How Many Pounds of Meat Can We Expect From A Beef Animal?

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All humor aside, you might be onto something if your meat-eating family has ever been on a budget and you’ve wondered, “How much does a cow cost?” Does purchasing a quarter or half of a cow and storing the cow cuts in a second freezer for sporadic use throughout the year really save money?

My family does have a limited budget, so I set out to determine how much money I could save on meat purchases and whether or not that cow would be financially worthwhile in the long run.

Download the KCL app for meat deals and other money-saving advice and coupons before I discuss what I’ve learned.

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A growing number of consumers and beef producers are utilizing local food systems, which includes buying or raising beef for local processing. Many people struggle to plan their freezer space because they are frequently surprised by the amount of packaged beef they receive. Consumers, beef producers, and beef processors may frequently disagree on this and have misunderstandings about it. You can use this guide to estimate how much meat a beef animal will produce. Check out MSU Extension Publication 2522: Beef Grades and Carcass Information for more details.

It’s crucial to realize that a beef animal weighing 1,200 pounds won’t produce 1,200 pounds of beef for the freezer. The removal of skin, fat, bone, and organs during the processing of beef significantly reduces the final weight. The total amount of beef that can be taken home is also impacted by moisture loss from evaporation during processing. The weight of the beef you take home decreases with each carcass cut.

The dressing percentage measures the hot carcass weight as a portion of the animal’s live weight at harvest. Following the removal of the head, hide, and internal organs, the hot carcass weight is calculated.

The following formula is used to calculate the dressing percentage:

(hot carcass weight ÷ live animal weight) × 100

where the weight of the unchilled carcass after the head, hide, and internal organs have been removed is the hot carcass weight.

The typical beef cattle dressing percentage ranges from 60 to 64 percent. However, dressing percentage can vary widely. A 1,200-pound steer with a hot carcass weight of 756 pounds, for instance, would have a dressing percentage of 63 percent. The average dressing percentage (common misconception) states that the consumer will take home 63% of the animal’s live weight. But this 63 percent also contains moisture, fat, and bone, all of which will be lost during processing.

The weight of the head, hide, horns, gut fill, and the amount of mud and manure on the hide are some of the elements that affect the dressing percentage. In addition, the percentage of dressing is influenced by the type, breed, and even finishing of the animal. For instance, we anticipate grass-finished cattle to have a dressing percentage that is lower than average, whereas an animal that was over-finished (had too much external fat) would have a dressing percentage that is higher than usual.

It’s important to keep in mind that some processors weigh animals on the farm before shipping (to give the digestive tract time to empty) and some processors weigh animals just before harvest, even though there is a standard formula to calculate dressing percentage across animal types. Dressing percentage is just the first of many steps where weight is lost; it does not provide a precise amount of beef for the freezer.

Because it is the weight that is taken directly from the processing floor, hot carcass weight is known as such. The process’ crucial third step is to chill the carcass. Because moisture is lost through water evaporation when meat is chilled, carcass weight is impacted. A carcass is approximately 70 to 75 percent water. This moisture is lost during the cooling process, and the dressing percentage does not take this loss into account.

Water evaporating from the carcass as it cools results in weight losses of 2 to 5 percent of the hot carcass. This is known as cooler shrink and it happens over a 24-hour period.

Aging is simply the practice of storing whole beef carcasses or wholesale cuts at cold temperatures to allow natural processes to improve tenderness and flavor. To increase tenderness, beef can be aged for 4 to 5 weeks, but the amount of cooler space in the processor frequently affects the aging period. The aging process and duration will differ from one processor to the next. There will be some weight loss from additional water evaporation when the carcass is dry-aged (as opposed to being vacuum-packed), and some dried edges will need to be trimmed during the process. Less beef will weigh when it is aged for longer periods of time.

The carcass will be further processed into cuts after being chilled and aged. The carcass will first be divided into sides (also known as halves). Split in half from nose to tail, a side is a dressed carcass. Each half will be split into quarters. Customers frequently decide to split or quarter an animal with others instead of buying it whole because they do not want to.

From this point, the quarters are then fabricated to primals. The main primal cuts are the round, loin, rib, and chuck. The front quarter gives the rib chuck, brisket, and plate. The hindquarter gives the flank, round, sirloin, and loin. These primal cuts are further divided into subprimal cuts.

Subprimals, also known as retail cuts, are meat portions that allow for the separation of lean from fat, thick muscle from thin muscle, more valuable portions from less valuable portions, and tender from less tender muscles. Final weight is further decreased as the carcass is processed further, removing more bone and fat.

The freedom to select desired cuts when having a beef animal butchered is one of the main advantages. The cut options for each of the primal and subprimal cuts are shown in Tables 1 and 2.

Perhaps the most daunting task of having an animal custom processed is choosing which cuts of beef to take home. Custom fabrication is one of the highlights of processing beef locally. This section describes the choices available for each of the primal cuts. Figure 1 describes each primal and the retail cuts found in each section of the carcass. For more details on the cuts of beef from each primal, along with suggested cooking methods and recipes, visit

How Many Pounds Of Beef Per Cow?

The chuck is generally divided into four subprimals.

  • Lean chuck tender steaks can be made from the chuck tender, which can also be served whole.
  • The chuck eye roll and the under blade are two subprimals that make up the chuck roll. The roll can be cooked as a whole roast or divided into Delmonico steaks and country-style ribs. The flatter part of the chuck roll under the chuck eye roll is where the under blade originates. The under blade is the fourth-most tender muscle. It can be sliced into the value-added cuts Sierra steak and Denver steak or left whole in roast form.
  • The shoulder clod yields three subprimals. From the traditional roast form of the shoulder clod arm, three steaks can be made: arm chuck steak, ranch steak, and shoulder steak. From its roast form, the shoulder petite tender can be cut into petite tender medallions. The popular flat iron steak and the top blade steak can be made from the top blade.
  • The square-cut chuck is primarily used to make ground beef, but there are a number of options for fabrication, including cross-rib chuck roast, chuck neck roast, chuck short ribs, pectoral meat, and chuck flap/edge roast.

The brisket can be served whole or separated into the fattier brisket point and the leaner brisket flat. Customers who choose not to consume the brisket whole typically choose to have it ground into ground beef.

Popular choices for the shanks include stew meat or ground beef However, it can be shank crosscut into cross sections and used to make dishes like osso buco.

The rib contains some of the most flavorful and tender beef cuts. The rib has two subprimals, each with a large number of options.

  • For a ribeye roast that can be cut into prime rib steaks, the ribeye roll can be left uncut. Traditionally, this subprimal beef is cut into ribeye steaks or ribeye filets.
  • The rib also contains a subprimal bearing its own name. Back ribs, rib fingers, and rib short ribs are all found in the rib subprimal.

The plate primal is located directly under the rib. There are other options besides the stew meat and ground beef that is occasionally produced from this section. Inside and outside skirt steaks are perfect for fajitas. Other well-liked dishes from this primitive cuisine include hanger steaks and plate short ribs.

Some of the most tender and well-liked cuts come from the loin primal. It’s crucial to remember that if you choose one, you can’t choose another. The subprimals are tenderloin, strip loin, and short loin.

  • The tenderloin can be separated from the strip loin and made into filet mignon steaks or a tenderloin roast. This will leave the strip roast, which, when sliced, produces New York strip steaks.
  • Tenderloin and strips are combined with the short loin to produce porterhouse and T-bone steaks. Because the porterhouse is a combination of the strip and tenderloin, it is important to remember that you cannot choose porterhouse steaks if you prefer filet mignon and strip steaks.

Top sirloin butt and bottom sirloin butt are the two subprimals of the sirloin.

  • The tri-tip roast and petite sirloins can be made from the bottom sirloin.
  • The top sirloin butt can be either sliced into top sirloin steaks or left whole and trimmed as a lean top sirloin petite roast.

Flank steak is the only major option for the flank. It is excellent for fajitas or stir-fries.

The heaviest wholesale cut of the carcass is the round. It forms the leaner, less tender muscles of the rump and hind legs, which are used for movement. The round can be used to make ground beef, tender steaks for country fried steak or cube steak, and flavorful roasts. There are four subprimals in the round.

  • Bottom round can be sliced into steaks, which should be tenderized or marinated before grilling, or it can be cut into roasts (bottom round, bottom round rump, and outside round rump).
  • Either eye of round can be made into eye of round roast, which is frequently used for deli roast beef, or it can be cut into steaks, which should be marinated before grilling.
  • The sirloin tip should be ground into hamburger or left in roast form. For the best results, they should be marinated before grilling if they are cut into steaks.
  • The inside of the back leg is where the top (inside) round originates. For this subprimal, the top round roast is a popular choice, but it can also be cut into steaks. Santa Fe steak, also known as the top inside round cap, can be used similarly to skirt or flank steak.

Factors Affecting Yields of Retail Cuts

The amount of final packaged meat varies according to the carcass’s fat, bone, age, and muscularity. The amount of product from the carcass is most influenced by the amount of carcass fat. An animal loses more trim the more external fat it has. As a result, excessive finishing not only results in higher feed costs but also lower final product yields due to excess trim. A carcass’s percentage of retail product will increase with improved carcass muscularity. For instance, compared to animals of the beef type, dairy-type animals will produce less. However, it’s crucial to remember that muscle has a greater impact on increasing retail product than carcass fat does on reducing the amount of final product.

The amount of product from a carcass will also be affected by the cutting instructions. More boneless cuts will result in a lighter retail product weight. Trimming retail cuts results in lower yield and ground beef with less fat.

Aging also impacts yield. While beef should be aged to increase flavor and tenderness, longer aging times cause the carcass to lose moisture more quickly. Additionally, increased dry aging causes the surface of the carcass to become more dehydrated, which can result in dry, leathery areas that need to be trimmed off. In carcasses with little external fat, loss from prolonged aging is increased.

Specific factors impacting retail yield:

External fat that is over 14 inch thick is removed from retail cuts of carcasses. This trimming causes one of the biggest weight losses from the carcass and lowers the percentage of retail cuts.

Muscularity: A carcass’s retail cut yield increases with its level of muscle.

When comparing cuts with and without bones, boneless cuts will result in a lower overall weight of retail cuts.

Leaner ground beef has less fat, resulting in a lower final yield weight and less take-home product.

Carcass abnormalities: Carcass abnormalities include bruising and abscesses. They are taken off, which reduces the total weight of retail cuts.

Aging: Although it increases tenderness, it reduces overall yield. The greater the carcass weight loss, the longer the meat is aged The loss occurs for two reasons. First, carcass dehydration removes water weight. Second, the yield is decreased if the meat is dehydrated for a prolonged period of time because the dehydrated, dry areas are removed.

The 1,200-pound steer described here yields a variety of cuts and amounts of meat that are detailed in Tables 1 and 2:

With a dressing percentage of 63, a 1,200-pound steer’s hot carcass weight should be 756 pounds. The carcass will weigh approximately 726 pounds once it has been chilled, assuming a 4% cooler shrinkage. An additional 30–40% will be lost as fat trimming and bone if mostly boneless cuts are chosen. As a result, you will have roughly 470 pounds of beef in the freezer.

According to a general rule, the take-home weight of packaged beef will be around 40% of the animal’s live weight or 75% of the weight of the hot carcass.

Note that these are only estimates. As previously mentioned, actual values vary depending on the type of animal, fabrication choices, and other factors.

Table 1. Estimated amount of meat expected from the hindquarter of a 1,200-pound steer.1

Primal/Subprimal cuts and % of freezer-ready meat2

Pounds of freezer-ready meat

Hindquarter cuts

Cut options3

Number per half beef

flank 4%






sirloin 9%





8 steaks

short loin 8%


porterhouse and T-bone steak/filet and NY strip steak

porterhouse and T-bone steak

filet and NY strip steak

14 steaks

round 24%


sirloin tip




1 roast

top round



tenderized steak

eye of round



tenderized cube steak

bottom round



rolled rump



1Amount of retail cuts expected from 470 pounds of beef resulting from mostly boneless cut choices.

2Percent of freezer-ready beef expected from each primal cut.

3May select only one of the available cut options for each.

Table 2. Estimated amount of meat expected from the front quarter of a 1,200-pound steer.1

Primal/Subprimal cuts and % of freezer-ready meat2

Pounds of freezer-ready meat

Front quarter cuts

Cut options3

Number per half beef

rib 9%


primal rib

rib steak

rib eye steak

rib roast

chuck 25%


chuck short ribs

short ribs

ground beef


boneless chuck roast

chuck steak

ground beef

18 steaks or 6–8 roasts


arm roast w/ bone in

boneless roast

ground beef

2–4 roasts

brisket 6%




cut in half

ground beef

1 roast

short plate 7%


skirt steak



short ribs



suet and hanging tender 4%


hanger steak


shank 4%


shine bone w/ meat

pieces for soup

ground beef

stew beef



1Amount of retail cuts expected from 470 pounds of beef resulting from mostly boneless cut choices.

2Percent of freezer-ready beef expected from each primal cut.

3May select only one of the available cut options for each

For both producers and consumers, estimating the amount of product to expect from a beef carcass can be challenging. When discussing their needs and wants, producers who sell beef directly to consumers should communicate the proper expectations. This article aims to assist cattle producers in having those conversations with customers.

Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. (2014). Beef Cuts Guide: Primal and Subprimal Weights and Yields.

Holland, Rob. (2014). How Much Meat to Expect from a Beef Carcass. University of Tennessee. Knoxville, TN.

Publication 3489 (POD-08-20)

By Brandi Karisch, Ph.D., Associate Extension/Research Professor of Animal and Dairy Sciences; Madeline Poss, Beef Extension Intern; and Cobie Rutherford, Extension Instructor, 4-H Youth Development Program

Copyright 2020 by Mississippi State University. All rights reserved. For nonprofit educational purposes, this publication may be copied and distributed without modification so long as credit is given to the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Produced by Agricultural Communications.

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