Perhaps the most important piece of information to know when setting out to purchase a quarter cow is that the price quoted to you will be based on the hanging weight. The hanging weight is the weight of the carcass before it’s been cut into portions of meat and packaged. So the weight of the carcass includes bones, fat, and cartilage…much of which will be cut away.
What this means is that if you are quoted $3.50 per pound based on hanging weight, you will not be paying $3.50 per pound of meat you receive. You will actually pay MORE per pound. You can expect to generally lose about 1/3 of the carcass weight. How much of the hanging weight you lose will depend somewhat on the cuts of beef you order. If you order a lot of ground beef, you can expect to lose more weight. If you order more bone-in roasts or steaks, you can expect to lose less weight. But 1/3 is generally a good estimate. To figure out what you will pay (roughly) for the meat, you should add 1/3.
Let me give an example: You can generally expect to receive about 100lbs of meat from a quarter. Your farmer quotes you a price of $3.50 per pound based on hanging weight. Well, assume that 100lbs is 2/3 of the carcass weight, so your carcass likely weighs about 150lbs. 150 x $3.50 = $525. You’re going to pay $525 for the quarter cow. Factoring in that you will only receive 100lbs of meat, now let’s calculate your actual cost per pound. $525 / 100lbs = $5.25 per pound of meat. So, though quoted $3.50 per pound, you will actually pay somewhere around $5.25 per pound.
This is really important information for you as you are shopping around deciding which farmer to purchase your beef from and whether or not you can afford the price.
If you want to know precisely how much you ended up paying per pound, you’ll likely have to weigh the meat yourself once you get it home. Sometimes a farmer will weigh it and mark your box, and that’s always a bonus! This year my parents and I split 1/2 of a cow. We paid $1220 for the half and weighed our meat ourselves. We received 290lbs of beef. So we actually paid $4.20 per pound of meat.