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.
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.
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