Corn finished cattle coming out of feed lots weighing 1,400 pounds come in losing between 35 percent and 40 percent. Our grass-fed lose between 41 percent and 44 percent.
Why the difference you ask - well mainly fat. Fat throughout the muscles and around the organs and lining the inner wall of the carcass will increase the hanging weight. Corn finished cattle are loaded with fat. Grass finished animals are leaner and thus end up weighing less. Ours (which are still suckling a little) are right in between. Milk puts on muscle and fat.
Now I won’t go into the merits or demerits of any of these carcasses (we know which is best!). This is a discussion about where the weight goes.
In our terminology, the ratio of hanging weight to live weight represents the productivity yield. The more carcass left on the hanging hook when it leaves the kill floor the higher the productivity yield better for everybody. Our ranchers make more, and we have more meat to sell.
So our 750 pound steer has left the floor weighing about 420 pounds.
It is often here where confusion sets in with private buyers. Whenever you buy a half or a whole you are quoted “hanging weight”.
But this is not the final weight of the meat you are buying. Here’s why.
Often, on carcasses that people are buying privately, the carcass will cool down in the chilling cooler for forty-eight hours. This is so when it is moved to the holding cooler it will not disrupt the ambient air temperature in the holding cooler, and thus not affect the other carcasses that may already be hanging in the holding cooler.
The holding cooler is where the carcass will do a preliminary “dry age”. Depending on the weight of the carcass, this period can be anywhere from 5 to 7 days to a whole month. Dry aging “sets” the meat. It allows it do dehydrate a little (so it is easier to handle when the butcher starts cutting it up), it also allows the flavor of the meat to concentrate into the meat itself by allowing the evaporation of fluids out of the meat.
This type of dry aging will result in a loss of anywhere from 2 percent to 10 percent of the weight of the carcass. This is not an issue for the big processor who process corn finished beef (unless they are doing a premium product and are dry aging – very expensive), because most of their meat will be “wet aged”. The beef is cut up right out of the chill cooler, wrapped in shrink wrap and shipped out very cold to the grocery stores.
For small processors, this is common practice (dry aging of the whole carcass).
So now that 420 pound carcass is about 10 pounds lighter when it comes out of the holding cooler to be cut up (our carcasses usually hang 5 to 7 days, perfect for this size carcass).
Now, here come the cut instructions. How you have this carcass cut will determine how much beef you walk away with – 20 to 30 percent loss is not uncommon. Every bone you have removed will reduce the final weight. Every cut you have ground will reduce your final weight. If you want lots of hamburger, and stew and no soup bones or bone-in roasts, the final weight could be 284 pounds.
This is not the processor’s fault. It is just the nature of the beast (oh! sorry!).
When I work with people buying from us, I encourage them to strongly think about which cuts they want and why. I also recommend that they take back as much bone as possible – for broths, soups, and for their dogs.
Bones for dogs can represent as much as 20 pounds of the final weight that you walk out the door with – so walk out the door with it!
If you take all you can take, you can reduce the “shrinkage” (the part that may otherwise get discarded) to 18 percent.
You may ask, “Why don’t you just charge me for what I finally buy?” Well, because the processor is charging us by hanging weight and I have no control over how you want your carcass cut up. I have no idea how much to charge you if I can’t control what you decide to throw away. And even if I could price taking into account what ends up being cut up, my price would vary for each customer.
It is just less confusing to charge by hanging weight (taken from a certified scale under an inspector’s watchful eye), then to try to weigh every piece and assign a price per cut before all your meat is delivered. Remember, when you buy in bulk, like this, you are paying the same price per pound whether its hamburger or ribeye.
So how do you figure your cost for this meat.
Take your hanging weight x 25 % (right in between 20 and 30 percent shrinkage and including that 2 percent in the holding cooler). Subtract that from your hanging weight and then divide the full amount of what you paid by that number to determine how much your actual cost per pound is.
In our case:
420 hanging weight x $6.65 = $2,793 for a whole calf
420 x 25 % = 105 lbs. 420 – 105 = 315 pounds
2,793 ÷ 315 = $8.86/lb. (remember this is an estimate)
Now, if you work with me to retrieve as much of that shrinkage as possible, I can get you down to 18 percent – thus $8.10/lb.
You’re paying $8.10/lb. for hamburger, and $8.10/lb. for fillet mignon. And, you are going to have plenty of chef bones, marrow bones, soup bones (with lots of meat), some rump roasts, and chuck roasts (bone in) that are going to be yummy. And Fido is going to be really happy.
I think this is a great buy. But I want you to really understand how much it is costing you and how much meat you are getting.
Hope this was helpful! PS. Figure 1 cubic foot of freezer space for every 30 lbs. of beef!