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Butchering a Heifer for the Freezer

14 March 2023
Type Media Article

By Keith Fahy B&T Drystock Advisor, Teagasc Galway/Clare

For the majority of beef farmers in Ireland we all produce vast volumes of beef to feed large numbers of people. It is however very rare for farmers to consume their own beef produce. The numbers of farmers slaughtering their own animals for the freezer is definitley in the minority. I deal with farmers every day and if I was to hazard a guess I would say that less than 1% of these farmers consume their own beef. 

Butchering one of our own heifers on the home farm was never done before. My father often killed lambs for the freezer (when we had sheep) but never sent a beef animal to be butchered up for our own use. Last summer I got the idea of sending one of our own bucket reared heifers. We run a part-time beef farm doing a calf and store to finish system. Towards the end of the summer I decided to pick out an animal that would be suitable for the freezer. I picked out one of the lighter easier fleshed heifers from the bunch.

Before we sent the heifer to the butcher it was clear that we would have to invest in a larger freezer as we wouldn’t have had sufficient storage for the beef. I did some research and ended up purchasing a 400 litre capacity freezer for €460.

The heifer we sent to the butcher can be seen in the photo’s Fig 1 and 2 was a Hereford heifer out of a dairy cow. She arrived on the farm at around 3 weeks of age and was reared on milk replacer along with the rest of the calves. She was born on the 08/03/2021 and went to the butcher exactly 20 months later on the 08/11/2022. Her breed composition was made up of 50% Hereford, 28.13% Holstein, 12.5% Fresian, and 9.38% Jersey. Her sire was Shrimptons Hill (HE2463). She spent the majority of her life at grass in a rotationally grazed system and was fed a finishing concentrate for just over 60 days at a rate of 5kg of meal per day at grass and with silage when she was brought into the shed on the 13th of October.

The heifer was slaughtered by Brian Carrol in “Farrells Abbatoir” in Athenry and she was subseqently butchered and bagged by Brian’s father Tony Carroll who runs a family butcher shop in Ballinasloe. It cost €330 to kill, butcher, bag and label the meat, however the meat was very well presented and labelled making it very easy to divide in the new freezer.

On the morning she went to the butchers on the 08/11/22 she weighed 497 kg live weight and she killed out at a 245kg carcass which was 49% of her fresh live weight which I was happy with considering she was out of a dairy bred cow and had a small amount of Jersey genetics. Interestingly going on the beef price the week she was killed which was approx €4.70 compared to this weeks factory heifer price of €5.30 there is a 60c difference in beef price which would equate to an extra €147 if killed this week. If I was to guess what the heifer would have graded I would have said she would have been a O-4-. Looking at the grid and todays base price of €5.30 and at the base of €4.70 as per date of sale please see difference below for a O-4- grading Hereford Heifer and assuming a Hereford bonus of 15c which can vary depending on factory etc:

  • €5.30 – 24 c (GRID) + 12 c (Quality Assurance) + 15c Hereford Bonus = €5.33X245kg = €1305
  • €4.70 – 24 c (GRID) + 12 c (Quality Assurance) + 15c Hereford Bonus = €4.73X245kg = €1158

So what meat did I get back?

WeightCutRetail PriceTotal
20 kg Beef Mince €7.99 €160
23 kg Burgers (9/kg@23kg= 207) €1/Burger €207
18 kg Round Roast €11.99 €215
11.2 kg Round Steak €11.99 €135
14.2 kg Rib Steak €7.99 €113
8 kg Sirloin €24.99 €200
13 kg T-Bone €32 €416
4 kg Pot Roast €7.99 €32
11 kg Rib Roast €16.99 €187
6.8 kg Housekeepers Cut €11.99 €82
12 kg Stew Beef €11.99 €144
2 kg Fillet €50 €100
143.2 Kg Meat Trimmed     €1991

There was 143.2 kg of saleable meat, this would equate to 29% of the fresh weight of 497 kg. The factories also have the fifth quarter and offal which I have no value put in here as we did not request any of these, examples of offal and the 5th quarter includes hide, lung, liver, bones, bone marrow, cheek meat, kidney heart and more.

The meat itself was very nice with a lovely amount of marbling. The Hereford breed is known for its tenderness and rich fat content. Hereford beef pays a premium price and this was clearly visible when tasting the meat.

It was a very enjoyable and interesting experience. It makes one realise that when we go to a restaurant or indeed a butcher/supermarket and we order a steak this is only a small part of the animal. The high value cuts are only a proportion of the animal. It must also be noted that this was an early maturing breed animal out of a dairy dam and was killed at only 20 months of age with minimal concentrates. Continental heifers or steers out of suckler dams would have a mugh higher percentage kill out rate and would be heavier and maybe killed at an older age. Many farmers finish continental heifers and bullocks at 30 months and could achieve a carcass weight of double the heifer we finished. But you cannot compare like with like.

Fig1: Hereford Heifer

Fig 2: Well Fleshed

Fig 3: Boxed Meat

Fig 4: Carcass with a good cover of fat