It is important for anyone direct marketing meat to determine how much meat a market animal provides. The pounds of meat a farmers should get from an animal will be dependent upon the dressing percentage and the carcass cutting yields. A handy formula has been developed to help:  Pounds of Meat= (Dressing percent x Carcass cutting yield) x Live weight

The dressing percentage is the percent of the live animal that ends up as carcass. Generally, the carcass weight is taken immediately after skinning and evisceration and is commonly known as the hot hanging weight. There are a number of factors that will affect the percentage including how much the animal has eaten before it is weighed, how much mud or fiber is on the animal. These factors negatively correlate to the dressing percentage, by reducing the dressing percentage. The amount of fat and muscling will positively affect dressing percentage, the heavier or fatter an animal, the higher the dressing percentage. The dressing percentage can be calculated as such: Dressing Percentage (DP)= (Carcass Weight / Live Weight) x 100. Different species tend to average different DP’s. Beef cattle average 62%, steers 59%, hogs 74% and market lambs 54%. Farmers can expect a 1000 pound steer to result in a 620 pound hanging carcass or a 140 pound market hog to produce a 103 pound carcass (140 x .74).

The carcass-cutting yield is the percentage of the carcass that actually ends up as meat. The carcass cutting yield is calculated by: ( Pounds of meat/ Carcass weight) x 100. Cutting yields can vary significantly depending upon cutting specifications; cuts that are bone-in or boneless, will produce very different cutting yields. If the animal is excessively fat, then the cutting yield will be lower because the fat is removed and discarded. A more muscular animal will have a higher cutting yield. Aging, leaving the carcass to hang for an extended period of time will also impact cutting yields, as the carcass tends to shrink during the process. Cutting losses on a side of beef may range from 20 to 40 percent, and average around 28%.

Yield grades can help can help predict cutting yields. A yield grade measures the amount of boneless, trimmed retail cut from various parts of the carcass: the round, the loin, the rib and the chuck. The higher the yield grade the higher the carcass cutting yield percentage. A lower yield grade indicates a higher cutting yield. To employ the help of a yield grade to determine the amount of saleable meat lets consider the following example. A yield grade 2 on a 400 pound carcass would indicate saleable meat of 79.8% or 319 pounds of meat. If more cuts were left bone-in, then the actual carcass cutting yield would be higher than 79.8% and the pounds of meat would be higher than 319.

To help a farmer price his product, it is also important to know the average cut weights expected from breaking down a carcass. A 1000 pound steer will produce a 600 pound carcass. 400 pounds are lost in hide, blood, and inedible organs. From this 600 pound beef carcass a farmer should expect around the following: 27.5% chuck, 3.2% shank, 3.8% brisket, 9.8% ribs, 8.5% short plate, 17.7% loin, 5.3% flank, and 22.8% round. He could also expect 425 pounds in retail cuts at a yield grade 3 (70.8%). These figures provide only an approximation, and are to be used as a guide. Farmers should keep good records of dressing percentages and carcass yields to help with farm management and the decision making process.

Author: Adrienne Masler


After operating a vegetable CSA for six years at Wake Robin Farm in Jordan, NY, Meg and Bruce Schader agreed that they would rather milk cows. Meg and Bruce were inspired to keep their farm small when they heard about a friend’s grandfather who sent his four children to college on his income from milking 12 cows. In order to make their new operation viable, they built a creamery and learned how to produce yogurt in 2006. “We had the idea that we could just transition like snapping our fingers,” says Meg, but they quickly learned that it wouldn’t be that easy. Despite challenges – the pasteurizer arrived six months late and Meg needed an appendectomy in 2006 – Wake Robin Farm is now making a name for itself and the Schaders have expanded their product line to include bottled milk and artisan cheeses.

Before embarking on the transition, the Schaders researched on-farm milk processing. They learned that yogurt was the best product for a start-up because it’s easier to make than cheese and has more value than bottled milk. They created a business plan with assistance from NY FarmNet, which Meg says has helped them to focus their goals and secure funding. She adds that loans provided their working capital for the first few years. Their debt-to-income ratio was intimidating at first, but after three years and a lot of hard work, the numbers look better. The management of the dairy is much different from the CSA: all the income from CSA memberships was available by June of each year and the Schaders had a solid number to work with for the rest of the year. When growing vegetables, they could also predict their input costs (e.g., seeds) with relative ease. Now they’re learning how to juggle expenses for a variety of supplies such as yogurt cups, vanilla, maple syrup, and their delivery truck. Meg points out that a price difference of 1 or 2 cents per yogurt cup makes a big difference when she’s ordering thousands of cups. Through it all, “the energy came from our vision – a vision can get you through anything if you really want it to,” says Meg. Now they’re milking 12 cows on 45 acres of hay and pasture. In the summer months, the cows are rotated to fresh pasture every 12 hours, and in the winter they are let out for exercise and are fed hay and about 5 to 10 pounds of organic grain per day; the grain helps to keep the milk components high.


Though Meg points out that all farms will find their own niches, Wake Robin is unique for more than its size. All of the milk is processed on-farm and they don’t buy in any additional milk. There’s no bulk tank – instead, the Schaders milk into 10-gallon cans, which enables them to use milk from different cows for different products. They usually use milk with the highest butterfat content for the yogurt, which they make rich and creamy.

Meg credits family as the linchpin of Wake Robin’s success. Bruce comes from a family of farmers; they own the land and some of the equipment. Meg’s family helps to take care of 9-year-old Hugh and made a loan to the farm. “Banks often don’t know how to look at farms,” Meg says, but in 2008 they were able to get capital through Farm Credit’s new Farm Start program.

Meg and Bruce are committed to running the farm themselves and making it work with the land, animals, and equipment that they have. It flies in the face of traditional economic thinking, which emphasizes growth, to ask as Meg does, “How can we stay small forever?” Wake Robin is poised for a different sort of growth by expanding their product line and by increasing their retail sales. Currently the yogurt is wholesaled to local stores and the milk and cheese are sold on-farm and at the farmers market. Meg is inspired by the book, Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered, which challenges individuals and businesses to grow in social ways, not just in terms of the economic bottom line.

To learn more about Wake Robin Farm, visit

Adrienne Masler was a student intern at the Cornell Small Farms Program in 2009. She graduated from Cornell with a degree in Agricultural Sciences and is currently an intern at Calypso Farm and Ecology Center in Ester, Alaska. She may be reached at