Quarter beef or half beef, things to consider before you buy...
1. How much meat should we buy? There are a few things to consider to determine if a quarter beef or a side of beef is a better fit. Are you hoping this purchase will last you 3-4 months or 6 months? A helpful exercise you may want to try at home may answer this question. Over a two week period, track how much meat (or beef specifically) you buy, cook and eat at home. Then multiply that number by 26. The results may surprise you. Our quarter beef shares typical range in finished freezer weight between 87 - 94lbs.
Frozen beef holds it's quality well. This is especially true with the vacuum-sealed packaging that is used at Pioneer Meats (our hometown USDA inspected processor). So depending on how much meat your family goes through over the course of a month, it's nice to try and buy for six months or more at a time. Why? Mainly, because grass finished beef is best harvested within the season that the grasses are lush and growing or just at the end of the growing season (think late September or early October here in Montana). While it's possible to get good beef outside of this window, why not buy your beef share when it's in its peak of deliciousness.
2. How much freezer space will we need? If you'd like to buy a share of a large animal such as a beef, you're going to need a dedicated freezer. Your kitchen freezer will not cut it, sorry. In Montana with so many families also actively involved in hunting or fishing, this is not hard to come by. Freezer space is measured in cubic feet. So, let's cover how much space you should plan for with a quarter beef or side of beef.
If your freezer is a chest freezer, you can plan on storing approximately 22lbs of frozen meat per cubic ft. If your freezer is an upright one, then plan on 20lbs of frozen meat per cubic foot. I've found this information to be accurate with our freezers. For example, I can fit 3/4 of a beef into my 13 cubic foot upright freezer. I'll be honest though it's an exciting game of tetris to pull it off.
3. How much will it cost? Buying meat directly from the farm or ranch is different than buying from the grocery store in many ways. Many of these differences are awesome and straight-forward. However, the way the meat is priced can be the biggest learning curve that comes with making this shift in how you buy your meat.
Most producers price their shares of meat by the pound of hanging weight. This is different than the price per pound you're use to at the store. Hanging weight or the weight on the rail (aka "on the hook") means the weight of the animal minus the head, hide and internals.
In the example above if you were buying the whole beef, you will pay a price per pound by the hanging weight but your take home or freezer weight is about 60% of the hanging weight. The difference between hanging weight and freezer weight is greatly influenced by the cut selections made. More bone-in cuts and choosing to maximize ground burger will yield more weight. On the flip side, requesting extra lean and more boneless cuts will reduce overall weight. Also, the choice to keep bones for stock or pets and whether to use organ meats will impact final freezer weights.
If the price/lb hanging weight is $4.65 on a side of beef that weighs 350# you'll pay $1,627.50 for that side of beef. Your take home or freezer weight will be around 203lbs. How does that work out value wise? $1,627.50/203 = $ 8.01/lb that's for every pound from ground beef to filet mignon.
Be sure to clarify whether the processing fees are included in that price or not. We like to include the processing fees, but that is not typical. Often, you'll pay the farmer or rancher one check for the meat and the butcher or abattoir a separate check for processing which can be around $400 per side of beef.
Hopefully, this blog post has been useful in helping decide between a 1/4 beef or a 1/2 beef. Buying meat this way from your local producers can be intimidating the first time around, but the benefits are well worth it in the end. Thanks for reading.