Consumers who buy a live animal from a local cattle producer or 4-H member for custom processing are often surprised by the amount of beef they receive, the amount of freezer space needed and that they did not get back the entire live weight of the animal in retail cuts.  This article will discuss how to estimate how much meat you will receive when purchasing an animal to harvest.

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A beef carcass is composed of 70 to 75% water.  As it is chilled, water evaporation will cause the carcass weight to decrease.  It is not uncommon for a chilled carcass to weigh 2 to 5% less than the hot carcass.  That means our example 880-pound carcass could lose nearly 40 pounds during chilling solely due to water loss by evaporation!

At Carwood Farm, we make it easy for you by giving you an idea of the amount of beef you’ll get for your freezer**. Of course, we can’t give you an exact poundage because cows don’t all weigh the same.  The “final” or “take-home” weight is the weight of the meat that you will bring home to put in your freezer.    This weight is usually about 70% of the hanging weight.  On average a quarter of beef weighs about 200 pounds (hanging weight) so the final weight, after processing, would be about 140 lbs (estimated).

Dressing Percentage In Perspective

Dressing percentage is calculated by dividing the warm carcass weight by the shrunk live weight of the animal and expressing the result as a percentage. For example, suppose that an animal delivered to the packing plant weighs 1300 pounds. After being killed, the hide, head, feet and gut are removed. The warm carcass then weighs 767 pounds. The dressing percent of this animal would be 767 divided by 1300 multiplied by 100 equalling 59%. This “59%” represents the meat and skeletal portion of an animal compared to its live weight. Note that the animal is weighed after transportation to the packing plant so that live weight is a shrunk weight. Also note that the carcass is weighed warm as opposed to cold. The dressing percentage for a cold carcass can be 2.0 percentage point lower than the warm carcass dressing percentage for the same carcass.

Breed Effects

Meaningful comparisons of dressing percentages among breeds are difficult to make without knowing the reasons for the differences. For example, one breed may typically have a higher dressing percentage because that breed tends to carry more finish at a given weight. If body fat is trimmed off, then the dressing percentage may be similar to other breeds.Dairy cattle commonly yield three percentage points less in dressing percentage than beef cattle. Dairy cattle tend to lack both finish and muscularity, and therefore, have a lower dressing percentage.

While dressing percentage differences can be related to mature size, there are other factors such as the weight of the hide, head, feet and viscera, which all have an impact. Breeds such as Hereford or Simmental, which tend to have a heavier hide, head, feet and viscera will have a lower dressing percentage since these body parts are excluded from the carcass weight. By contrast, Angus or Limousin breeds tend to have higher dressing percentages because of the relatively smaller portion of their live weight composed of hide, head, feet and viscera.

Gender Effects

Heifers usually have a 1.5 to 2.0 percentage point lower dressing percentage than steers at a similar fat level. As a whole, heifers tend to carry more waste fat in the udder, around the internal organs and on the carcass than do steers.The difference in dressing percentage between steers and heifers narrows as heifers become fatter than steers. Since heifers mature earlier, they are usually marketed 100 to 150 pounds lighter than steers.

There is a risk that heifers are pregnant at the time of slaughter. Pregnant heifers have a lower dressing percentage than open heifers. The drop in dressing percentage relates to the size of the fetus, the uterus and embryonic tissue and fluids.

Diet Effects

Cattle on a high roughage diet, such as hay, silage or pasture, have a lower dressing percentage than cattle on a high proportion grain diet, even if the cattle are marketed at very similar fat levels. At the Lethbridge Research Station,the entire digestive tract of slaughtered steers was weighed. Gut fill, as a percent of live weight, was higher in steers on a hay diet than steers on a grain diet. In this trial, steers on the grain diet had an 8% higher dressing percentage than steers on the hay diet. But when carcass weights were based on body weights, excluding gutfills, there was no difference between steers on either diet.

How Much Does A Cow Weigh?

Beef cattle (raised for meat production primarily) and dairy cattle (raised for milk primarily) typically weigh differently, but even among the beef or dairy breeds, we have huge differences. I’ve used data from research and calculations on The Pennsylvania State University, North Dakota State University, and Wikipedia itself to get the most accurate and recent data about cow weights (by age and by gender).

I’ve used this data to put together tables of weights for heifers (female calves) by month, and some data on the major breeds in the US and their average weights.

Herders always weigh a cow at weaning, which is the time when a calf is separated from the mother. Ideally, this is at 7-8 months old. Cows continue gaining weight until they reach 7 years of age, then they slowly lose weight until they leave the herd.

How Much Does A Beef Cow Weigh?

A typical beef cow such as Angus weighs around 1210 lbs (550kb) for a mature female, and around 1870 lbs (850 kg) for bulls (on average). For a typical herd, this is not a very useful answer because the herd may consist of a variety of cows by age and breed.

Angus beef cow will be about 450-550 pounds when 6 months old, while a mature heifer could weigh anywhere between 800 and 1400 pounds. Heifer growth is usually compared to breed standards to determine normal progress.

How Much Does A Dairy Cow Weigh?

Depending on the breed, a full mature Holstein dairy cow weighs around 1,500 lbs (700 kg) on average, a mature Ayrshire weighs around 990 to 1,320 lbs, while the Jersey breed (being among the smallest of the dairy breeds) weighs around 900 lbs (410kg) on average.

How Much Does A Calf Weigh?

A calf is a young domestic cattle, and its weight quickly grows every month.

The calf at birth will weigh about 82 pounds. A commercial steer (bull calf) is expected to put on about 71 to 79 lbs (32-36kg) per month, while a heifer puts on less, depending on the breed.

I’ve looked more closely into dairy cow heifer weights by age, and got the data from PennState Uni on heifer growth and the average and recommended weights of the most popular dairy cow breeds in the US.

How Much Does A Cow Weigh When Butchered?

For commercial productions, cows weigh usually 900 to 1,350 pounds at slaughter. The average cattle weight at slaughter will depend on customer demands, which determine the age range and weight of cattle.

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