Beef and Pork Whole Animal Buying Guide

Beef and Pork Whole Animal Buying Guide

Today, as more and more beef and pork producers return to the marketplace to sell directly to consumers, it is again common for individuals to buy meats locally and in quantity—typically by quarter, half, or whole animals. Buying beef or pork in quantity allows you to choose not only what quality of animal you would like—how the animal is raised and fed, what breed—but also exactly how you want the meat cut and packaged. How thick do you want your steaks, for example? Do you want ground meat in one-pound packages, two-pound packages or made into patties? Do you want beef jerky, bratwurst, or ring bologna?

According to this recent article from  Denise Schwab, ISU extension beef specialist, Beth Reynolds, IBC extension program specialist, and Erika Lundy-Woolfolk, ISU extension beef specialist,  "A great way to improve communication and understanding between producers and consumers is the publication Beef and Pork Whole Animal Buying Guide” PM2076. It clearly explains these simple facts as well as provides basic information on various common beef and pork cuts and tips for preparing each.

A common question we get this time of year relates to selling beef directly to consumers and helping customers understand what to expect. The advantage to purchasing a whole, half or quarter beef is that the customer can select their preferred cuts, weight limits and package size. However, a challenge for the new customer is understanding what they will take home. Many first-time buyers may not know what cuts to ask for from the locker. One resource that might help them is the collection of Iowa Beef Industry Council beef cut charts.

One of the big shocks to customers is how much packaged meat they receive from a live animal. As a general rule of thumb, one can expect a carcass weight (includes meat, external fat and bone) to be about 60% of the live animal weight, and about 65-70% of that carcass weight is available to the customer after trimming extra fat and bone for the final product they take home. For example, a 1200-pound animal produces a 720-pound carcass which yields about 480 pounds of packaged retail beef cuts.

If you’ve tried to schedule locker space you know that processing beef has become a bigger issue in recent years. The number of local lockers is declining, workers are hard to find and schedules are extremely tight. Since harvest space with the local locker needs to be scheduled months to a year in advance, consumers often are surprised by the wait time, and the realization they need to plan far in advance to purchase their beef.

Be sure your customers know in advance how you are selling your beef, the price payable to you, and who is responsible for the processing cost. With many of our local lockers being ‘custom harvest’ only, it is often much easier to sell the live animal with the purchaser paying all processing costs. Selling the live animal is a common option, while others sell based on hot carcass weight. The third, and arguably most complicated, strategy is to sell individual retail cuts. Remember, if you plan to sell retail packages of beef, you need to harvest at a state inspected locker for in-state sales or a federally inspected locker for out of state sales.

An additional tip to help your customers is to determine storage space needed for what they’re purchasing. Fifty pounds of meat needs about 2.25 cubic feet of freezer space, and many freezer compartments in a refrigerator are about 4-5 cubic feet.

Finally, don’t assume your customer understands the process of purchasing and processing beef. Communicate all details with them in advance. "

The Beef and Pork Whole Animal Buying Guide is available to download or you may purchase a full-color, coil-bound consumer-oriented guide, order online, call the office or stop in to order.  Our office is open Monday -Thursday 8:00am-4:30pm or call Denise at 641-872-1755.