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Posted on: May 20, 2020

Penn State Offers Advice for Those Sourcing Meat Locally

An image of a man cutting into a slab of meat on a table.

WAYNE COUNTY -- One of the many blessings of living in a rural area is the ability to purchase locally sourced meat and food products. For those looking to secure their meat supply locally, the best places to start inquiring about purchasing these products is with local butchershops, farmers markets, and directly with livestock producers.

Most butchershops either have the ability to sell you retail cuts of meat, like you can find in a grocery store, or they can sell you portions of an animal by working with a livestock producer. Depending on the inspection process that the animal follows, some livestock producers can also sell you retail cuts of meat at their farm store or through your local farmers market.

              So what does “retail cuts of meat” actually mean? These are cuts that can be found at any grocery store and can be purchased individually. For example, some retail cuts of beef include steaks, burger, roasts, ribs, brisket, stew meat, etc. Most families purchase a small amount of meat at a time and tend to only purchase cuts they are familiar with cooking or are affordable.

Retail cuts are priced out by the pound and can vary depending upon the cut of meat you’re purchasing. For example, most steaks are priced higher per pound because they are more desirable for flavor, texture, and tenderness as well as there being less of those cuts on an animal vs. ground meat that is more abundant.

When purchasing portions of an animal from a butcher shop or livestock producer you’re technically purchasing a portion of the live animal, say a half, and then also paying that butcher to process the animal to your specifications. For Beef, portions are sold in a whole, half, and quarter of the animal; for swine, sheep, and goats’ portions are sold in wholes and halves.

To better understand the payment and processing structure you need to understand  some terminology. The term “dressing percentage” is used to define the percent of the live weight of an animal that becomes the carcass weight after slaughter. The carcass weight or hanging weight is the weight of the live animal minus the head, hide, feet, offal, and some other inedible portions of the animal.

When purchasing a portion of an animal, unless brokered through a butcher shop for a combined price, you will have two “bills.” One “bill” is paid to the previous owner of the livestock and is generally charged on a per pound basis. For example, a livestock producer may charge you $2.00 a pound live-weight for a market lamb or they may charge you a flat rate price per animal. The second “bill” needs to be paid is to the processer who takes that live animal and breaks it down into usable cuts for you to consume. This price is generally determined on a price per pound for the carcass weight.  

Now that you understand the basic terminology, how much meat should you expect from purchasing a portion of an animal? The amount of meat and the cuts you get will vary depending on the size of the live animal, how much fat or finish is trimmed during processing, how many bone-in and bone-out cuts you get, and to some extent the breed and age the live animal.

Each species varies in its dressing percent, and waste percentage. As an example of what you can expect to receive back from purchasing an animal to process, see the table below with information gathered from the USDA Farmers Bulletin for Beef, Pork, & Lamb Slaughtering, Cutting, Preserving, and cooking on the farm.

Estimated Processing Weights for Livestock



Lamb/ Goat

Live Weight

1,000 lbs.

240 lbs.

120 lbs.

Dressing Percent




Carcass Weight

600 lbs.

156 lbs.

60 lbs.

Waste Weight

150 lbs.

54 lbs

18 lbs.

Total Weight for Bone-in Cuts of a whole animal

450 lbs.

102 lbs.

42 lbs.

Total Weight for Bone-in Cuts of a half animal

225 lbs.

51 lbs

21 lbs.

Purchasing locally supplied meats puts more money back into your local economy, supports your community as a whole, and gives you the opportunity to learn exactly where your meat comes from.

To learn more about raising your own livestock, vegetables, and more, contact Penn State Extension. Visit the website at for more information or contact Chelsea Hill at the Wayne County Penn State Extension office at 570-253-5970 ext. 4110 or

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