Having a cow butchered - choice of cuts

liz_h(7/8 DFW Texas)November 3, 2008

highdesertlocavore, I thought this was an important enough subject for it's own post. I've copied in your question & ksrogers excellent answer below from the rendered beef fat discussion.

Find out how the butcher regularly packages the meat. In our case, we had two choices. We opted for a sealed in plastic, then wrapped in freezer paper. We've been happy with this so far, and expect it to last more than a year based on our farmer's experience.

I'm posting links to several online sites we found with beef charts or tips on having the meat cut. Think about what you like to eat. Would you rather have rib-eye steaks or a prime rib for Christmas dinner? I've never liked rump roasts, so I had that meat added to the hamburger.

Ask your farmer what leanness and tenderness you can expect. This varies with the age and breed of the cow. For his particular animals, our farmer has them butchered at two years.

I was surprised to find that many people don't leave specific instructions with the butcher and take what they get. If you have the time to study on it, I think it's worth it, but you'll probably get a good product either way.

Your farmer may have a list of what he usually gets when he butchers an animal for his own use. That might be a good starting point. My recommendation is to look at the sites I've listed, and any input from your farmer, then come up with a good idea of what you want. Take that list and talk to your butcher, because he'll probably have a pretty good idea of what to expect from your farmer's cows. (A smaller animal will yield less of everything than a larger one and will allow a bit less variety of cuts. A larger primal cut can be cut in more ways than a smaller one.)

If you want all the bones to make stock, be sure to specify that. I wanted the marrow bones (from the legs) but DH just said bones. The butcher wrote down soup bones. What I got was 3 packages of bone with a hunk of meat attached. I don't remember the cuts now, but they will make great soup bones - just not quite what I expected. I would probably write out as clearly as possible what I want before talking to the butcher. That way you'll be sure to talk the same language.

Our butcher is a 90 minute drive away, so we didn't talk to him ahead of time. DH drove up there to place the order. Since I'm the main cook, it would have been helpful if I went along! I didn't get the fat I wanted to render either. The butcher did tell us later that we were welcome to all the fat and marrow bones we wanted from other cows as most people didn't want them. If he were closer, we'd take him up on that.

HANGAR STEAK - this is a small steak that few people know about. Be sure to ask for it. It's supposed to be a great flavor and tenderness, but there's only one per cow so it never got into the retail market. Don't let it be made into hamburger.

Your dog will probably enjoy the organ meats. For that matter many people like them, but not me.

As for the fat that I was going to render. I wanted that mainly to brown beef in for stew or perhaps chicken fried steak. Any time you brown or fry meat in its own fat you really bump up the meaty flavor.

I don't think I've answered all your questions, so feel free to ask more. Here are the sites I've mentioned. There are probably more online, and I imagine your butcher had a meat chart up as well. If your butcher is local, I'd talk with him a few times before the animal is taken in to start collecting your thoughts.



If you email me, I'll send some meat charts we downloaded in PDF, gif or png formats.

Enjoy your meat! We cerainly have.

For anyone else, I can recommend a great butcher and farmer in North Texas (Pilot Point/Muenster area)

Posted by highdesertlocavore (My Page) on 
Mon, Nov 3, 08 at 0:37

HI Liz \- 
This is a bit of a tangent from rendering beef fat but I am about to get my first cow from a local farm and will have it butchered at a local butcher. I want to get the most out of it and have a wide range of things I will eat. I also have dogs that could eat things that I wouldn't want to. How do you suggest I tell them to butcher it and what extras (other than all the fat that I now know I should ask for) should I get? I just don't know even what to ask for. I appreciate any and all suggestions...

Posted by ksrogers EasternMass Z6 (My Page) on

Mon, Nov 3, 08 at 9:17

The more the butcher has to cut and trim, the more costly it can be for cutting up the whole cow. I think they have a time limit for the whole processes, and its based on how careful you wish to go with fat and some inedibles that are trimed off. Some of the fat can easily be trimmed off at home and you would bo a much better job at removing than a butcher would. Some fat runs wide, through a meat cut and if its tender small size cut of meat, they usually leave it in (rib eye for instance). Also, things like tenderloin need to have the fiberous muscle removed (peeled) off the length. If its not, its tough and stringy. Cut against the grain for things like brisket and flank. Most of the meat should have some marbling of fat in the tender parts, which give more moistness and taste. Also, chuck, and top of the round are great for hamburger. Bottom of the round is a bit bland, and can be used for meatloaf that gets highly seasoned. A Food Saver machine would be a great investment to protect all the frozen meat from getting freezer burn, discoloring, and loss of moisture (that icy buildup inside the bags). Using Freezer paper and then a plastic bags might offer a couple of extra months to the frozen parts, but the FS bags are 3 times thicker and hold up very well to freezing, as they also remove air from the bags before they are heat sealed. They also take up less space compared to freezer paper and zipper bags. Before the meat is cut into the specifics its always a good idea to age it a bit beforehand. The longer the aging (sometimes many weeks!) the better the taste and texture. Long aged beef is expensive as it also has to take into account some surface loses due to a little mold or drying. That is called 'Prime' meat, then Grade A (not usually very common) and then 'Choice' which is usually most Supermarket cuts. Choice is not aged very long and has more moisture inside and is a bit tougher. I have bought some tenderloin and wrapped in a big kitchen towel and stored in the meat drawer of my fridge. Its left about 2-3 weeks, then the towel is changed and its placed back in the fridge another 2-4 weeks. The end result is a more mellow taste and very tender! The various beef cuts have been renamed (some years ago) and have also been very confusing when it comes to the actual names they now use to describe each cut. Beef based sausages are also great if you have a stuffer and meat grinder and like some summer sausage, pepperoni, or salami. If the butcher gives you back everything, including many big chunks of fat, its rendered by slowly heating in a big heavy pot, which can take a few hours. You end up with small brown pieces that the dogs would go crazy for once its cooled. I make bird food with rendered beef fat (suet) that was previously frozen. The rendered fat gets mixed with hulless bird seeds and the woodpeckers are flocking to it daily, as most other birds would also do once its cold enough outside. The dogs would also like some BONES, and any muscle fiber and cartilage. Beef ribs are a good cut for people, but do take up a bit more freezer space, unless cut with a meat/band saw. Most all bones and tiny bits of meat can also be simmered down to make beef broth, which can also be frozen. The rule of thumb is if originally raw then frozen it can be cooked and refrozen again. If its raw, and not previously frozen, you can cook and freeze as usual. Grinding meats at home can also be done with a decent food processor, but consistancy of the various sizes of the small pieces will vary greatly. This is great for a meat chili, where you want a few small bits bigger than hamburger. Most hamburger is made with really tough cuts (chuck) and is run through a grinder twice with 1/8 inch or smaller holes in the plate. Then, there are the internal organs like liver, and some others, which people or dogs relish as well. Happy butchering!!

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One word of warning - all processing plants are not the same. Check out any you are thinking of using by asking others who have actually used them.

As to packaging, the first calf we had butchered, we just let the butcher decide. The packages were too large for us and we did waste some meat. We learned it was better to have smaller packages than packages that were too large. You can always use two, if needed.

Yes, you do have to specify all bones. I just learned that. My son had a calf butchered and I said I wanted the soup bones I got what is probably the shank meat with the round bones. It is delicious, but I wanted to can some soup stock. Our butcher when we were raising the kids, just knew to save all bones.

If you have dogs, by all means ask for any organ meats you might not want for yourselves. Our butcher used to grind them and other parts we didn't eat for our dogs. It was packaged in 2 lb packages. I don't know if they still do that.

As stated, think about what you like to eat. My son had his calf made mostly into steaks and hamburger, some tenderized for chicken fried.

I'm not sure about the aging thing. It may be a matter of taste. We raised two calves and left them for my son to take to the locker plant. This was a new plant as the old one had since closed. They insisted it had to hang two weeks. The meat had absolutely no taste. Whether it was the aging, or something else that was done - I don't know. We ended up giving most of it away. It had no taste - no smell.

It wasn't the calf or the feed as we had raised it just like we did the ones before and after - it was something to do with the butchering process - might not be the aging. The next one, though, my son made sure it didn't hang that long.

So check out the butcher if you don't know them.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2008 at 4:29PM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Here's a link to the butcher we use - his form for cutting instructions - to give you some idea of the choices you will have.

As for the ground meat, you should be able to specify what fat content, and I tell them maximum only enough fat to hold it together on a grill (that makes it somewhere in the neighborhood of 95% lean, many butchers will tell you that is not enough fat - but it is) Chili meat, or a coarse grind should also be an option for you.

You may pay slightly more for smaller packages (more wrapping, material) but I find that better than having to thaw a larger package of meat than we really need...I can always thaw 2. Your first time around, you may want to stick to cuts you are familiar with and are used to cooking in the time you allow for meal prep...you don't want a freezer full of pot roasts if your on-the-go family loves burgers or a quick steak. :)

I know this butcher isn't an option for you - I wish he were, he's very skilled and conscientious - but browsing his website might help you understand the process.

Oh, and I like my beef aged exactly 10 days, but I think that's a matter of personal taste.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2008 at 5:01PM
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gran2(z5 INDIANA)

Very interesting -- do you have a choice of calf or has it been "assigned" to you. Calf should be 900-1100 lbs if possible, about a year and a half, no growth hormones and corn fed. Full kernel corn will give a little different meat gran even than ground grain. Corn by-product (fermented) is really good. Hereford and Charolais or Scottish Galloway are all good breeds, but the breed will vary according to location.

There are new cuts of meat available through the Beef Cattle Association. Some of the groceries are carrying them. I don't understand butchering, but our butcher had heard of them and I asked for a video from the Beef Cattle Assn., and he was able to follow it with no trouble. One of these new cuts is Flat Iron Steak but for the life of me I can't remember the other three. Very good. Best use of muscle for greatest tenderness. Ask about these.

Yes, aging is absolutely necessary for tenderness. Flavor has more to do with breed and feeding, possibly disease, etc. We hang one day for every 100 lbs of beef on the hoof. DH raises organic beef. Once in a while a butcher gets a "flow" problem and hurries it through.

A decent butcher will wrap your meat first in heavy plastic and then in freezer paper. They should need no further attention. We keep beef sometimes as long as two years without any chrystallization. A self-defrosting freezer will cut down your "save" time considerably due to the fluctuation in temps with the self-defrosting process.

If this is yoru first time, get ready for a new experience. This is nothing like grocery store beef. You'll learn your cuts and your favorites. We'll never go back. Even the same cuts are different. Duck roast is one of my favorites and arm roasts. Porterhouse, definitely not.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2008 at 6:42PM
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liz_h(7/8 DFW Texas)

gran2 - very interesting to read about the cornfed beef. It's been a long time since I've eaten any. I understand that the flavor is different than grassfed beef. I'm very happy with the taste of the grassfed. I'm sure that either one is a huge improvement over feedlot finished supermarket beef.

One big reason I wanted purely grassfed beef is the nutritional aspect. The fat on grassfed beef has a very high amount of omega-3 oil, the type found in salmon. the omega-3 fat has a lot of health benefits, from cardiovascular to reducing clinical depression. I won't go into it here. Anyone can find lots of info online if you're interested.

The butcher we used had a standard time for aging the carcass before cutting. I don't recall what it was, but we're happy with the result. 20 years ago, a friend purchased a half cow, and further aged the meat in the fridge before freezing it. Not sure if there was any actual benefit there, but I had no inclination to fool with it myself.

One really nice surprise was the great freshness of the ground hamburger. Meat that is ground, then immediately frozen is a LOT fresher than ground meat bought at the typical grocery store. We once left some thawed hamburger in the fridge's meatkeeper for 4 days before cooking it. Frankly, I was ready to throw it away based on experience with supermarket hamburger. To my delight it was perfectly good.

Because we have a lot of confidence in the butcher we used, we're comfortable cooking this ground meat extremely rare, and love the taste.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2008 at 7:18PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Calf=veal. Its not as tasty as older beef. A poor flavor in beef comes from bottom of the round. That cut is part of hamburger. Most common low fat hamburg is 93% meat 7% fat. Any higher for the meat, it would be dry and crumbly once cooked. On well aged meat, the fat will soften and almost go to a translucent state, kind of like its slightly melted shortening. Aging will add some mellow flavor to stronger tasting cuts. A local Whole Earth Food store has whole rib eye with the tenderloin attached. Its kept in a glass front refrigerator about 8-9 feet above the meat counter. The reason, its cost is about $23 per pound!! The fridge its in also ages it. They need a ladder to get to it, so customers are not able to reach it for themselves. Flank and brisket are similar and are the types used for corned beef and pastrami where they are slow cooked. Many supermarkets around here don't even offer flank cuts.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2008 at 4:32AM
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Wow everybody - thanks so much for your input!

I am part of a herd share of grass fed beef (a poly-ag farm, no hormones, antibiotics, etc) that I have seen but don't know which one will be mine. Also I am getting a 1/4 of a cow (thought I'd start small) so I guess I need to know which end I'm getting.

Good to know about smaller packaging as it is only me and my 6-yr-old son.

I'm not a big burger person - I like pot roast, brisket, stew meat and such (working mom's LOVE crock pots) and I only eat steaks at restaurants but I guess that can change.

Liz and morz8 thanks so much for the links and I will check them out and call my butcher.

My next endeavor is 1/2 pig coming in Feb...... I'll be writing all about the learning experience on my blog www.highdesertlocavore.blogspot.com

    Bookmark   November 4, 2008 at 4:29PM
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david52 Zone 6

We do grass fed steers - about 1300 - 1500 lbs live wt. In addition to the comments above, I'd emphasize checking out the butcher shop yourself first - some places would gag a maggot, and some are absolutely spotless. A couple of thoughts, peculiar to grass fed beef:

You might have to pay a bit extra for locker space, but if you can, age the carcass 21 days. It will really help with getting it tender.

We ask for the steaks to be cut 1 1/4" thick - it seems to be a lot easier to cook a thicker piece of grass fed beef than a thinner one.

And depending on how well you know your butcher, what we found to be the best solution was to tell 'em that what we like to do is grill outside, and cut the beef with that in mind.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2008 at 6:08PM
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I'll second the motion about getting ready for a really great experience.

When we were raising our kids, we had two milk cows and we had the calves butchered. They were raised primarily on milk, grass and spring water. Boy, were they delicious.

When we sold our 'farm', we 'full-timed' in a motorhome for 3 years - so had to buy store meat. The first half dozen times I cooked the meat, I would throw it out - I thought it was spoiled. Not only is the taste different, the smell is different.

As someone else said, aging is probably just a personal preference. It was never anything I thought about until we got back the totally tasteless beef and it certainly could have been something else the butcher did. It didn't taste bad - just had no taste at all.

I do know the butcher hung the meat for what seemed like a long time. He said it was state law - but either that is not true or the last butcher didn't obey the law.

But happy eating.

The information about the healthful differences in grassfed and others is very interesting. I'm going to do some research.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2008 at 10:48PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

The meat is hung prior to cutting to get rid of excess blood. Its usually refrigerated at about 34-38 degrees. The fat on the long aged meat is quite soft and jelly like sometimes. One of the reasons expensive and very tender prime cuts are costing that high price is because they are aged much longer. If mold develops its cut away, reducing the tender cut size and driving up is cost. I recall a few years back that some beef I had bought had a strong odor of liver. Thats ONE smell I dislike in a steak or hamburg. The freezer paper thats used for the meat packaging can vary in quality. If its heavy weight (thick) and has a slick plastic surface on one side, it should work well if also stored tightly in a plastic bag. Keep in mind that butcher paper can also be a thin silicone based product. In either case, both can have air pockets even after being tightly wrapped and bagged. That is the main reason I prefer the Food Saver plastic. The FS plastic has several layers of plastics, one is a nylon layer, which is very dense. The quilting embossed on the plastic is to aid in air removal and gives a tighter covering on the meat overall. Have you ever seen the commercials about Kosher hotdogs? They go on to say that they do not use any of the hind quarters of beef. eColi is still around and so butchers must be even more careful when handling fresh meats.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2008 at 9:37AM
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snappybob(SaTexas Zone 8)

We are planning to have a cow butchered in the near future. How much beef can you expect to get from a cow as a percentage of the "on the hoof" weight?

    Bookmark   November 7, 2008 at 5:44PM
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david52 Zone 6

The general consensus around here is 1/3 live weight goes into the freezer.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2008 at 7:25PM
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My son just had 2 young 20 month old cows butchered. The slaughter house was to age the beef for 10 days and my son and his meat-cutter father were to cut it up and wrap. My son got a call that they had time to cut and wrap and how would my son like it. All my son told them was average cuts, wrapped for a family of 3. All my son knows is steak and burgers. I was planning on canning the stew meat. He ended up with 8 one lb. packs of stew and 100 lbs of ground and about 15 rolled roasts and chuck roasts. Many nice T-bones, sirloin, and cube steaks, short ribs, soup bones and the ox tail. I'm talking one cow here.
The meat was wrapped in freezer paper, well labeled and taped. I like to wrap my meat in plastic wrap before placing into freezer bags. I'm worried about freezer burn. Is it possible to open the packages and adding the plastic wrap and re-wrapping in the freezer wrap? The ground beef is not a problem as it is in the plastic tube shapes.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2008 at 12:30PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Opening the freezer paper wrapping will wrinkle it more, making it hard to rewrap again. The freezer paper usually has a plastic coating on the inside that is resistant to sticking to meat once frozen. In the crevices of meat, however, the freezer paper can get caught and the meat would need a little bit of thawing to remove it. Freezer burn is never an issue if the meat were put into Food Saver plastic bags, air removed, and heat sealed. You could even leave the freezer paper on it, as that is used to protect it from freezer burn as well. It should be heavy weight (thick) freezer paper with the shiny plastic coating on the inside. The FS will usually pull out any possible air that may be trapped under the paper. Having air pockets in the wrapping will increase chances of freezer burn and drying out. Reduce the amount or hamburger to 1-3 pound packages, as well as forming some patties.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2008 at 2:59PM
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mxbarbie(pnw BC 5)

I've had a few of those "liver tasting" steaks from store bought and home raised beef. I don't care for that at all! Any idea what causes it?

    Bookmark   November 9, 2008 at 2:37AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Suspect it was butchered meat that was sitting on, or next to liver. Beef liver by itself is quite strong smelling and tasting. Thats why calves liver is usually sold, as its much milder tasting. I remember a friend of my mothers, who would eat a lot of raw liver! Not much you can do about that liver taste in a steak, except pour A1 steak sauce over it and/or add lots of toppings like onion and mushrooms to mask it.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2008 at 11:31AM
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gran2(z5 INDIANA)

a question was about per centages -- you have 3 different weights here:
1. live weight (or on the hoof) is literally walking around weight. 2. hanging weight is after the head, tail and hooves have been removed (and they're quite heavy) and excess stuff 3. in the freezer weight - total of packages that you put in the freezer. It will lose a little (maybe 8-12 % from hanging to freezer, but most is lost between the first 2 stages. Our best (with a belted Scottish Galloway) was 68% to the freezer. If you're only getting about 1/3, I'd say you need to find a different source for the beef.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2008 at 3:49PM
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david52 Zone 6

gran2, are you saving a lot of the ribs, soup bones, heart, and organ meat? How big an animal are you slaughtering?

The 1/3 'rule of thumb' is just meat - few, if any, bones. If we got 68%, I'd need two freezers! :-)

    Bookmark   November 11, 2008 at 8:06PM
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snappybob(SaTexas Zone 8)

Thanks gran2 and david52. We had a cow butchered many years ago and I seem to remember 60% as the number told to me by the butcher shop that did the work. I just can't trust my memory for that that many years.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2008 at 2:04PM
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gran2(z5 INDIANA)

yes, the organ meats are included. We usually slaughter at about 1,000 lbs, depending on the variety. The Galloways don't get that big until they're old, and some of the other kinds are nearly 1300.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2008 at 2:55PM
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I'll weigh in here. My latest Hereford, all organic and grass fed, just went into the freezer. He was 1100 pounds on the hoof and I put 588 pounds finished into the freezer. I do get all the soup bones and that adds a few pounds, but it still comes out to over 50%.

I don't pay any more for small packages than large ones, I get charged by the pound of beef that is packaged. I just paid somewhere around 40 cents a pound for nicely packaged and shrink wrapped beef. I don't bother to take the suet. When my WonderWeiner was still alive, I got the heart/tongue/liver and cooked them for dog treats. Now I use the heart and tongue for italian sausage, along with cuts of pork and beef.

As for calves, they aren't all veal. Veal depends on what they are fed and can be up to 800 pounds. Beef over 800 pounds or fed traditional hay and grain cannot be sold as veal, it's baby beef. Veal was originally a designation that the animal had been fed only milk, but now there is a specialized diet for veal.

Meat that tastes like liver? I'm suspecting that you got some second rate beef. Beef that is older is hung longer to "age" and make it tender. To me, it gets a very different texture than young beef, kind of softer, like liver.


    Bookmark   November 21, 2008 at 5:19PM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Annie, that sounds about right to me for Hereford - ours do get some grain in winter...

An 1100 pound live weight works out to approx 720 hanging weight give or take, then breaks down to a rough 500+ without bones other than in rib steaks etc, t-bones. The butcher previous to the one we are using now used to weigh the packaging material before he started cutting, then again at the end of the session and charge for how much used....thus the slightly higher fee for more/smaller packages.

And most always told me I used more than they would have :) There used to be more than one area butcher who would make an appointment with customer, allow you to come and watch the cutting, wrap your own packages as he cut (and he always had me almost frazzled trying to keep up with him!)
That worked out great - I think. The wrapping was something I was somehow good at, and I would end up wrapping animals for other family members at butchering time too. But on the other hand, I knew what was in each package so no surprises, if I wanted hamburger in 1# size I could still do big packages of stew meat etc for bulk cooking later. And even wrap some little half pound portions to give to my mother living alone. I think those days are gone, our best choice for a very experienced butcher these days is an hour away and I don't see the meat once it leaves the barn until I've picked it up frozen.

OT - I wasn't exactly a city girl, but our food came from the grocery store :) I'd been married just a few weeks when my MIL called to happily tell me she was giving us a beef as a belated wedding gift. Which I was expected to wrap - Yikes! I was really intimidated, but got the hang of the wrapping pretty quickly, then learned to cook more than hamburger or roast. Oh, and we had to buy a freezer to accomodate our gift (installment payments) :), luckily had a little basement space with our apartment.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2008 at 8:40PM
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ediej1209(5 N Central OH)

Our next door neighbor raised a holstein steer; he got it last spring and just had it done last month. He didn't have space for all the meat so we bought 1/4 of it. Where all of us around here have meat processed (we do hogs every year, too), they cut it however we request, then put all the individual pieces into heavy plastic vacuum-sealed packages, with hamburger in 1# rolls like sausage. We haven't had any of the beef yet, but I know it will be good, neighbor only fed grass and hay, with a little alfalfa pellets the last couple of weeks. Our hogs are pastured, too, so they have a greater muscle-to-fat ratio than feedlot hogs. The meat is SO much better.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2008 at 7:58PM
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I process deer dureing deer season. I have raised a cow and now I won't to butcher it myself. I can't find a chart on the cuts of cows. I was wandering if you could provide me with a chart so I can cut this cow up myself. thanks
Patrick C Reece
3585 Rousseau Creek Rd
Thomson Ga. 30824

    Bookmark   December 28, 2008 at 8:56PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Here is a chart for beef cuts.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2008 at 11:55AM
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gran2(z5 INDIANA)

Have we mentioned that if you have it all ground into hamburger, the percentages will be much less? I guess it's because of the bones, but our butcher cautioned us about that once -- you just don't get as much. Seems a waste, anyway, missing all those wonderful filets and round steaks.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2009 at 1:25PM
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