Save yourself time and money by buying a side of beef at a time. Buy a quarter, half, or whole beef and experiment with new cuts!
We’ve been buying half a cow at a time now for years. Generally a half of beef will last us (a family of four) a year.
So if your family is bigger, or go through a lot of meat, you may want to buy a whole beef.
If you don’t need that much meat, see if your farmer will do a quarter of beef or find another family to split side of beef with.
How to Buy a Side of Beef
The first place to start is the farm.
You can simply google “beef farm [location]” or “buy a side of beef [location]” to find beef farmers near you, but I would highly recommend getting personal referrals instead.
We bought a side of beef from one farmer and it was amazing. The second side we bought from him was nearly inedible.
You’ll be spending a lot of money at one time and buying a LOT of beef, so you want to ensure that it’s all delicious.
There’s nothing stopping a farmer from taking an old dairy cow to the butcher and selling that meat as a side of beef.
Technically, it is a side of beef…however you’d never want to eat it.
If you don’t know someone personally that has bought a side of beef before to recommend a local farmer, post a question in a local Facebook group for recommendations.
Since we moved to our homestead, our neighbors just happen to be the best cattle and pig farmers in the county, Hayfield Farm, so we know our farmer first-hand, and even help them with their animals.
How Much Meat is a Side of Beef?
The amount of meat you’ll get on a side of beef depends on the animal. Some breeds are smaller than others.
Live weight is the amount the animal weighs before butchering. Generally speaking this will be in the 1200-1600 lb arena.
Hanging weight is the weight of the whole cow after it has been dispatched and the head, skin, organ meats and front and rear fetlocks removed.
Generally speaking, the hanging weight is about 60% of the live weight.
However, hanging weight does still include the bones and fat, so you can expect roughly 60% of the hanging weight in meat.
Hanging weight is usually what the farmer will quote you when they talk about a price per pound.
Your farmer will likely tell you the “kill date” of your animal, but keep in mind your side of beef will dry cure for at least two weeks.
How Much Does a Side of Beef Cost?
This will depend on your farmer. Generally speaking you can expect to pay $3.50-$5.50 per hanging weight pound.
You can guestimate an 800 lb hanging weight on a full cow and a 400 lb hanging weight on a half.
So depending on your farmer, the total cost of a side of beef will be between $1400 and $2200.
And you can expect roughly 200 pounds of meat. These are all just estimates to help us with our calculations below:
Is Buying Half a Cow Cheaper?
In addition to the price per pound for hanging weight you’ll also likely have to pay separately for the butcher – but clarify this with your farmer first.
So for 200 lbs of meat at the $3.50 hanging weight price, you’re paying about $7/lb of beef.
So $7/lb is a lot for regular store-bought ground beef, but is an economical way to get your more expensive cuts of beef like rib eyes and new york strips.
Now if you’re buying grass fed, organic ground beef you’re looking at $9/lb for storebought.
So to get the most out of your side of beef I have some tips:
- Buy quality – grass-fed, organic, pasture-raised, happy cows
- When filling out your cut sheet, ask for the soup bones, fat and organs – you’re paying for them anyway and you can always make beef bone broth and tallow
Cuts of Beef
A cut sheet can be overwhelming when you’re not familiar with all of the cuts of beef that are available.
It helps to understand the full butchering process. At the beginning, your butcher will break the animal down into eight “primals”.
These primals are then broken down into sub-primals, or smaller sections of meat.
- Chuck: From the shoulder and neck of the cow, chuck contains the top blade, bottom blade, beef ribs, neck, shoulder, chuck filet, chuck steak, chuck roast and ground beef.
- Brisket: From the chest of the cow, the brisket is usually kept whole to roast or smoke.
- Shank: The top of the legs, shank meat tends to be tough and usually used for stew meat or ground beef.
- Rib: Ribs are the meat taken from the rib section and backbone of a cow. Although there are 13 pairs of ribs, only the last six pairs are part of this section of beef. Rib cuts are divided into short ribs, rib steaks, rib eye steaks, cowboy steak, rib roasts, ribeye steaks and back ribs.
- Loin: Common sirloin cuts include for sirloin steak, top sirloin, bottom sirloin, and tip roast, also known as sirloin tip roast. New York steaks (New York strips), Kansas City steak (KC strips), t-bone steaks, tender bone tenderloin, filet mignon, porterhouse steaks, london broil and sirloin steaks.
Hayfield Farm has a great explanation of the different cuts and what cuts and how much to expect when ordering half a cow: Filling Out a Cut Sheet
- Short plate: A short plate sits near the stomach of the cow, which makes it feel fatty. This is where you can get brisket, hanger steak, skirt steak and ground beef from.
- Flank: This primal cut under the loin is tough but tasty. Two famous cuts of the flank side are the flank steak and the skirt steak.
- Round: This primal offers a tough cut of beef as it is taken from the cow’s thighs. Subprimals on this side include round steak, round eye, tip roast, top round, and rump roast bottom.
Don’t stress too much about which cuts you select, however, unless your family has specific favorite beef-dishes.
Buying half a cow gives you a wide variety of cuts to choose from and can be a creative challenge in the kitchen! It encourages you to cook meals you wouldn’t normally cook!
We love filling our deep freezer with local, delicious, grass-fed beef. I love the challenge of cooking with individual cuts I don’t normally buy. We will only ever buy a side of beef at a time now. It’s well worth it!