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Buying In Bulk: The Best Way to Buy a Whole or Half Cow

So you have the freezer space, some money saved up, and you’re ready to invest in some quality beef for a good price. Just go find a farmer and buy a cow, right?

Next thing you know, you’re hearing terms like “on the hoof” weight and hanging weight. You’re being asked if you want T-bones or Filets…you can’t have both. One person tells you that you need to pick it up at the butcher and pay them separately. Another person tells you that you can’t just buy a half, that you better find some friends to go in with. What in the world happened to just buying half of a cow?

We’ve tried to simplify the whole process and we think we’ve just about got it figured out.

We’ll still explain it, but you don’t have to worry about hanging weight. All you pay for is the beef you actually get.

Forget live weight and dressing percentages and guessing how much you’ll actually get. If you’re buying a half, you’ll get 200 pounds. A whole is 400 pounds.

Don’t be concerned with paying a butcher separately, we’ve already taken care of that.

Driving to pick up your meat and wondering how you’ll get all of that home? We’ll ship it right to your door, already frozen.

Your job? Decide what you want, click buy, and we’ll handle the rest. It’s really that simple.

Let’s dive into the whole process. It’s long, so buckle in.

Here’s how the “not Hi Bräu” process works.

You first have to find a farmer that sells bulk quantities, or even sells beef at all. Since most cattle farmers in the US have what’s called a “cow-calf” operation, they don’t specialize in finishing quality beef for customers. Their job is to produce a calf to sell between four and ten months old. Even at best, that calf is still eight months away from being properly finished. If they did happen to have an animal that they’ve marked for harvest, you have to wonder how it was raised, what grass or feed it was finished on, how old it is, how it was treated, if hormones were used, and the list goes on.

All that aside, let’s say you’ve found a farmer with what they say is a quality animal and you’re ready to purchase. The good news? You’ve purchased a cow for only about $2,400! (Live weight price of a hormone free, all natural, grass fed and finished steer is about $2.00 per pound for a 1,200 lb cow at the time of writing). That’s $1,600 cheaper than buying through Hi Brau. You’re doing great! So what next?

After that, you have to negotiate how to get the live cow you’ve purchased to the butcher. Sometimes the farmer includes this in the purchase price, sometimes they don’t. It must be negotiated. You got a pretty good price on that cow so we’re going to assume that the transport wasn’t included. Let’s add on another $150 for that. You also had to call the butcher and set up the date. He was booked pretty far out (they always are) and it took some begging, but you got a date set up in a few weeks and you’ve coordinated drop off with the farmer for him to use his truck and livestock trailer to get your cow to the butcher. It cost you another $150 and you have to wait a few weeks, but you’re still only at $2,550.

Next thing you have to do is go through the cut sheet with the butcher. Your greatest hope here is that the butcher is very patient and has plenty of time. Let me tell you, despite growing cattle for my whole life, I was totally lost the first time I had to fill out a cut sheet.

There are several cuts that prevent you from getting other related cuts. Do you know all of the names of the steaks? The roasts? Did you want your ribs cut Flanken, Dino, or English? How thick should your Shanks be? What about all of the fat? Did you figure in the cost of slicing Liver? Or the extra fees associated with single packaging of steak? You know whether to leave the fat cap on your picanha or not, right? And did you want fat added to your Ground? Where do you want your fajita strips to come from? This is just a sample of some of the questions you’ll need to answer.

So your butcher was patient and you spent an hour trying to get your cut sheet filled out and you’re pretty comfortable with it. You then ask how much all of this will cost and he gives you the best answer he possibly can….he has no idea. All he can tell you is that it’s based on hanging weight.

Hanging what?

Live weight, or “on the hoof” weight, is the actual weight of the animal while it’s walking around in the pasture. Hanging weight is the weight of the carcass once the head, hide, lower legs, blood, and organs have been removed. This is very important because this is what most people base the cost of bulk beef off of.

Most farmers take the hanging weight, multiply it by a number that sounds really good (usually $4.00 - $6.00 per pound), and that’s how you buy the animal. Now that’s not how you did it, you bought a whole, live cow! We’ll say your friend Sarah bought a cow based on hanging weight though.

Hanging weight is usually around 62% of the live weight, so in this case 744 pounds. Sarah paid $2,976 (744 x $4.00, the cheapest price in our range) for her steer by hanging weight. You’re still at a measly $2,550, so you’re doing great!

A few weeks go by and the butcher calls…it’s time to pick up your fresh beef! Your butcher has it packaged and frozen and it’s ready to go. When you ask if it’s USDA inspected, he tells you no. That’s an extra fee and those butcher dates are even harder to come by. Hope the farmer did a good job.

Both you and Sarah had a similar cut sheet. The butcher charges $1.35 per pound of hanging weight, which puts you both at a minimum of $1,000. Hold on though…you wanted some different options. As most people do, you wanted some of your Ground Beef in 1 pound packages rather than 2 lbs. You wanted some of your steaks packaged individually rather than in pairs. You wanted some cubed steak, some fajita meat, and some kabobs. You wanted your beef liver sliced. Though those are standard requests, the butcher charges extra for each of them. Your butcher’s fees are now up to $1,300. Whoa! More than you expected, but you had no way of knowing until just now. The butcher’s fees are always a surprise because nobody knows the hanging weight until the animal has been slaughtered.

At this point you better have a truck or a trailer because your car just isn’t going to cut it. It’s a lot of beef! You find a suitable vehicle, grab the money (for the price you just heard for the first time), and go to pick up your beef. It’s a lot, but you comment that it doesn’t look like 744 pounds of beef. The butcher quickly tells you that it’s because it’s not 744 pounds of beef. That was just the hanging weight.

The amount of beef you actually get is called the packaged weight. It’s usually around 60% of the hanging weight. After the extra fat, inedible parts, and bone have been removed, this is what you’re left with. This is the amount that actually goes into your freezer. That 1,200 pound cow you started with? Now you’re down to 446 pounds at best.

You get home, fit everything into the freezer, and thaw out a steak. All this work and you finally have your reward! You cook it up, let it rest, and are ready for the grand finale. You take a bite and…it’s ok. Maybe that farmer wasn’t experienced in raising a cow for beef after all. Too late now, you have 446 pounds to enjoy!

So what did it cost Sarah and you?

It cost Sarah $2,976 for her cow when she purchased it by hanging weight, the weight nearly every farmer uses to sell beef. It then cost her $1,300 for the butcher’s fees. Sarah paid $4,276 for her cow, or $9.59 per pound, plus having to go pick it up from the butcher.

You were a little smarter though. You only paid $2,400 for your cow, $150 for having it hauled to the butcher, and $1,300 for the butcher’s fees. You’ve come out pretty well! Your total was $3,850, or $8.63 per pound.

So what did you have in it? Of course you have the $3,850 that you spent on getting the beef. You also had the time and effort to find a farmer, to negotiate the purchase of a cow, to negotiate transportation, to make one payment to the farmer, to fill out the cut sheet, to learn the whole process, to then go pick up the beef, to make another payment to the butcher, and to haul it back to your house. Not to mention whatever gas you burned through the whole process. At the end, you can only hope you end up with good beef. If the beef wasn’t that good…well, you’re stuck.

That brings us full circle. You now know the process of both buying a live animal and having it slaughtered for beef, and you know the process of buying beef by the hanging weight.

So what is the process to buy a whole cow from Hi Brau Beef?

It’s not quite as long: Select which breed you want on our website from the comfort of your smartphone, pay with your credit card, and have it shipped to your doorstep. The cost? $4,000, or $10 per pound.

You already know exactly how much you’ll get, there’s no waiting, and all of the costs are included in your one payment. If it’s available for purchase on the website, then it’s already in stock. The best part is you know that you’re buying quality beef from a reputable source that is educated and experienced in raising the best beef money can buy.

In the end, like most things, you can save some money by doing it yourself.

You just have to ask yourself if it’s worth the confusing, time consuming process of going the DIY route to save $1.37 per pound? Or would you rather have it show up at your door?

One last VERY important comment…our 15% on-farm pickup discount applies to our bulk quantities too. That brings the cost to $8.50 per pound when you purchase from Hi Brau and pick it up instead of shipping it. You could also pay $8.63 to do all of the work yourself. Your call.

Shop our bulk beef here.

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