Friday, February 18, 2011

Grass Fed Beef Quarter Cost Analysis

How's that for a dry title? I figured it would be good to share how our experience buying a quarter of grass fed beef worked out. Before we ordered our quarter I had many questions about hanging weight vs. actual take home meat and what the final cost per pound of the finished beef would end up being. Using our farmer's numbers I did a best guess and once I picked up our beef I figured the actual total. The numbers were surprising close. That is what happens when you work with an experienced, honest farmer!

This is going to look a little dry since it was typed up as a document for me to refer to in the future, but hopefully it makes sense.

Quarter hanging weight: 149 pounds, $320 paid to Miller Brothers Farms. We paid $2.15/pound hanging weight. They rounded off as we were told to just send $320. I do see that prices are increasing to $2.40/pound for this next year.

Processing costs paid directly to Cedar Road Meats at pick up. $.44/lb (65.56) + quarter of slaughter charge (9.50) + order charge (3.00) = $78.06

We were walked through cutting instructions once the steer was in, butchered, and we knew which quarter was ours. We simply called Cedar Road and were asked cut by cut what we would like. If I was uncertain she would explain the standard and the options. I asked for things to be left bone in and for all 'other' cuts to be included, 2 steaks/pack, 3/4" cut, 2 pound roasts.

This is what we got when I picked up the order about two weeks later.
Meat type: number of packages, total weight

hamburger: 34, 1 pound each (34)
stew meat: 4, 1 pound each (4)
arm roasts: 2 (4)
chuck blade roasts: 4 (10.5)
sirloin tip roast: 2 (4)
rump roasts: 1 (2)
round steak: 2 (5)
swiss steak: 2 (4)
t-bone steak: 2 (3)
rib steak: 3 (4.5)
sirloin steak: 4 (5.5)
porterhouse: 1 (2)

The next four are things we have never really eaten, but I asked for them and am hoping to be courageous and give them a try. Or to hide them in things if necessary! Since we paid for them I figured we should take them and eat them if at all possible too.

liver: 3 (3)
tongue: 1 (2)
heart: 1 (2.5)
oxtail: 1 (1.5)

Asked for fat to render and large bones to make stock--got about 10 pounds of each (not included in calculations.) Ended up with 7 quarts of beef stock and 7 or so pints of beef tallow.

Asked for soup bones and short ribs, but were not in the order when I got home. Contacted Cedar Road Meats and she checked into it right away after asking me to double check what I had brought home. After comparing my list to theirs they could only guess as to where they went. They were not able to find so replaced with beef they butchered, but wasn't from Miller Farms. They estimate I would have gotten about 3 pounds of each, so am adding those 6 pounds into final numbers. They did give us a bit extra to make up for the trouble and we arranged to pick up at a farmer's market closer to our home as the butcher shop is about an hour away.

Total weight of meat brought home (and estimates of soup/short ribs): 97.5 pounds
Total paid: $398.07

Total paid/pound of meat brought home: $4.08 (Based on Luke's estimates I had figured roughly $4.11/pound would be our final total. I don't think he could have gotten much closer!)

Percent of hanging weight: 65% now in freezer (He had estimated 68%)

So when order a quarter or half of beef it is important to remember that you will not be getting 100% of the hanging weight back for the freezer. I've seen other bloggers suggest that on a whole cow they only lost about 30 pounds of weight total, but that is not accurate. Typically you will lose 40% or (much) more on an average quarter, half or whole cow. Our percentage was 'better' because we asked for bones to be left in and we ordered from a farm that is working to increase the percentage by breeding different genetics. Different breeds of beef cattle have different meat percentages and it makes sense to find one that does a good job of converting grass into meat to maximize your yield. You lose a lot of weight to the large bones. We also would have had a lower percentage if we did not take the 9 pounds of liver, heart, tongue and the oxtail.

Also hanging weight is taken right after butchering. The meat is very wet and weighs more than it will after it ages and drys. Any good butcher will let the meat age or rest for 7-14 (or more) days before butchering. At that point you've lost a fair percentage of weight to evaporation, but it is good because the flavor has improved.

We love the beef we got. Some people talk about grass fed beef as being tough or odd flavored. I can only imagine that they have gotten an inferior product or are not used to the flavor beef should be. Our meat is tender, juicy and really wonderful! Mike doesn't like steak (I know, weird right?) but even he loved the rib steaks I made from our quarter. I recommend working with Miller Brothers if you have the chance. I do not think you will be disappointed.

All in all the price per pound is much more than I used to pay for meat. However we got many cuts I never, ever bought before. We also got the added value of beef tallow and lots of stock. And most importantly we have peace of mind as to how our cow was raised, how it was butchered and feel good about the meat we are eating and local families we are supporting. We will eat off this quarter for at least a year which makes the cost that much more affordable. We have already reserved a quarter for next fall to be prepared for 2012 and our growing family needs!

Happy Eating,

Just a note since everyone seems to need disclaimers for everything now...Miller Brothers and Cedar Roads have no idea I posted this. I did send my break down to Luke at Miller Brothers after I figured it out so that he would have something to pass onto other questioning potential customers like me. I did not and do not expect to get anything from anyone for posting this :)


  1. We also got liver, tongue, etc but as of yet I have not used them. Did you see the size of that cow tongue????? We are so happy with out grassfed organic beef...we will order again from our friends who are raising them.

  2. Yes, the tongue is quite impressive! It was suggested to me that the best way is to cook it low and slow and then slice it. I was told it makes the best sandwiches...and it no longer looks like a tongue.

    And for the heart I was told to stuff it and roast it. I know we didn't get the entire heart, maybe half? I'm thinking if I can't do that I might just chop it up and use it in a stew or something.

    I think it is great when you know who raised and butchered your animal. Farmer's are awesome, aren't they? And so are both of you ladies!


  3. This was like the most informative article I have ever read today. lol. Maybe even this week. I read a lot. But no, I am passing this on to friends and family right now. So helpful! Wow!

  4. Thanks..glad to know it is helpful. I looked and looked for something like this before we ordered, but couldn't find it. I always have a ton of questions and I figure I couldn't be the only one, right? Hope they find it useful too!

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience! I feel that there are so many benefits (environmental, ethical and health) to selecting grass fed beef over grain fed beef. To me, the fact that grass fed beef has fewer calories and fat than grain fed beef is reason enough to make the switch. I work with La Cense Beef where all of their cattle are grass fed and given no hormones, antibiotics or pesticides. Plus you have the convenience of having your steak delivered directly to your home! I would definitely recommend giving their Grass Fed Steaks a shot.