If your meat-eating family has ever been on a budget, doubtless you’ve asked yourself “how much does a cow cost?” Does it actually save money to buy a half or a quarter of a cow and stow the cow cuts away in an extra freezer, using them periodically throughout the year?

This question is on all of our minds right now because we are trying to limit trips to the grocery store during the novel coronavirus pandemic. (For more ways to shop smart and stay safe during these uncertain times, check out our Complete Coronavirus Guide.)

Also, I don’t know about you, but right now, I can’t always find meat at the store due to increased demand. But hey, if you download the KCL app, you’ll be the first to know about any meat deals our teams see!

So, back to the question: How much is a cow and is the side of beef you’ll get worth the price?

 

When it comes to beef price per pound, expect to pay $4.45-$6 per pound (hanging weight).

What’s hanging weight and why does it matter when we talk about buying a cow?

When you’re shopping for a cow, the price per pound you see on a farm’s website will be based on the hanging weight, which refers to the unfinished cuts of meat on a cow. That means that all the stuff on the cow you don’t eat, like entrails, hooves, etc. is still factored into the price.

So, let’s talk about calculating prices based on hanging weight and fees. Your local farm will set these prices, so they will vary based on a lot of factors, but these are approximations:

  • Half- or full-cow prices: $3.95-$5.50/pound
  • Processing fee: $0.50/pound
  • Kill fee: $50

Calculate the hanging weight price for a full 460 pound cow:

Step 1: $3.95 price per pound + $0.50 per pound processing fee = $4.45 per pound
Step 2: $4.45 per pound x 460 pounds = $2,047 hanging weight price
Step 3: Add $50 kill fee
Step 4: Total fee: $2,097
Step 5: Divide total fee by 460
Step 6: Final Price: $4.55 per pound hanging weight

 

Calculate the finished cut weight in order to compare prices with your local grocery store.

“Finished cuts” are the actual processed and packaged beef that you eat. With this number you can compare prices with what you’d buy at the grocery store.

I’ve found that you’ll get an average of 60-80% of the hanging weight in your finished cuts. This means you’ll lose 20-40% of the cow (and nobody is crying too hard about this — it’s the head and entrails).

More math — stay with me. Using 30% as an average loss amount, calculate your hanging weight full price against your new, lower quantity of meat.

Calculating the finished cut weight:

Step 1: 460 pounds hanging weight x .30 loss = 322 pounds finished cut weight
Step 2: Divide $2,047 hanging weight total fee from above by 322 pounds: $6.36 per pound finished cut weight

The price per pound, $6.36, is the number you’ll compare with grocery store prices. Speaking of which…

 

Only compare your cow price with organic, grass fed grocery store beef.

When you buy a cow, you’ll get grass-fed, organic and local meat. So you have to create an apples-to-apples comparison. (Yes, you can also buy a grain-fed cow, and yep, it’s cheaper. But since most local ranches sell grass-fed cows, we’ll only look at that.)

Purchasing grass-fed or organic beef at the grocery store is expensive, which is why you’re here reading about how to buy a half cow or more! Now let’s look at half-cow finished cut prices compared to Kroger’s price on organic, grass fed beef:

Ground beef:

Half-cow finished cut: $6.36-$8.57/pound
Kroger: $6.99-$7.99/pound

Ribeye steak:

Half-cow finished cut: $6.36-$8.57/pound
Kroger: $19.18/pound

Strip steak:

Half-cow finished cut: $6.36-$8.57/pound
Kroger: $19.18/pound

I hope you’re seeing a trend! The more expensive meats are the same price per pound as the cheaper meats when you buy a cow! Find out why next…

 

RELATED: Things You Need to Stop Doing at the Grocery Store

 

 

Some cuts of meat on a cow have deeper savings — like steak and roasts.

While ground beef prices are in the same ballpark as grocery store prices, cuts like steaks and roasts offer big savings when you buy a cow.

Why? Because ranchers offer a lump sum price on the hanging weight of the cow or half-cow.

When you break it down by price per pound, you don’t differentiate between different cuts of meat. Meaning you’re getting around $7 per pound for ground beef, which is around the same price as at the grocery store, but you’re also getting $7 per pound for ribeye steak, which is $12.18 less than the grocery store price!

So if you’re a steak or roast eater, buying a cow is absolutely worth the savings.

 

 

Buying a whole cow or half a cow (not a quarter cow) will get you the best deal.

A whole or a half cow are comparable in price when you break down the hanging weight and finished cuts price per pound.

But a quarter cow is more expensive than both, running between $7.07-$9.28 per pound. That’s $0.71 more per pound when you go with a quarter cow.

If you can’t afford a whole or half cow (or you don’t think you’ll eat that much meat), the price is still better than grocery store prices overall. But if you’re looking for the absolute most bang for your buck, avoid the quarter cow.

 

Store your side of beef in the freezer for up to one year.

Make sure you’re up for eating all this low-priced, grass-fed, humanely raised beef before it goes bad!

You’ll have one year to consume it if it’s vacuum sealed and put in a chest freezer. Figure out how much meat you’ll have to eat in a week based on your family’s size to decide how much you’ll need.

If a half-cow averages 240 pounds of hanging meat, that’s 144-185 lbs. finished cuts of meat. This means a family of four would need to eat about 3-4 lbs. of beef every week in order to get through all the meat in one year.

 

Be willing to eat all cuts of meat in order to make buying a cow worth your while.

If you’re buying a whole cow, you’re buying the whole cow quite literally and different parts of the cow yield different kinds of meat.

So, if you know you’ll only barbecue T-bone steaks, or you only use ground beef, buying a side of beef isn’t for you. A half-cow purchase typically includes:

  • Tenderloin Steaks (Filet Mignon)
  • Ribeye Steaks
  • NY Strip Steaks
  • Sirloin Steaks
  • London Broil Steaks
  • Flank, Skirt & Hanger Steaks
  • Short Ribs
  • Shoulder / Rump Roasts
  • Chuck Roasts
  • Briskets
  • Shanks (soup bones)
  • Liver
  • Stew Meat
  • Ground Beef
  • Top & Bottom Round Roasts

 

RELATED: Grocery Store Restock Schedules Explained

 

Don’t have the freezer space for a whole or half cow? Get select cuts of beef directly from a farm.

You don’t have to buy the whole cow in order to get meat directly from the farm. But when it comes to steaks and roast, you’ll pay more to buy it a la carte style.

When you buy specific cuts of meat from a farm, you’ll pay more like you would at the grocery store. Steaks and roasts will be more expensive than ground beef. If you’re only interested in ground beef, this can be a great option. But if you want steaks and roasts, it’ll get spendy.

 

 

How do I find out how to buy a cow near me?

Look into resources and websites that will help you get in touch with a local farm.

You can reach out to your local farmer’s market for information or check out these websites to find a farm near you:

 

Don’t scroll up! Here are the articles mentioned:

Things You Need to Stop Doing at the Grocery Store
Grocery Store Restock Schedules Explained

 

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