We have sold meat retail by the cut or as locker meat (in bulk). We regularly get questions about how much meat someone will take home. I asked the same thing when I was new to buying meat direct. I didn't want to pay twice the price and get half the meat. Yes, I wanted humanely raised meat. Of course I wanted to avoid chemicals that were bad for my family. But, I also didn't want to get ripped off. I also wanted to know what is reasonable to expect in these sorts of transactions.
Here are a few terms that you may hear and rough guidelines for what to expect. These are only to give you an idea. Expect some variation.
Live weight / on the hoof - this is how much the animal weighs alive walking around eating, drinking, and doing their thing. This can fluctuate. Stress a full size cattle a little and it can poop a fifty pound weight loss overnight. Or if it's been cool and has warmed up, they may spend disproportionate amount of time sunbathing and drop a little weight of what's in the GI system. Give them a bale of sweet hay and they may gorge a little. Cattle are usually weighed either on a scale or a guess. Sheep and goats are often sold by count - meaning how many - without regard to weight. Hogs can go either way and the finished weight depends on how old they are and their type.
Hanging weight - this is the weight of the carcass hung for aging (for ruminants) or ready for processing for hogs. This is after being bled out, the head removed (except with whole hogs), organs removed (sometimes not the kidneys), and usually the lower leg and feet removed. This is what the butcher will work with to get all of your cuts and packages. If you are buying locker meat, this is usually the weight used if you are paying by the pound.
Finish weight - this is how much you take home. During the butchering process, bones, fat, and some of the outer meat dried in the aging process are removed and usually discarded. My butchers don't usually weigh again at this point.
Kill fee - the processor usually charged for killing each animal unless they have a flat-fee (usually for sheep and goats). This can be different based on the age of the animal, usually costing more if they are older than two years. If buying locker meat, this is usually divided proportionately among buyers. So, if buying half the beef, you pay half the kill fee.
Cut & wrap - this fee is paid to the butcher based off the hanging weight. Usually the purchaser of locker beef can select how they want the meat packaged - how many steaks per package, how many pounds of ground meat per chub, how big for the roasts. With lambs and goats, I usually put in the order. If someone cares that much, they can let me know beforehand and place the order with the butcher. People seem to care more about the cuts with beef. Do you want picnic ribs or ground beef instead, for example.
Delivery - my experience is that delivery is usually not included. Including delivery really negates recouping the cost of raising the animal for the farmer, but sometimes it is provided. When offered, expect it to be on the farmer's schedule so that they can combine it with a trip they are making to your area for another reason.
Locker meat / Not for resale - this way of purchasing meat allows for owners to have their livestock processed without having to comply with all of the USDA food safety inspections. If that sounds scary, that's not my experience. The butchers I use run clean shops, but they don't have as much overhead by paying a USDA inspector to hang out with them all day watching what they're doing. When buying locker meat, you are technically buying the animal, or co-buying it with others, and you're having the butcher process it for you. That is why you pay the farmer for the animal and the butcher for the meat processing. You get a larger quantity of meat, usually at a better price than you can buy comparable meat at the store, and with premium cuts, too. Because locker meat is not USDA inspected, it cannot be used for resale or in restaurants. (I believe the USDA only regulates livestock, so exotic meats may not require USDA oversight. You can check into this further for elk, bison, deer, ostriches, alligator, etc.)
Retail meat / USDA inspected - the animal is taken by the owner to a processor who kills and processes the animal under the watchful eye of an USDA inspector to ensure food safety standards are followed. This type of butchering costs more, but the farmer can then sell the meat piece by piece (and collect sales tax) or for use in a restaurant. Pricing is usually $XX/lb or may be priced by the package. (Don't worry about kill fees, hanging weight price, or cut & wrap.) The US has a history of horrible meat handling practices that this oversight is designed to remedy. It is a public health concern, and as such it does cost a little more. If you don't want a freezer full of meat, this might be a better option. Farm fresh USDA inspected meat is usually not graded and does usually cost more that supermarket meat, but has much more flavor, more like purchasing catalog meat.
Factors Affecting Weights & Yields
Please keep in mind reading through this that there aren't hard and fast rules to percentages to know how much meat will come each step along the way. There are a lot of factors that affect it.
Breed - the breed of the animal will affect the meat yield. For example, my lowline angus steer may be roughly the same height (or a little shorter) than a Jersey (dairy) steer. Because of selective breeding, the lowline is inclined to be thicker fleshed with much more muscling. At the same time, the Jersey as a dairy breed has developed a bigger skeleton to support calcium and phosphorus demands of milking. I would expect there to be a greater loss from the live weight to take-home weight of the dairy steer versus a beef steer of the same weight. That said, my Ayrshire steers and dairy-beefer crosses look quite meaty.
Gender - my experience has been that the males put on more muscle faster than the females for all our ruminants. Bulls and rams (intact males) do not taste bad ... I doubt people can distinguish the taste. They are leaner, however, so if you're looking for higher meat yield with less fat, intact males are a good option. I don't know how this works for the male goats. We don't eat a lot of the females.
Age - animals butchered at their prime butchering age will yield more edible steaks and chops. When they get older, they get tougher and are better suited for ground meat. This is not a bad thing unless you don't like ground meat. They are also often more flavorful.
Cuts Selection - if you select cuts with the bones removed, your finish (take-home) weight will be less than if you select cuts with bones in. Aging meat longer, which helps it develop a deeper flavor and more tender texture, also results in more meat lost because the outer dried layer that needs to be removed is thicker and there is more evaporation of water from the meat.
Weights & Yields
Hanging weight as a percentage of the live weight:
(end weight is roughly how many pounds you may anticipate taking home):
Wife to Brandon, mother to Tess and Liam, farmer, entrepreneur, cook & baker, nurse, and accountant who loves to try new things, travel, and work toward greater self-reliance.