One of the many benefits I thank my parents for is that my family owns and operates a custom meat facility in the area, in addition to a dairy farm. It can be a hard way to make a living, both physically and mentally.
One of the many benefits I thank my parents for is that my family owns and operates a custom meat facility in the area, in addition to a dairy farm.
It can be a hard way to make a living, both physically and mentally. However, the appreciation for where food comes from, and the passion that I now have for raising food, can be directly related to my experiences working with my family on our operation.
One of the many questions that I have witnessed from some of our customers was during a custom order pickup as we opened the freezer door and pulled the crates of frozen meat out. You almost always knew the question bouncing around in their minds as they mentally tried to weigh out the amount of meat they were getting back from their animals. “Where’s the rest of my meat?”
You see when an animal comes in to be processed, a lot of weight that is inedible or waste is removed at termination, right off the bat. We call this percentage of hot carcass weight, compared to live weight, which is the animals’ dressing percentage.
For easy numbers, let’s take a market steer that weighs 1,000 pounds live when it is processed. If that animal is of high quality and not too fatty, its dressing percentage should be around 63 percent (beef industry standard), leaving us with a carcass weight of 630 pounds.
Now in the United States, beef is not only graded for quality (Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, etc.) which equates to the flavor, texture and tenderness of a piece of meat. Yield grade, or the cutability of a carcass, also matters.
Yield grade scores, from 1 to 5, are used to determine the amount of meat that will come out of a carcass after it’s broken down further into specific cuts. The lower the yield grade, the greater amount of the carcass weight is meat vs. fat/waste.
If the animal you are purchasing is “ideal,” you would want the yield grade to be 2 to 3, to make sure there is a decent amount of fat for quality purposes.
The last factor that plays into how much meat a customer can expect to receive back from the processor is how many of the cuts have been requested as boneless. In a perfect world, about 65 percent of the carcass weight (not live weight) will be the amount of retail cuts you receive back from your live steer. The 35 percent taken off of the carcass is excess fat, bone, sinew and any imperfections in the meat that have been deemed inedible.
If we go back to our example, our 1,000-pound live steer with a dressing percentage of 63 percent left us with a carcass weight of 630 pounds. After it was cut into individual pieces, we would then expect the final weight of meat received back to be about 410 pounds of meat.
I used the example of a market steer for relatability, but the same discussion can be had for every other livestock species. The differences between them would be dressing percentages and of course, the reality that not all animals are cookie cutter-identical; they don’t come out the same on the cutting board, although the market animals raised in the United States are quite exceptional.
It’s this farmers’ take to always ask your local producers questions if you have them, and heed their word. We all need to be more trusting of each other, and most conflicts are usually a misunderstanding—or in this case, a slight lack of industry insight.
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