Ultimate Guide to Buying a Quarter Cow

May 24, 2024

By: Miranda Lamb

Buying beef direct from a local farmer can be so exciting. To help you become an expert on buying a quarter cow here is the ultimate guide to purchasing your first quarter of wholesale beef. You will learn all the basic steps to buying beef direct and be knowledgeable about beef terms. And you will have clarity on what is important to you in choosing where to buy beef.

Steps to Buying a Quarter of a Cow

Buying wholesale beef from a local farmer is a wonderful way to receive great tasting beef. There are a couple steps, so it is different than just going to a grocery store. Once you know the steps it is pretty simple.

  • First, Pick a Processing Date. Your local farmer will have processing dates where the cattle go to the processor. At Hickory Hollow Farm, most of our processing dates are in spring, but we also have a few in fall. With wholesale beef, you typically want to reserve your beef several months out. Though some farmers do take cattle to the processor monthly. ***Keep in mind that your beef will be ready 3-6 weeks after your processing date.
  • Decide on a Quarter, Half, or Whole. With the help of your cattle farmer, you will need to decide if a quarter, half, or whole is best for your family. Most families, new to buying wholesale will purchase a quarter. A quarter allows you to taste the quality of the beef, sample the wide variety of cuts, and get used to the process of buying wholesale. As a rule of thumb, a half is enough for a family of four for a year.
  • Send in Your Beef Deposit. To hold your processing date, you will typically be asked to place a deposit. At Hickory Hollow Farm, we request a deposit ranging from $100 to $200, depending on if you are ordering a quarter, half, or whole. Most farmers, will only ask you to place a portion of the total cost to hold your spot.
  • Place Your Beef Cut Order. Once your processing dates arrives and your beef is taken to processor, it is time to place your beef cut order. Most farmers allow you to completely customize your beef. This means that you can choose what roasts, steaks, cuts you want more or less of. Anything you don’t want will be ground into more ground beef. Check out this post on How to Place Your Beef Cut Sheet Order. At Hickory Hollow Farm, we walk you through how to place your order so you feel confident placing your order with the butcher. Most farms measure off the hanging weight, though some farms do create set boxes. You will know exactly what you are getting beforehand, but the disadvantage is that you can’t customize them.
  • Pay for Your Beef. Once you place your beef cut order with the processor, you’ll want to pay for the remaining balance of your beef to the farmer. You will be told how much your beef is typically by being told your hanging weight. Check out all the terms below for more information on hanging weight. You will multiple your hanging weight by the price per pound to figure the hanging weight. Always make sure your beef is paid for to the farmer, before you pick it up from the farmer.
  • Stock Your Freezer. After 3-6 weeks, you will receive a call from the processor. Your beef will be ready for pick-up. When you pick up your beef, it will be all cut, packaged, and frozen. You will pay the processor directly for the processing. Most processing is anywhere from .70 cents to $1.25 per lb for the processing. You can expect to bring home around 70% of the hanging weight, after trimming and processing. Have fun picking up your beef from the processor and stocking your freezer.

Beef Terms to Know When Buying Direct

When buying direct from a farmer, there may be some new terms to learn.

Ultimate Guide To Buying Quarter Cow

Hanging Weight – This is the hanging weight of the animal once it is hanging and curing in the freezer. Most pasture-raised, grain-finished cattle are around 600-800lbs of hanging weight. This will vary per animal. To calculate how much you will be paying for beef, you will multiple the hanging weight times the price per pound.

Beef Cut Sheet – The beef cut sheet is the form that will be filled out by you or the processor that specifies how you want your cow cut and trimmed. When you purchase wholesale, you get to choose what steaks you want, how thick you want them, if you want all your roasts, and more.

Processor – A processor is the butcher. At this facility the cattle are dropped off and inspected by a government official before they are dispatched, cured, and cut per a customers beef cut specifications.

Processing Fees. – Processing fees are what you are paying the butcher at the processor to have your animal inspected, killed, hide and hooves removed, cured (hung in the freezer for at least 10 days), cut by a butcher, and then vacuum sealed. Processing fees are typically paid directly to the processor.

Grass Fed – One term that confuses customers is grass fed. Most customers will ask if our cattle are grass fed, which they are. But here is the thing. All cows are grass fed or pasture raised! Cows eat a ton and it would not be feasible to never have them on pasture, eating grass. So all cattle spend a good portion of their life, eating grass and hay.

Grain Finished vs. Grass Finished – As we just learned all cattle eat grass and live out in a pasture at some point of their life. But the difference is how they are “finished” or spend the last few months of their life. Our cattle are grain finished. So while they continue to eat grass, they also receive grain during their finishing out period. The grain adds fat marbling and that steak house flavor. Grass finished refers to cattle that are only fed grass and rarely if ever received grain. The health difference is typically very small, so it is more a matter of taste. Grain finished animals are going to be a bit bigger, have a little more marbling for flavorful steaks. Grass finished animals are typically a bit smaller, very lean, and have a slightly wild or gamey flavor (like deer meat).

What to Ask When Ordering Freezer Beef

In America, we are blessed to have a variety of ways to purchase our beef! You can buy in the grocery store, from a local farmer, or online. Each way has its pros and cons. So I never want to put down any other farmer’s beef, as the vast majority of American beef comes from a farm owned by a family, not a corporation.

Ultimate Guide To Buying Quarter Cow

But as you consider what you want, here are some questions to ask your local beef farmer:

What Kind of Cattle Do You Raise? We raise Angus beef, along with a few Charolais. We love the flavor of the Angus. And the Angus and Charolais are pretty calm animals. Angus is pretty popular as a beef cattle choice, but again it is a preference.

How Much Does A Quarter of Beef Cost? A quarter at Hickory Hollow Farm is around 180lbs (range from 150-210 lbs). So an average quarter for beef, processing and packaging is around $840.

Who Do You Use as a Processor? A good processor (or butcher) is key to a positive wholesale beef experience. We have worked hard to find and work with our processors to build a good relationship that supports their business and provides quality care and work for our customers. Sometimes, when interacting with a customer, they will have heard a negative story from a friend, who heard it from a neighbor about a certain processor. Before you move on, ask your farmer why they like the processor they are using and how long they have been using them.

Ultimate Guide To Buying Quarter Cow

How Much Is Your Freezer Beef? What Are the Processing Fees? When ordering freezer beef in bulk, ask how much per pound for beef. And you can ask them if that is by pound of hanging weight. Currently, our Angus beef is $3.50 per pound of hanging weight. And then you also want to ask what are the processing fees. As mentioned above, the processing fees are what are paid to the butcher. Most processing fees are paid directly to the processor. But your farmer should be able to give you an estimate so you can budget. Occasionally, processing fees and beef cost are figured together and paid directly to the farmer. At Hickory Hollow Farm, the processing fees vary from .70 to $1 depending on what you are ordering and where you are picking your beef up from.

Who Do I Talk To If I Have Questions? Buying wholesale beef the first time can be a little confusing. And it may feel intimidating to interact with the processor. After the first time, you will get the hang of ordering wholesale! But if you have any questions, your farmer should be able to help you and offer you that support. If they don’t know the answer to your question, they should be able to find out and get back with you. Or they may direct you to someone at the processor who would be good to talk to!

Ultimate Guide To Buying Quarter Cow

What Does a Typical Quarter, Half, or Whole Weigh? When buying wholesale beef, you will receive a slightly different weight each time, as each cow is different. But your local farmer should be able to give you a estimate, so that you can budget. Most of our quarters weigh around 180 lbs.

How Much Is a Deposit? A deposit of $100-$200 is requested at the time of placing your order. A deposit is almost always requested as it ensures that you are serious about buying your beef. From the time a cow is born to the time they are processed is about 18-24 months, plus the 9 months the farmer was waiting for it to be born. So farmers have a ton of time, energy, and money invested in their cattle. A farmer would not want to take an animal in for processing only to find out you changed your mind. Your beef deposit holds your spot for you too, guaranteeing that you are on the list. And your deposit will be taken off your overall beef expense. If for some reason, you needed to change your processing date, let your farmer know as soon as possible.

How Much Space Will I Need for A Quarter Cow

A quarter of a cow takes up the equivalent of the space of most freezers in a fridge/freezer combination. It is helpful if you have a separate freezer, but in a pinch you can still use your fridge/freezer combination. You will need to make sure there is not much else in the freezer, as it will take up most of the space. A quarter cow will need about 4 cubic feet of freezer space. But to be able to actually see and sort your freezer items, it will be easier if you have around 7-9 cubit feet. WATCH this video on how much space you will need.

Ultimate Guide To Buying Quarter Cow

What Will I Receive in a Quarter a Cow?

Often customers will ask what they will receive when they purchase a quarter of a cow. It varies dependant on the size of the animal and what YOU order. When you order through Hickory Hollow Farm, you get to customize. But to give you an example, here are two quarters that we ordered!

Examples of Quarter Beef Options

example of a quarter cow cuts
example of a quarter cow cuts

See a sample of a LARGE QUARTER here.

What To Know When Ordering a Quarter Cow

The flavor of local beef is so good! You will not be disappointed. Plus, you will enjoy a much bigger variety of cuts, beyond just ground beef.

Have more questions? Drop them in the comments below.

Do you live in Ohio or Kentucky? We would love to supply your family with healthy, delicious local beef! If you live in Northern/Central Kentucky near Maysville, Mt. Sterling, or Lexington area reach out to order. And if you live near Dayton or Cincinnati, Ohio just give me (Miranda) a call or text at 937-302-8123. Would love to chat with you to see if we would be a good fit for your family.

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