If you are sick and tired of getting gouged on beef at the grocery store, purchasing a quarter of a cow might be for you. A quarter of a cow is basically what it sounds like: 1/4 of the carcass yield of a slaughtered cow, typically.
Sounds like a big slab of beef, but how much meat is in a quarter cow really?
A quarter cow will yield anywhere from 100 to 125 pounds (45 to 56 kgs) of beef depending on the size of the carcass, the chosen cuts, and the inclusion or absence of bones and organs.
That’s a ton of beef to fill your fridge and freezer with, but it isn’t just a bulk purchase for convenience…
A smart buy on a quarter of a cow can save you several dollars per pound over grocery store prices, and if you have a good connection with the supplier, you can get it processed however you want.
Keep reading, and I’ll tell you a lot more about understanding and buying beef by the quarter.
What Precisely is a Quarter of a Cow?
A quarter of a cow refers typically to a meat purchase that consists of one-fourth of the entire animal, usually carcass yield. Each quarter of a cow is divided into two sections, the front- and hindquarters.
One thing to keep in mind is that some sellers will advertise the nominal weight of a purchase based off the live or hanging weight of the cow: this means the weight of the cow before it is butchered and processed.
In this cases, your actual take-home is weight of beef, is far, far less than the advertised live weight: a 1,000 pound cow only yields around 600 pounds of beef, total, and a quarter-cow is only a small fraction of that!
Is a Quarter-Beef or Quarter of Beef the Same Thing?
Yes. Both terms are synonymous with the same type of purchase.
How Much does a Quarter of a Cow Cost?
The cost of a quarter varies considerably based on several factors. The breed and weight of the cow are the two biggest, as are the cow’s diet and lineage.
Supplier costs and processing also increase costs to you, as will the region: beef is cheaper in some places, more expensive in others.
Typically, the cost per pound in a quarter-beef can range from $3-$10, with additional fees for special processing, wrapping, and freezing possibly applying.
How Can You Calculate the Savings Per Pound When Buying a Quarter Cow?
Easily enough, but you’ll need to do some homework…
To calculate the savings per pound when buying your quarter of a cow, you first need to compare the price per pound of a given cut in the quarter with the price per pound of individual cuts of meat sold at the grocery.
For example, if ground chuck in your quarter of a cow comes out to $4 per pound, and the average price per pound of ground beef at the grocery store is $6.50, then you save $2.50 per pound on it by buying a quarter of a cow.
Simple, but you should check against all the cuts you are purchasing, and understand that your quarter-beef is probably sold straight across by the pound, so you’ll need to do some figuring!
Also, keep in mind those additional costs I mentioned if they aren’t included in the price-per-pound; it is possible that your savings might not be as significant as expected, in the end!
What Factors Affect Meat Quantity in a Quarter Cow?
The same factors apply as with slaughtering and processing a cow in the first place.
The size and weight of the cow, is the most telling; for instance, a larger cow will generally yield much more meat than a smaller cow.
Also, the cuts of meat selected by the butcher can also affect the quantity of meat received. Some cuts, steaks, will result in less meat overall than other cuts, such as ground beef.
Also, the skill and experience of the butcher is a significant factor: a skilled hand and sharp knives mean more usable meat is obtained from each carcass. Sloppiness results in waste, as always.
How Much of the Carcass Yield is Fat? How Much is Meat?
On average, a whole carcass will yield around 60-70% lean meat and approximately 20-30% fat, with the remaining percentage being bone.
However, the distribution of meat, fat and bone is not consistent from front to back! For a quarter of a cow, this means around 45 pounds of fat and 100 to 125 pounds of lean meat.
The actual amounts can vary significantly depending on the individual cow, as well as the specific cuts chosen by the butcher.
How Can You Maximize the Yield from a Cow Carcass?
If you want to maximize the edible yield of delicious beef from your quarter, you need to talk to the supplier and, if necessary, the processor and ask the right questions:
- Are you getting beef and beef alone, or will there be some bones and organs in your take-home weight?
- Is all that fat going to be removed before you receive it?
- Do you have any say so on cuts to your preference?
It’s critical to understand exactly what you can expect to get, and why…
Many local sellers also do their own processing on- or near-site. If you can, get to know who is doing the work of breaking down your quarter-beef: a good butcher will ensure a better yield from each carcass no matter what.
Lastly, ask for referrals; talk to other customers, especially repeat customers, and see how happy they are with their take-home yield.
What are the Different Cuts of Meat in a Quarter Cow?
A quarter cow contains various cuts of meat, including primal and retail cuts (assuming you don’t get it fully processed).
Your quarter beef will yield steaks, roasts, and plenty of ground beef, but once more your take-home might be decided by the butcher- or by yourself if you request custom cuts!
What’s the Average Weight of Meat in a Quarter Cow?
The average weight of meat alone obtained from a quarter cow is a little less than the quoted 100 to 125 pounds above; this is because even finely prepared cuts have bones and fat in them.
On that same token, bear in mind that packaging will likewise add to the weight somewhat, so you will be actually hauling home a little more than that figure.
How Much Space Will the Meat from a Quarter Cow Take Up?
The amount of space that meat from a quarter cow will take up depends entirely on the type and quantity of meat.
It is recommended to have at least 6 cubic feet of freezer space available for a quarter cow, which is roughly a bit more than half the size of a large chest freezer.
This is also the figure for usually packaged cuts; you can save a little space by vacuum packing, if available.
How Can You Find a Reliable Seller?
Finding a reliable seller for a quarter cow can be challenging if you live outside of cattle country but you will always have options.
In my experience, the best way is to start by asking friends and family if they have purchased meat in bulk before, and where they got it, if so.
You might also ask online for any local recommendations, and don’t forget to try local butchers or small groceries for leads.
You can also look for local farmers’ markets or just call or visit a nearby cattle farm to inquire if they sell quarter-beefs.
How Can You Ensure You’re Talking to a Good Supplier?
When you find a potential seller, ask about their experience, exactly how they raise and feed their cows, and if they follow any specific animal welfare practices. Most trusty cattle ranchers will be more than forthcoming with this info.
Evasiveness is a red flag! It’s also essential to discuss pricing and processing fees upfront to avoid any nasty surprises later on. Remember what I said about not getting as good a deal as you thought?
I also specifically recommend you make sure the seller is licensed and inspected by local health authorities, as required, to ensure your safety and quality control.
Losing your investment would be bad enough, but getting you and your family deathly ill is way worse!
Tim is a farm boy with vast experience on homesteads, and with survival and prepping. He lives a self-reliant lifestyle along with his aging mother in a quiet and very conservative little town in Ohio. He teaches folks about security, prepping and self-sufficiency not just through his witty writing, but also in person.
Find out more about Tim and the rest of the crew here.