How Much Meat Is A Quarter Of A Cow?

Are you thinking about buying a quarter, half, or whole beef? If so, you might be wondering exactly how much beef is in a share…

a quarter cow meat in freezer
a quarter cow meat in freezer

But what does that mean exactly? How many pounds of beef are in a quarter cow?

A quarter cow (or beef) typically has 100 to 150 pounds of actual take home meat. The meat is a mix of ground meat, ribs, steak, liver, and more depending on choice and availability. This weight is about a third of the hanging meat.

Buying a whole, half, quarter, or whatever- quantity animal is almost always a better deal than buying meat piece and parcel at the grocery store.

Not only do you save time, hassle, and energy by purchasing the entire animal at once, but more often than not, local farmers will even package the meat for you. All you need to do is free up storage space in your freezer.

It’s not possible for everybody to buy a whole or partial animal, but for my family, it makes a lot of sense.

There are some considerations you need to make, but by and large it’s a great way to feed your family for a year or more.

When I first told my sister that we had a quarter of a cow in the freezer she wondered how we managed to get the meat off the bone when we wanted it.

She asked, “Do you have to saw off a big chunk or something?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. She imagined it like one huge hunk of meat, literally one-fourth of the cow like what you’d see hanging in the butcher’s freezer.

I explained that it comes nicely packaged by the pound, similar to what you buy in the store.

How Much Should a ¼ Beef Cost?

As more people move to the local food and grass-fed movement, I’m noticing more people asking me this question.

Once or twice a year, we buy a bulk order of beef from a local farmer. When you get in on an order, they typically require you to buy at least a quarter of a cow.

Sometimes they’ll charge you less per pound if you can buy a whole half of a cow, but you’d need an entire chest freezer to store that amount of meat.

A friend of ours just sent one of his steers to butcher, so our freezer is now nicely stocked with 1/4 of a cow. 100% organic, grass-fed beef, just the way we like it. It was a killer deal at $4/lb.

The total came up to $405, for cut and packaged meat. It’s an investment that should last us about 8 months or so.

Tips for Buying A Quarter of a Cow…

When you first decide to buy a quarter of a cow, make sure you understand the conditions of your purchase first.

Here are a few things to keep in mind…

Hanging Weight vs Live Weight

Farmers butcher cows at different weights and sizes, and butchers process the meat in different ways as well.

Some farmers will advertise their meat by selling it as “live weight,” or “hanging weight,” while others only tell you exactly how much meat you will be taking home.

Hanging weight, also known as dressed weight or carcass weight, is the cow after all of the inedible parts have been removed. This includes the hide, feet, head, bones, etc.

Live weight, also referred to as “on the hoof,” is the entire animal’s weight, usually while it is still alive or right after it has been killed.

If you are talking to a farmer and he is selling you a 1000-pound cow, keep in mind you won’t get 1000 pounds of meat. You will usually get around 60 percent or 600 pounds.

Bones, Blood, Organ Meats, etc.

It’s important to decide in advance whether you want to keep all the animal byproducts, as this can make a difference in your purchase. Live weight usually includes pieces of the animal like bones, blood, and organ meats.

It might also include things like oxtail, tongue, soup bones, and other offal. Make sure you specify in the cutting instructions what you do and do not want to keep.

If you don’t want these, you may end up with less overall poundage of food. Keep in mind that while you can’t really eat bones or blood (obviously), they are a great way to amend your garden and serve a variety of other roles as well.

I personally love to make bone broth, so I definitely was not going to pass up the bones when I got my share of the cow!

Therefore, if you are resourceful and willing to experiment, it’s not a bad idea to take the entire cow instead of just the meat.

Farmers and butchers are often quite grateful for this, too, as it means they don’t have to pay to dispose of the byproducts.

Bone-In Versus Boneless

You also need to decide if you want bone-in versus boneless. Sometimes you don’t get a choice. This is often the case if you are only buying a portion of the cow, like a quarter, instead of the whole cow.

A farmer is not going to provide his customers with a million different options in most cases, because this is a huge hassle for him and for the butcher.

You will generally receive the same option as all of the other “cow-partakers”. The same rule applies to how much fat is left on the cuts. If you’re purchasing grass-fed beef, there is hopefully very little fat.

Now, when you’re working with the local farmer, he will also likely factor in processing costs. Most of the time, this has to be done off the farm at a location inspected by your area’s health department.

As a result, the farmer often pays those butchering fees out of pocket, and you are expected to reimburse the farmer for his expense.

This price increases if you opt for several value-added options, like hot dogs or hamburger patties.

Decide ahead of time whether you want to select these options, because while it can add a few dollars to the meat’s overall cost, if you think you might have a difficult time figuring out recipes with some of your cow, it’s better than having the meat go to waste.

Other Individuals Involved

When you purchase a quarter of a cow, you’re often “going in” with other people. Some farmers don’t split the cow for you but will just sell an entire cow, so it’s up to you to sell the other portions.

If this is the case, MAKE SURE the other people are solid in their commitment to buying the meat.

If you tell the farmer you plan to buy the animal, he plans on having it cut, wrapped, and ready to go at the agreed-upon time – and he is expecting payment. It’s not a bad idea to have each person put down a small “deposit”.

This can go towards the deposit you pay to the farmer (if he charges one) and also helps take some of the anxiety out of relying on other people.

Choose the Right Farm

You should also do your homework on the farmer. If you already know a farmer and plan to utilize his services, that’s great. But if you’re going into this blind, do some research on the farmer’s methods, how they feed and treat their animals, if they’re raising the animals on pasture, etc.

Ask for reviews or recommendations, and ideally choose a farm near where you live. This way, you can see the animal every time you drive by!

Make sure you also budget out plenty of money ahead of time to pay for the meat. Save more than what you think you might spend, as the farmer has very little control over the exact final weight of the animal.

If it weighs a little more than he anticipated, congratulations! You get more meat than you thought you would. But on the flip side, you’re paying per pound, so you can expect to have to shell out a little more money.

Before you can pick up your meat, the farmer will often give you the date when your parcel is going to the meat processor or butcher. He will either get your instructions for how you want it cut then or ahead of time.

The Smaller the Share, the Less Choice

Keep in mind that the smaller your cow share is, the less autonomy you will have in how the meat is cut. The beef generally dry-ages in a climate-controlled cooler for around a week before it’s cut.

This helps tenderize the meat. Then, it takes another few days to cut, package, and freeze the meat.

Of course, total cut weight depends upon the cow as their sizes do vary, but this quarter was about 101 lbs. of beef.

What Does a Quarter of a Cow Look Like

If you’ve ever wondered how much meat is a quarter of a cow, and what you can expect to get, this is what was included in our order of a quarter beef:

  • 26 pounds of ground beef
  • 24 steaks (including sirloin steak, skirt steak, prime rib, sirloin tip steaks, rib steaks, T-bone steaks, ribeye steaks, NY strip steaks, flank steak, etc)
  • 1 pack of ribs (including short ribs)
  • 11 roasts (rump roast, sirloin tip roast, chuck roast, etc)
  • Stew meat
  • beef bones for making broth
  • beef liver

We specifically requested the liver. I’ve decided that I really want to start serving my family organ meat pretty regularly, as it’s super good for you when it comes from organic, grass-fed animals.

I advise you to take as many different cuts of beef as possible. While some cuts are easier to prepare and serve like tenderloins or porterhouse steaks, for example, each cut has its own unique flavor, texture, and purpose.

Generally speaking, butchers will try to split the cuts so there are a variety of options available. You might get chuck or arm roasts, briskets, ribs, round roasts, and steaks.

Most steaks will include a variety of cuts, like strip, Delmonico, sirloin, flank, skirt, T-bone, porterhouse, or filet mignon. These cuts are obviously dependent on the size of the cow, distribution of the purchase, and genetic makeup of the individual cow.

Anyways, in case you’ve ever wondered, that’s what a quarter of a cow looks like! I love being able to stock up on great quality meat at a great price.

You can really reduce your overall grocery bill, with most meat costing $3 or $4 a pound for organic, grass-fed meat – this is roughly half the price at least of what you would spend on the same quality meat at the grocery store.

Plus, if you’re buying from a local farmer, you know exactly how it was raised and slaughtered. You support local agriculture and don’t have to worry about artificial growth hormones and additives.

Know the Difference Between Cut Weight and Hanging Weight

If you are thinking about buying beef in bulk like this, you should know the difference between cut weight and hanging weight, so you know how much you can expect to pay in total.

Some farmers tell you the price per pound before processing, which ends up being much more once it has been cut and packaged.

Before you buy, you should also consider your freezer space. Generally speaking, you need about one cubic foot of space for every fifteen to twenty pounds of meat.

While you might be able to fit a quarter of a cow in the freezer space provided in a refrigerator/freezer combination unit, keep in mind that you won’t have a ton of room for a whole lot else!

Most farmers will require you to do your research and make your decision well ahead of time. This isn’t a purchase that you make on a random Saturday!

You will usually need to place your order at least three to six months (often longer, depending on the size, scale, operations, and regulations of the farm!) before you actually receive it.

This is because the farmer needs to budget out feed and butcher costs, as well as reserve an animal for slaughter for you and your family.

You will also need to pick up and transport the meat yourself, so be sure to account for weather conditions and the size and conditions of your vehicle when you are making this decision. It’s definitely not one to make willy-nilly, but it’s almost certainly always worth the investment.

How Much Freezer Space Do You Need for a Quarter of a Cow?

While the amount of space you’ll need will vary depending on the size of your freezer and the size of the quarters, a good rule of thumb is to plan on roughly 1 cubic foot of freezer space for every 15-20 pounds of meat.

So, for example, if you purchase a quarter of a cow that weighs 400 pounds, you’ll need approximately 20-25 cubic feet of freezer space.

Ultimately, though, the amount of space you’ll need will depend on the size of your freezer and how you plan to package the meat. If you plan to package the meat in individual portions, you’ll need even less space.

For example, if you wrapped one pound of ground beef in plastic wrap and then placed it in a zip-top bag, it would take up less than one cubic foot of space.

Some people argue that buying meat in bulk like this isn’t the greatest investment because you’re not supposed to freeze meat for more than a few months.

I’ve never heard of anybody getting sick from this, but technically I guess it’s not the freshest meat once it’s sat in your refrigerator for a year or more.

The reality, however, is that if you take all of the proper steps to avoid freezer burn (like resealing unused portions in vacuum-sealed pouches, and storing food in an upright freezer instead of a chest freezer), you will have very little waste or spoilage.


Is buying a quarter cow a good deal?

For those who want to get the most bang for their buck, buying half a cow is a great option. Not only will you get a lot of meat for your money, but you’ll also get to choose what cuts you want. And because you’re buying directly from the farmer, you’ll know that the beef is fresh and of high quality.

How many lbs of beef is a ¼ cow?

A quarter cow typically weighs between 250 and 350 pounds. The exact weight will depend on the age, breed, and weight of the cow when it was slaughtered.

A quarter cow can provide approximately 160 pounds of boneless, trimmed meat. This includes all of the major cuts of beef, such as steaks, roasts, and ground beef. However, it does not include the weight of the bones or fat.

How long will half a cow feed a family of 4?

Depending on the size of the family, and how much meat they consume, half a cow can last anywhere from a few months to over a year.

Do you buy meat in bulk from a local farmer? What types of meat do you stock your freezer with?

meat in a quarter of a cow pin

55 thoughts on “How Much Meat Is A Quarter Of A Cow?”

  1. With liver, if you soak it in milk, it removes any impurities that can make the liver bitter. Also if you use cumin when you fry it with onions, it tastes great! Very high in choline.

  2. My liver recipe is so good. I first fry about 2 or 3 slices of bacon then leaving in the drippings add the sliced onions and saute till brown. Most of the time I end up eating the onions before taking them out of the pan . then after that I flour my liver and pan fry it in the onion and bacon juice. when done I take it out and make a gravy then put the liver back in and cook 5 or 10 minutes more on low that makes the liver to me more tender. Hope that helps. Nan

    • yes,- I agree with this,,, but add some pepper to the flour- and leave the onions to eat with the liver. Calves liver is better- also cut out the ‘holes’ and make the pieces small enough (like a pork chop)- DON’T over cook- it will make it tough. Liver has the same texture as dove breasts. Small and mealy.

    • I love liver and onions…. But over the years and other people’s liver and onions I cook my onions last…. If the onions burn they taste bitter…. I hope this helps

  3. Grass fed is so tough. We prefer corn fed beef in our family and it melts in your mouth. We still have roasts left over from the grass fed beef we bought 3 years ago that no one will touch because it’s so tough.

    • That has not been my experience at all. The grass fed meat we’ve been eating over the years has been much better than what we were getting at the store. I’m sure it depends on the source.

    • This is exactly the opposite to our experience. We joke you can cut grass fed steak with a spoon. It is leaner in a manner of speaking but the overall fibers are softer, and don’t toughen like regular store bought. But that’s just our experience.

    • Sounds more like the processor. Did the cows get adrenaline right before slaughter? It makes meat tough and sour. Also, how long did they age the meat?

  4. Liver recipe for you. I slice a large onion into thin rings. .Then roll liver in flour and fry with onion on med heat. When onions are soft and liver getting a little browned, pour a can of cream of onion soupover themplace lid on the pan and turn down the heat enough to simmer about 20 min. The soup will be the gravy and it is yummy.

    • I have a 21-22 cu chest freezer and a whole cow fits with a little room for other meat. A 7 cu ft freezer would be tight for a quarter cow; a 14 cu ft would fit a quarter half-way full with room for your 1/2 pork! Hope that helps.

  5. I have no problem with the flavor of liver, but the texture !!!! I cannot stand the feel of it on my tongue! I feel the same way about cottage cheese, it isn’t the flavor, it’s the texture.
    We ‘cut the root end’ off the beef tongue and boil it with carrot, celery and onion until it is cooked through and then take it out of the broth to cool down. Next we ‘peel’ it and slice it in 3/4″ slices to make sandwiches, or shred it and add mayo, a bit of minced onion, sweet relish and sometimes a mashed up hard boiled egg to make into a sandwich filling. It just takes a bit of getting used to, not the flavor, but having to peel it after it’s cooked. I don’t consider it a pretty piece of meat, but it is tasty.

  6. This brings back memories! We once purchased half a beef. Best meat ever. But they gave us extra livers, that, apparently no one else wanted. We don’t care for it. I cooked some up for our dog, who was a real mooch hound who would eat anything. You guessed it – she wouldn’t eat it either!! Cooked OR raw. Never found anyone who wanted it, and ended up tossing it all.

  7. thanks for sharing. by the way a good recipe for liver and onions is to make sure the onions cook throughly almost caramelise. before cutting little pieces i soak the liver in milk over night. this takes away 70 percent of the game livery taste. thats my secret i want to share, enjoy.

  8. Thank you for sharing this information! I often get asked by readers what you get when you order 1/4 of a cow. I just shared this blog post on my blog’s facebook page

  9. We just bought a quarter and since the price was so good we went ahead and bought a side as well. A quarter does NOT last us 8 months though! And we are only a family of 5…but we do cook for others quite a bit too. Ours was $2.75/lb. Awesome!

  10. Wow this post would gave been so helpful 2 months ago! We purchased 1/2 a cow from a friend grass fed organic ..but u thought 1/2 would be too much for our freezer so we split our 1/2 4 ways… doesn’t go too far when it’s 1/8 of a cow! But we’ll get more next time!

  11. We also purchase our beef in bulk from a local, grass-fed farmer. I always ask for everything, so we get tongue, heart, liver, bones, oxtail, etc. I have yet to try the tongue or heart. 🙂 If you search Allrecipes for barbecue beef liver, you will find a recipe that we have enjoyed.

    There is nothing like the homemade broth from grassfed beef bones and pastured chicken bones. YUM! I usually simmer chicken stock for 24 hours (very, very low simmer), and beef broth for 48 to 72 hours. When I do it this way, the stock is so gelatinous it’s like jello in the frige. It is so nourishing, and it is the first thing my husband asks for if he feels like he’s coming down with something. It even makes his back feel better when it starts acting up.

  12. Yup, we buy our cow and pig from local folks. Can’t afford local chickens yet, someday. Got our first batch of lard this year, yeehaw! Coming up soon (if the butcher has extra) or next year, we’ll also have tallow which will be used somehow. I get as many soup/dog bones as possible – I can make a ton of concentrated broth and then give the leftover bones to friends with dogs. I’ve even ended up with bones from other (grass-fed) critters from the butcher.

    I will say though, that what the critter is fed has a *huge* impact on the final product. Grain-fed critters will tend to weigh a lot more/have more fat (not necessarily a good thing). Even here with the short growing season, grain fed cows can be like 1200lbs, whereas the grain fed/pastured ones are about 800lbs on the hoof. Crazy. Last year we paid about $3.30/lb for our half a cow (shared with a friend), and *was* going to get a whole cow this year, but there was a mixup with my farmer. Sigh. Good news is that he won’t forget me again any time soon. 😀

  13. Pricing varies depending on hang weight and live weight. We butcher our own beef every year and almost fill up a chest freezer. I still have room to store my flour (to prevent weevels), chickens purchased on sale as well as turkeys. We typically burcher hogs every other year.

    The reason I bring up hang weight vs. live weight and the cost factor, is that when we butcher we are paying for the entire beef (bones and all), so I always ask for lots and lots of bones for our dogs. In addition, I take all the kidneys and livers too. These make wonderful dog treats. I boil then first, then bake them. Slice into finger size pieces and freeze them. Because livers or kidney’s should be given in moderation to dogs, they only get a small piece or two per day. When you visit the high-end dog stores, they sell these for a premium price!

    We’ve found the best way to defrost your meat is in a bowl of cold water (per Ohama Meat). Ever since we started doing this, we’ve never had a problem. Of course, you can defrost in the frig overnight if you so choose.

    We have an upright freezer and a chest freezer. The chest freezer is typically for meat only, not that I won’t cross freeze, but it’s easier this way.

  14. I have heard that grinding it up and using it in small amounts (with lots of other stuff) is helpful. ie – spaghetti sauce, or meatloaf. It hides the taste. I hated liver growing up but if it was hidden I might’ve tried it.

    Another good organ is the heart. Grind that up, too. I haven’t tried a tongue but I hear if you spice it like corned beef that it tastes a lot like it.

    The fat is good – you can render it and use it for deep fat frying, etc.

    We are on our second half pig, and second quarter steer and we’ve done several lambs. It’s really nice to just go ‘shopping’ in the freezer and have lots of food available. I canned some ground beef and may try to do more of that. Now I don’t have any freezer space issues so it’s not a concern.

  15. I want to add that it usually isn’t a cow that’s used for meat, but a steer, which is a castrated bull. We used to raise them so I know.

  16. We used to do that, too, and the only thing I would add is we would get several packages of stew meat made up. Sometimes the processor would throw in short ribs. I never knew what to do with them. I guess I did something, I don’t remember what now.

  17. We have bought 1/2 a cow twice in the past. This year God graced us with some extra money so we went ahead and bought a whole cow. That will last us for a really long time. We ended up paying $2.48 per pound for it. I have been making the bones into broth and the fat into tallow. I’ve yet to find a recipe with liver we like. I hope you share if you ever find one that is edible. 🙂

  18. We’ve purchased half-cows a couple of times and love the convenience and price. This time I requested all the edible organs and other stuff that I could think of: liver, kidneys, oxtail, soup bones, suet (kidney fat – very easy to render) sweetbreads (thymus & pancreas), and even the brain. Haven’t tried last two bits yet.

    Anyway, we also eat liver with onions but discovered the key is to cook it for a VERY short time. Like steak, liver is best rare – 2-3 minutes per side. Then it’s tender and not chewy. Our kids love it that way (and they’re picky)


    • That’s great that you were able to get so many usable parts, Danielle!! I’m working on getting my hands on more organ meat and fat. Don’t know if I would have the courage to try brains yet… I’ve heard the heart meat is really good for you, also. The recipe I tried for the liver said to cook for about 3 min. till browned but still red in the middle, but I still managed to overcook it. It went nicely in fajitas today, though 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  19. I have yet to find a local farmer who sells beef like that.
    But congratulations to you!
    Right now we freeze steaks, roasts, ribs and chops, among others, when we find them on sale.

  20. That always looks like a lot of meat, doesn’t it?! Well, no wonder, it is! lol* *HAPPY COOKING*!!! 🙂
    That’s what we usually do- buy a quarter, or half a cow. It lasts foreeeeeeever!!! Last time, we bought half a cow for a 3 headed family (2 people 1 child), it was 3/4 years ago, and we’re still eating on it (we are on the last items.) That being said, we also supplement w/ store-bought meat (chicken and pork every once in a while) as my husband is like the ultimate carnivore (he needs meat every day!… :/ I personally don’t need meat on a daily basis, also I know that it isnt so healthy to eat it EVERY day…)
    At the beginning I wasn’t really excited about the prospects having so much meat sitting around (don’t know really why), but having all this meat from ONE cow, and seeing how long it fed us, REALLY made me appreciate that COW even more! Much more than I would have going to the store every now and then buying the bits and pieces one at a time (which not to mention would have been much more expensive as well.)

  21. I have always wanted to get 1/4 cow, but we just don’t have the freezer space. Our house was built in 1957 and back then the “outlets” weren’t designed for as much power as appliances use today. We would have to go to our electric company and they would have to run another line from the pole or something like that. It would cost about $5,000 to put in a freezer. 🙁 So sad.

  22. we went in with 2 other families for the first time this year and bought a whole cow. We kept 1/4th of it. With buying the whole cow it was only about 3.00 a pound. I LOVE the taste of grassfed beef. So much differnt than the stuff I was buying in the store.
    Thank you so much for writing your blog. You have inspired me to start homesteading now where I’m at instead of waiting till we get that someday farm. I have 2 raised garden beds, a freezer full of food, and hoping to start canning this year. I love how you trial and error and try again!

  23. One more thing: We usually ended up with about 2/3 of our big upright freezer full with half a steer, weighing 800 pounds or more before butchering. It is 19.6 cubic feet and it is much easier to keep track of the contents than a chest-type. I much prefer it and have had both types. We learned how to order the meat cut up to our preferences, and it was a very nice thing to have.

  24. We used to have a neighbor who sold several steers a year for the freezer, and we always got a half. However, he’s no longer doing that. I loved having the liver. I simply dredged slices of it it in flour with a little salt and pepper added to it and fried it. It makes the best gravy ever…brown the roux well before adding the milk. It is sorta chicken-fried this way. If you want a thicker coating on the slices of meat, you could dip in milk before the flour. It was a huge favorite. For the record, I don’t like liver and onions, so maybe your less-than-liver-fans would like it this way.

  25. Ooh….thanks for sharing this!! I’ve investigated purchasing a 1/4 and 1/2 cow before, but to have it all spelled out…what parts you got, a picture and the total cost was such a huge help!! You got a great deal! I can’t remember if you mentioned how much room it took up in the freezer. I definitely need a separate chest freezer right? Do you know how large your feezer is in cubic feet and how much of that room it takes? Thanks!!

    Happy New Year!! I enjoy reading your blog. I’m an rss subscriber. 😉

    • Hi Denise,

      You know, I was trying to figure out how big our chest freezer is so I can post that, but I’m not sure to be honest. The meat takes up about 3/4 of our freezer. You could probably fit 1/4 of a cow in a standard side-by-side freezer, if that was all you had in there. Glad I could help!! Happy New Year 🙂

      • We have a 21-22 cu chest freezer and a whole cow fits with a little room for other meats! We raise our own beef but we also purchase pork, chicken, and lamb and I don’t ever want to be without a freezer full again! It’s wonderful.


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