Dressing Percentage

In our direct market meat business, it is not uncommon to field questions from customers who are confused regarding dressing percentage and/or the cutting yield of whatever livestock species they are purchasing for meat. Unfortunately, their uncertainty usually stems from inexperience in the process of converting an animal into a carcass and further fabrication into cuts of meat. Many simply do not understand that a rather large amount of the weight of a live animal does not correspondingly end up in a meat case or freezer.
I will never forget the man who phoned and explained to me that our price for a beef (priced per pound of carcass weight) was too high since he had last purchased a beef (priced per pound of live weight) from someone else much cheaper. Needless to say, it was hard convincing this person, since he was adamant that the 1,000 pound steer he purchased had yielded 900 pounds of meat.
Whether you are buying or selling direct market meat or even selling livestock at a sale barn, knowledge concerning dressing percentage and carcass cutting yield and the factors that influence them will certainly have an impact on the price or value that you may pay or receive. This article examines how dressing percentage and cutting yield are calculated, and how different factors determine how heavy a carcass is and how much meat comes from a market animal.
Dressing percentage can be defined as the percent of the live animal that ends up in the carcass and is computed by taking the carcass weight and dividing it by the live weight and multiplying by 100. Although dressing percentage ranges in value, averages are 62 percent for beef, 50 percent for goats, 74 percent for hogs, and 54 percent for lambs. Gut fill can have a large affect on dressing percent. An animal that is weighed “full of feed” versus fasted for a day can dress up to 5 percent lower. Diet also affects dressing percentage. For instance, cattle that are “grass-finished” tend to dress lower than “grain-finished” animals. Also, heavier muscled and fatter animals will, in general, have higher dressing percentages than lighter muscled and leaner animals, respectively. Breed-type can also make a difference. This is especially true in comparing beef breeds to dairy breeds, which will on average have a 3 percent or so lower dressing percentage. Age of the animal at harvest will certainly affect dressing percent; a very light, young goat will have a substantially lower dressing percent than a heavier, older goat. How hogs are processed, with the skin removed or left on during harvest, can impact dressing percentage considerably, as well. Other factors such as the amount of mud on an animal, length of wool or hair, and gender can also influence dressing percentage.
Carcass cutting yield (sometimes referred to as cutability) is defined as the percent of the carcass that ends up as meat and can be calculated by dividing the pounds of meat by the carcass weight and multiplying by 100. First, cutting yield is affected by fatness. Leaner animals will have a higher cutting yield than fatter animals. Similarly, how closely trimmed cuts of meat are, and how lean ground product is, can be a large factor in yield. Conversely, heavier muscled animals will have higher cutting yields than lighter muscled animals. Finally, bone-in versus boneless methods of fabrication will dramatically affect carcass cutting yield. For the aforementioned reasons, obviously the pounds of meat from a high dressing, heavy muscled, lean animal, that is fabricated into bone-in cuts versus a low dressing, light muscled, fat animal that is fabricated into boneless cuts will be immensely different. Thus, the average pounds of meat you can expect to get from a market animal is subjective, but for an average beef can range from about 38 percent to 43 percent of the live weight, for an average hog 47 percent to 53 percent of the live weight, and for an average goat or lamb somewhere near 36 to 41 percent of the live weight.
In summary, dressing percentage and carcass cutting yield determines how large of a carcass and how much meat you get from a market animal, which can range considerably as a result of a number of factors that influence these measures.
Bruce Shanks, Ph.D., owns Sassafras Valley Ranch in Belle, Mo., and is an animal science professor at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo.

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