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Know Your Meat: Live Weight, Carcass Weight, & Take-Home Weight.

The carcass weight, or hanging weight, includes bones and inedible tissue, as well as water weight which is lost during the cooling process.

One of the most misunderstood things in the meat hunting business and butchering world is the terminology used to describe weights and yields. Whether you’re booking with The Bison Ranch or someone else, it is very important to understand these terms so that you know what to expect from your bison hunt.

Some competitors in our industry will too often lead customers to believe that they will take home 400-500 lbs. of meat from a young bull or heifer. (A heifer is a female which has not been bred yet). Believing they are getting a great deal, clients will often book the hunt. Everything goes well, the client takes the young meat bull or heifer to their local butcher where they will most likely pay meat processing fees based on the carcass weight of the bison – which is customary. In this scenario, the client is likely going to be sorely disappointed when they pick up 200-250 lbs. of finished product. The outfitter told them they’d have a lot more meat, they shot a nice healthy bull or heifer, and the butcher charged them for a 450 lb. carcass. Where did the rest of the meat go? Sometimes the butcher might even get accused of stealing it.

Here, the problem was created before the client arrived for the hunt. Either the outfitter provided misleading information or the client didn’t understand the terminology that was being used. Often, it’s a mixture of both. There might ultimately be a dust-up between the customer and the outfitter or butcher as a result.

We’re here to help. Let's start by defining some terms:

  • Live Weight. The total weight of the bison “on the hoof” - as it was standing out in the pasture.

  • Roughly 700-800 lbs. for young bison bulls and heifers between 18-24 months of age; sometimes more, sometimes less.

  • Carcass Weight. Also referred to as the hanging weight. The weight after skinning and field dressing, but before cooling and deboning.

  • 55-60% of live weight: Roughly 385-540 lbs.

  • Take-Home Weight. Final weight of boneless, edible meat products.

  • 30-35% of live weight; 50-60% of carcass weight: Roughly 200-270 lbs.

Please note that we do not weigh your bison at any time. Our butchering fees are flat rate; we do not charge by the pound. The figures provided here are for informational purposes only, and are the owners’ best estimates based on many many years in the bison business, behind a scope, holding a knife, packaging meat, and sending clients home satisfied. Additionally, there are other factors beyond our control which might affect your yield (e.g. There would be several pounds of wasted meat if you shot a bison through the shoulder).

If you start doing the math, you will quickly realize why 400-500 lbs from anything other than a fully-matured bison bull is unrealistic.


Let’s take a young bison bull having a live weight of approximately 800 lbs., shot perfectly behind the ear (so there shouldn’t be any meat that goes to waste), and start breaking it down.

First, we’re going to remove the hide and head. Subtract 150 lbs.

Next, we’re going to field dress the bison. They are big animals with a big chest and belly full of organs and guts. Subtract 200 lbs.

Hot / Hanging Carcass Weight. We just removed 350 lbs. from our 800 lb. bison before we let it cool down or took out any of the bones. We’re left with carcass weight, or hanging weight, of about 450 lbs.

  • For beef, the general rule is that the carcass weight should be approximately 60% of the live weight. (60% of 800 lbs. = 480 lbs). Because bison have thicker hides, a lot more hair, and bigger heads, their carcass weight will often be a little less than a beef. This is more noticeable in bulls than heifers.

Take-Home Weight. We need to let our carcass cool down and air out overnight – sometimes longer if time permits – before taking out the bone and inedible tissue. Both cooling (loss of water weight) and deboning will reduce our weight again. The final take-home weight, consisting of all boneless cuts and trim, is going to be roughly 50-55% of the hot hanging carcass weight for bulls, usually a little more for heifers. In this example, our customer could expect to take home about 240-250 lbs. of edible meat products

  • For beef, the general rule is that the take-home weight should be roughly 60% of the carcass weight. Bison tend to yield a bit less due to a couple significant factors: 1) bison are leaner – carrying less fat that ends up on your dinner plate; and 2) bison have a larger bone structure. Further, the figures usually provided for beef yield assume a certain number of bone-in cuts.

  • Remember, a reduced take-home weight doesn’t necessarily mean you are receiving less meat – rather, you are receiving fewer bones!


As mentioned above, heifers generally yield a higher percentage than their male counterparts. This is because bulls have bigger heads, thicker hides, more hair, larger bones, and larger organs and guts. Additionally, females tend to carry more fat which we ultimately want to include in your trim (ground meat). Grass-fed bison fat is sweet and flavorful. (You might have heard the term "healthy fat" before. This is exactly what they're talking about.) The young bull will look more impressive standing out on the range, and in many instances he might actually weight more than the heifer just a few feet away. But a 700 lb. grass-fed heifer might actually yield a similar take-home weight as an 800 lb. grass-fed bull.

Please let us know if you have any questions about our butchering services or bison in general. Happy hunting!

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