Cost Guide: How Much is a Whole Cow for Your Meat Supply

Buying a whole cow for meat saves money, offers control over meat type, and requires freezer space. Plan ahead and find a reliable source for purchasing.

Buying a Whole Cow

So you’re looking to counter the rising cost of beef by buying a whole cow for meat.

Purchasing meat in bulk may be a significant money saver, provided you have the foresight to plan ahead and the room in your freezer. It also gives you the option to control what type of meat you are consuming – you can get truly grass fed beef or grain fed beef – and you’ll know how it was raised.

Many farms and meat processing facilities provide consumers with placing a beef order of purchasing a whole, half, or quarter cow.

The way pricing works when buying a whole cow for meat is that you’re charged a dollar number for each pound of “hanging weight,” which is the animal’s weight before it gets aged and processed.

However, some butchers base the pricing on the cow’s weight when it’s still alive (rather than pound hanging weight), so you’ll need to inquire about that with your butcher before placing your order.

The butcher will take care of all the processing and packing, so all you have to do is place your order and pick up your meat once it’s prepared. From the time of order until pick-up, the process typically takes anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on the season and availability.

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Where to Buy a Whole Cow for Meat 

Buying a whole cow for meat is a bit of an undertaking. Therefore, fewer people do it compared to those who take the more convenient route of buying their meat in small quantities at the grocery store. You can also look into just getting a side of beef or quarter cow.

For those who are determined to buy a whole cow for meat, the reward is lower cost and fewer trips to the market.

However, with that said, buying a whole cow for meat does have its challenges, and you may have to get creative and stray off the beaten path to find a source for buying cows.

If you haven’t already, an excellent place to start is by asking your close friends and family members if they’ve ever purchased a whole cow from a nearby farm. Then, inquire about their experiences – there’s no better way to learn about a local business than by talking with a real customer. 

When in doubt, look up your local options on the internet. Try search queries such as “buy whole cow + your area” in your search engine of choice. The results should give you a range of at least a few options from which to choose. 

Then look for an email address or phone number to call. Don’t hesitate to phone the farmer and ask them personally if you have any questions. The farmer will inform you of the length of time you will be required to wait for pick-up. Buying a whole cow is not a click, click, online purchase (yet).

Another option for finding a source to buy a whole cow from is to seek a butcher business on its own property. In other words, not the butcher at your local big chain grocery store. A butcher will be able to tell you who the local farmers are and give you their contact information. 

One other source worth looking into is your local farmer’s market. Usually, you’ll only be able to buy pre-cut meat at a farmer’s market. Still, it also opens up the opportunity to meet any farmer/rancher/butcher who sets up shop at the market. 

If you strike up a conversation, you can inquire as to whether they would be open to selling you a whole cow or even if they would raise a cow for you, and you can arrange to pay for it. 

Once you’ve found a cattle rancher or farmer, it’s usually a pretty simple process to pick up as long as you have a vehicle with decent space. Load your boxes into your car and go to the address. A complete cow’s worth of meat can be transported in a truck or SUV.

Available Cuts 

Beef Cuts

One of the perks of buying a whole cow for meat is having every possible cut of the cow available to you. 

Prepare ahead of time by doing some preliminary research and thinking about what your family enjoys eating: more steaks or more roasts, for example.

Would you like to have more ribs or more hamburgers? Would you like to have more hamburgers or more meat for stews? How do you plan on cooking your steaks?

The meat you get may be stripped of excess fat and be well-marbled, depending on your tastes. Know what you want in advance so you can let the butcher know if you want a lot of fat or if you want most of it trimmed off.

Vacuum-sealed tubes contain the ground beef, while vacuum-sealed bags contain the other cuts. As a result, you’ll likely receive a finished product that weighs slightly more than half of the total hanging weight.

The answers to these questions will guide you in the right direction for what you want the butcher to prioritize. 

You have a great deal of control over how your beef is processed when you purchase it this way. 

For example, steak thickness and the number of cuts or pounds of meat in each package may all be customized by the processor. 

In other words, if you notice that usually your family needs an additional half-pound or pound of ground beef for dinner, or if you know that a one-pound package is usually too much for you and your household, you may adapt your purchases to prevent waste.

Benefits of Buying a Whole Cow for Meat 

To someone who has never bought a whole cow for meat before, they may look at you crazy if you tell them you’re thinking about doing it. However, there are various benefits of buying a whole cow for meat. Here are just a few of them.

  • You save a lot of money on your meals if you eat a lot of beef. 
  • Once you have a whole butchered cow in your freezer, you don’t have to make as many trips to the market. 
  • You have more control over each individual cut of meat (and get otherwise expensive cuts like the tongue and skirt or beef knuckle).
  • You have the option of buying only a grass-fed cow, which is more natural and healthier than meat from typical grain-fed cows. 
  • You’ll be able to load your freezer with meat from a cow that roamed on lush meadows and gained weight organically while eating grass. Compare this to the cattle that were removed from their mothers at an early age, kept in cow-lined stock pens, given corn, unnatural supplements and antibiotics, and growth hormones. 
  • You get to support small local farmers and ranchers 

What to Ask Yourself, the Rancher & Butcher 

  • How long do you think it will take your family to consume a whole cow?  
  • Will you require a larger freezer?  
  • How far will you have to travel to collect the meat?  
  • How long will the beef remain healthy to eat once it has been frozen?  
  • What will the price of the meat be per pound? 
  • Is my payment dependent on the hanging weight or the weight of the butchered end product? 
  • Is there an additional charge for processing the meat? 
  • When can the meat be picked up from the farm? 
  • What kind of quarter do you want to buy? 
  • Is it a mixed quarter or just the front or the rear quarter? 

Cost of Butchering a Cow 

How much should you anticipate paying for a whole cow? When purchasing a cow for meat, it’s customary to pay a “market rate.” Almost always, ranchers will give you an estimate of how much the hanging weight will be so that you can determine how much it will cost.

The price you pay per pound covers anything from ground beef to premium steaks that you would probably pay more than $10 per pound if purchased separately. So one of the benefits of buying in bulk is that you save money.

On average, you can expect to pay around $5.60 per pound, which is quite a bit cheaper than buying store-bought beef, which comes out to approximately $7.40 per pound.

So that’s a 25% savings. It’s an even bigger savings compared to high-quality beef that you might find at an online retailer like Crowd Cow, Porter Road or Snake River Farms. For 750 pound of beef from a 1200 pound cow, that works out to $4200.

Keep in mind that you can also request for the butcher to include the bones, marrow, heart, tongue, oxtail, and liver, which have many uses, from making your own soups and even soaps.

By buying a whole cow, you get to use the entire animal, eliminating costs on things you would have already purchased, like soap or broth.

How a Cow is Weighed 

If you haven’t purchased a whole cow directly from a farmer, you may be perplexed by some of the terminology. Cows are weighed in various ways that you should be aware of so you have a better idea of what the overall cost is going to be. 

First-time customers need to understand that even if their half cow weighs 1200 pounds while alive, you won’t receive that much meat.

It’s common for processors to dry-age the meat for several days, which reduces the amount of moisture present in the meat, and thus the weight decreases.

Bones and undesirable organs are removed from the carcass during the butchering process, lowering the overall weight. Of course, you can request for these parts to be included if you want. You can expect to see about 750 pounds of meat from a 1200-pound half cow, depending on various circumstances.

Live Weight 

As the term implies, live weight refers to how much the cow weighs while still living. You can expect a live cow to weigh an estimated 900 pounds at the age of 1-2.5.

Hanging Weight 

Hanging weight is the cow’s weight after it has been killed, skinned, and gutted. In most cases, this is the weight at which frozen beef is normally sold.

Take-Home Weight 

Take-home weight is the weight of the meat you take home with you after it has been sliced and/or ground to your liking. Depending on the cuts you choose, you should expect this to account for around 60% of the total hanging weight.

Required Freezer Space 

KoolMore SCF-20C Chest Freezer, 20 cu. Ft, White

You will most likely require more room than is already available in your kitchen. Because there is a lot of meat involved (even if it’s all in tubes and packaging), the ideal solution is to set up a specialized freezer in a garage or basement for storage. 

Prices for freezers capable of storing beef range from a couple hundred dollars for a model capable of housing a quarter cow to more than a thousand for bigger versions with more storage space.

A quarter cow can fit into around a 4-cubic-foot freezer. A fully-butchered cow will need a freezer of about 16 cubic feet most likely. 

Once you’ve returned home with your marbled treasure, beef will stay good in the freezer for 9-12 months. 

That’s a long time, but keep in mind it’s a lot of meat, so it’s a good idea to consider your household’s current monthly beef intake so that you don’t buy more than you need. If you don’t think your household would consume a whole cow in that amount of time, or you’re unsure, you can always start with a half cow or quarter cow and then reassess. 

Storage temperatures range between 10 and 15 degrees Fahrenheit, with the meat being taken out of the freezer one day or two before being used. Prevent repeatedly warming and chilling the meat to avoid spoiling the meat.

FAQs About Buying a Whole Cow

Here are a few FAQs about buying a whole cow.

Is it worth it to buy a whole cow?

It’s worth it to buy a whole cow if you consume a lot of beef, you care about where that beef comes from, you want to save a lot of money, and you have the storage space to preserve your meat while you consume it.

How much meat do you get from a 1200 pound cow?

You can expect to see about 750 pounds of meat from a 1200-pound cow, after removing organs and moisture, depending on various circumstances.

How much meat do you get from a 1000 pound cow?

You can expect to see about 625 pounds of meat from a 1000-pound cow, after removing organs and moisture, depending on various circumstances.

How much meat do you get from a 800 pound cow?

You can expect to see about 500 pounds of meat from a 800-pound cow, after removing organs and moisture, depending on various circumstances.

How long does it take to raise a cow for slaughter?

If the average daily weight gain for a 500-pound calf is 1.5 pounds per day, it will take about a year (367 days) to grow it to 1000 pounds – source.

How much does a whole cow cost?

It depends on the market rate, but at $5.60/lb, the meat from a whole cow would be $4,200.

How much should half a cow cost?

It depends on the market rate, but at $5.60/lb, the meat from a half cow would be $2,100.

How much is a 1/4 of a cow cost?

It depends on the market rate, but at $5.60/lb, the meat from a half cow would be $1,050.

What do you get when you buy a whole cow?

You can get really whatever you request from the farmer and butcher. Most butchers will exclude the organs and will dry age the meat to remove most of the moisture.

Final Thoughts 

Depending on where you get your meat, you may also benefit from developing a personal connection with the cattle rancher who raised the cow so you can get a better idea of where and how the animal was grown. That same goes for your relationship with the butcher, who can work with you to figure out what kind of cuts you like most and things like how much fat you keep.

Buying a whole cow for meat is an involved process that is a lot less convenient than just picking up a couple of steaks here and there from your local grocery store. However, the final result will be a freezer full of beef that you can eat for up to a year, one less incentive to go grocery shopping, and a large amount of money saved on your grocery bill.

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