As interest in local farm-to-table food increases, many consumers are interested in purchasing a locally raised beef animal to accompany their locally sourced vegetables and fruits. However, the amount of meat actually available from a beef animal is a frequent source of misunderstanding among consumers, processors and cattle producers. 

Consumers who buy a live animal from a local cattle producer for custom processing are often surprised in one of two ways: the quantity of meat they receive and the amount of freezer space they need, says Dwight Loveday, a food scientist with University of Tennessee Extension. 

When the live beef animal is harvested, approximately 58-63 percent of the live weight will end up in the cooler. This is termed “dressing percent”. There are several factors that can affect dressing percentage. Generally speaking, anything that increases live weight (like horns) but which does not appear on the carcass will decrease the dressing percentage. Likewise, anything that increases the carcass weight (superior muscling or excess fat) can increase the dressing percentage. After placement in the cooler, the carcass typically loses another 3-5 percent of its weight in the first 24 hours due to surface moisture loss. It can lose even more depending on the length of aging.

There are several factors that will influence the amount of packaged beef that is available to take home. For example, the fatter the carcass, the more fat that must be removed thus lowering the weight taken home. Similarly, the choice for leaner ground beef (10 percent fat versus 20 percent fat), the fewer pounds available of packaged meat. 

Cutting style will also influence the yield. For example, if the carcass is fabricated into mostly boneless roasts and steaks and the short ribs are boned and used for ground beef, then the bone weight from these cuts is not in the take home meat weight thus lowering the cutting yield. Superior muscled animals can increase the cutting yield. Extended aging (beyond 7-14 days) tends to lower yield because more of the surface fat and lean may need to be trimmed away. 

As a rule of thumb, approximately two-thirds of the carcass weight will end up in take home beef retail cuts. For a 1,200 pound steer this can be in the range of 500 pounds of meat packaged for consumption.

About 1 cubic foot of freezer space is needed for 30-35 pounds of packaged meat. A colder freezer temperature results in better quality frozen meat. The closer the freezer operates to 0oF, the better.
For more information, including many helpful graphics regarding meat cuts, read the UT Extension online publication How Much Meat to Expect from a Beef Carcass. This publication is available at the UT Extension website: extension.tennessee.edu. Just click on the link to “publications” and enter the search term “meat,” to see a link to the free publication. You may also contact your local county UT Extension office or access the publication directly at this URL: http://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/PB1822.pdf
Contributing authors of the publication include Loveday, Rob Holland, director of the UT Center for Profitable Agriculture, and Kevin Ferguson, UT Extension Area Specialist in Farm Management. 

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issue at the local, state and national levels.

The UT Institute of Agriculture provides instruction, research and outreach through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch, including its system of 10 research and education centers, and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.