How Much Does It Cost To Butcher a Cow?

If you live on a farm or homestead and have thought about owning cows, one of the biggest motivators besides milk is the prospect of getting hundreds and hundreds of pounds of high quality beef for cheap.

Milking Shorthorns cows in the field
Milking Shorthorns cows in the field

Or at least, cheaper than you can buy it at the grocery store!

But the journey from beef on the hoof to beef in your freezer or refrigerator means that the cow is going to have to be processed by a butcher, and that is a whole extra set of costs.

So, how much does it cost to butcher a cow?

It can cost anywhere from $400 to $1,000 to butcher a cow depending on your location and the cost of services like transportation, killing, wrapping, and any special cuts or products you might desire.

Butchering, as you can imagine, is an extremely involved process when it comes to a full-size cow, and demand in your local area and many other factors can dramatically influence the final figure.

Keep reading, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the costs associated with butchering a cow…

What Fees are Involved with Butchering a Cow?

One thing that might complicate your assessment of the costs associated with butchering is the fact that many of the fees attended with the process could be incorporated into the bottom line figure you get from the butcher… or they might be on a more ala carte basis.

For instance, some butchers will give you a cost that is the front-to-back expense for butchering your cow, including killing the animal if necessary and even transporting it prior to processing and delivery or pickup of your finished cuts.

Other butchers might have a separate fee for every service that they will render, and the disposition of those fees is up to your choices.

1. Transporting the Cow

Looking at the most commonly associated costs, transport is one that is typically optional. Hey butcher might be able to come to you for processing, or you might be solely responsible for getting your cow to them.

Transportation costs vary dramatically depending on who is doing the transporting and how, and how far away the butcher is.

If pickup of the cow is required, this might be a completely separate line item or it could be factored into the processing cost per-pound. Some butchers charge by the mile for transport.

2. Killing and Slaughtering

The next major fee you are likely to see as a separate item is the one for killing the cow, commonly called the kill charge.

No, this isn’t the cost of the bullet as some people assert: it is the cost for dispatching and slaughtering the cow in earnest, including gutting and skinning.

After all this is done, the cow will be down to its hanging weight.

Depending on where you live and the preferences of the butcher, you can expect to shell out anywhere from $40 to over $100 for killing, gutting and skinning.

3. Cutting and Packaging

After this, it is down to business and the primary cost associated with butchering, the cutting and packaging fee.

Broadly, this is usually anywhere from 50 cents to a dollar or more per pound of hanging weight of the cow.

Remember that the hanging weight is about 60% of the weight of the live cow, on the hoof. This, more than anything else, will let you get a quick estimate on the cost of butchering.

This factor is also closely tied to geography; butchering typically costs a lot more near densely populated areas and less in rural areas where cows are typically raised.

4. Other Costs

And then lastly, you have special processing costs. This might be something like vacuum-pack shrink-wrapping which usually entails an extra charge per pound of hanging weight.

This will give you a much better shelf life under all conditions compared to the typical butcher’s paper wrap for your finished cuts.

Then there are the cuts themselves; special finishing or processing into jerky or any kind of sausage is going to entail additional costs which are highly variable depending on the butcher.

Some butchers might not offer any special services at all, and others that do might charge fairly exorbitant fees if they just don’t like doing them in order to discourage customers from going that route.

What’s important is that you make sure you understand precisely what you’ll be getting for the agreed-upon figure, or estimate, prior to handing over your cow for butchering.

How Long Does it Take to Completely Butcher a Cow?

It depends on the number of butchers working on it and the skill of those butchers, but generally, a cow carcass can be slaughtered and then broken down into finished cuts in 2 to 6 hours- not including the time to cool the carcass.

Of course, the time it takes your butcher to actually finish your cow and prepare your beef for pickup is dependent upon how many people are ahead of you, their workload and other factors.

Can You Butcher Your Own Cow?

Yes, you can. It is entirely possible to butcher your own cow with the right setup, the right tools and equipment and with some experience, although if you aren’t already in possession of the tools you’ll need it probably is not going to be a cost-saving proposition.

On average, once you factor in the cost of tools like a set of butcher knives, boning and skinning knives, cleavers, a meat saw, hoists and tackle, buckets, butcher paper and a bolt gun to humanely dispatch the cow, you’re looking at several hundred dollars.

Accordingly, if you are planning on butchering your own cows going forward, this might be a good investment that you can recoup after just one or two cows.

But unless you really want to try it yourself as an exploratory venture or after getting drained, you’re probably better off just sending your cow to the butcher.

What’s the Best Time of Year to Butcher a Cow?

Concerning the quality of meat, the best time to butcher your cow is usually in the fall when cattle are at their heaviest and have the most meat on them.

But, if you want to keep costs down, you’re better off having your cow slaughtered in non-peak seasons when a butcher might need a little extra income to make ends meet, no pun intended.

So What’s the Total Cost to Purchase and Butcher a Cow?

Assuming you are purchasing a full-grown beef cow that is ready for slaughter, that will be an additional $2,000 to $3,000 right up front.

Assuming the cow weighs about a thousand pounds, it will have a hanging weight of around 600 pounds, meaning butchering is going to cost anywhere from $400 to $1,000 depending on the butcher and other associated fees.

So if you want to buy a cow and have it butchered, you’ll be spending anywhere from $2,400 to $4,000 for an average yield of 360 pounds of beef.

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