How can I be sure I got all my meat from my processor?

This is possibly the most contentious issue: customers who feel cheated by processors. It is possible that your meat got misplaced in the cooler, and that you really don’t have it all; here is where reviewing your cut sheet may help. But it is more likely that your animal did not yield as well as you hoped.

First, consider the species, type, and condition of the animal you had slaughtered. During slaughter, the hide, head, and guts are removed. On average, the weight remaining after this (carcass weight) as a percentage of live weight is as follows: 61% for beef cattle, 59% for dairy steers, 72% for hogs, and 50% for sheep or goats.

Meat processor Joe Cloud notes that there is a range of values and there can be large differences from these averages: “Grass-fed beef is more like 57%, while fed cattle may be 61%. Dairy steers may be 59%, but cull dairy cows, a common source of ground beef, are 50-51%. Scalded, head-on hogs may be 72%, but many processors skin them and remove the head. That is more like 63%.” The point is that there is normal variation in dressing percentage.

Monitoring your animals for a long time will help you understand what you may expect, on average, for your animals. This is important to know because it impacts pricing. As the carcass hangs in the cooler, there is additional weight loss, called “shrink.” This is water shed from the muscle tissue as it dries in the cooler. The longer you let it hang in the cooler (“age” the carcass), the more shrink there will be. Having a decent fat cover helps to protect the meat and minimize shrink; very lean carcasses shrink more.

Next, as the butcher cuts the carcass, removing excess fat and bone, the total weight continues to decrease. Animals that are over-finished (too fat) will need to have more fat trimmed, reducing your yield.

Your cutting instructions will also impact meat yields. Asking for leaner ground or for boneless cuts will reduce the pounds of product you take home. See the Beef and Pork Whole Animal Buying Guide, by Arion Thiboumery and Kristine Jepsen of Iowa State University, for a full discussion and examples of this topic for beef and pork.

It is important to track your own animals to learn what you can realistically expect. Dave Scott of Montana Highland Lamb and ATTRA livestock specialist recommends you visit the abattoir after slaughter to examine the carcasses. This lets you better assess your finishing program and will help you learn when to send your animals to slaughter. See Building an Excellent Relationship with your Processor, a 23-minute ATTRA video featuring Dave and his processor.

You’ll want to read the ATTRA publication Working with Your Meat Processor. Author Linda Coffey discusses expected yield and how different cuts affect that yield.  The publication also suggests some key ways to work effectively with a meat processor and provides many useful resources for further study.