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By Pam Burke 

View from the North 40: Only one thing is absolute in my uncertainty theory calculations


Last updated 6/19/2020 at 9:38am

When I say that I’m a simple person, I mean I’m just a step or two upslope of simpleton-simple. I like things to be straight forward in simple terms. Complicated things are best dealt with if they are easily related to stuff I already understand so I can grasp the big picture and the nuts and bolts of a thing at the same time.

I am here to say that this week has failed me miserably.

It started with me wanting some beef and my week somehow turned into a lesson on butchering, mathematics and the uncertainty theory.

To be honest, I just made up the term uncertainty theory, to explain the precariousness of the situation for which I was having to calculate answers, but then for funsies I did an internet search. Wikipedia said it’s a real thing:

“Uncertainty theory is a branch of mathematics based on normality, monotonicity, self-duality, countable subadditivity and product measure axioms. Mathematical measures of the likelihood of an event being true include probability theory, capacity, fuzzy logic, possibility and credibility as well as uncertainty.”

I couldn’t have explained the situation any clearer than that.

So if you want to buy some beef in bulk, know this: It is not like buying meat at the grocery story. You do not ask “how much per pound?” and expect a number you can write on a check. I’m telling you right now. Just clear your mind of that nonsense.

How much per pound is the beef? It’s $2.50 per pound for hanging weight. Plus $.75 per pound hanging weight for processing. Plus $100 for a kill fee — which is a flat rate, that’s important.

The beef, then, is $3.25 per pound, plus $100. Don’t start doing the rest of the math yet. Are you ready for an education?

Live weight is, as it sounds, the pre-butcher weight of the animal.

Hanging weight is the post-butcher weight. You know those modern shoot-em-up movies where the on-foot chase scene ends up in a big meat locker and everyone is pushing around those beef carcasses hanging from hooks? That carcass, aka the meat, fat and bone, is what comprises the hanging weight — a some of that fat and bone is waste material.

If I have a 1,200-pound cow, how much meat comes from that? Depends on who you consult. Could be 50 percent, could be 70 percent. That’s a 20 percent difference right there, also known as 240 pounds, or as I need to think of it — a $780 difference in price — and that still doesn’t get me the finished price per pound so I can compare with other meat prices.

After two days on and off of studying the issue, I found a professional-looking website called MeatChris.com, and Chris said hanging weight is 61 percent of live weight, and packaged weight is 67 percent of hanging weight.

Do I know Chris? No, not at all, but I’m fully prepared to believe him at this point because, well, any port in a storm, and I proceed as if I have all my answers.

My 1,200-pound cow will yield 732 pounds hanging weight, which will yield 490 pounds of packaged meat. So math tells me I’ll pay $2,488 for the hanging weight of a whole beef. That, divided by 490, gives me $5.08 per pound for my beef.

Don’t be a sucker. We still have the fuzzy logic of uncertainty theory with all its possible probabilities to deal with.

1) We don’t know how much the cow will actually weigh. It’s not like the little herd is out there going “Hey, gang, let’s go to the corral for our daily weigh-in and fat pinch test so we can hit our target weight and optimum fat content for our next owner. hahaha. All joking aside, does this alfalfa make my butt look big?”

2) I actually only want a quarter of the beef which logically seems like the straight math of one-quarter of the total amount of packaged meat. But no. A “quarter beef” refers to the location on the carcass, e.g. left front quarter or right hind quarter. A hind quarter is bigger than one quarter and a front quarter is smaller. By how much, you might think to ask. I’m pretty sure you can apply the uncertainty theory to that question yourself at this point.

3) A quarter beef is problematic because, and this is important to note, cows are only butchered in wholes, not in parts. I know it seems obvious when I say it, but I’ve been working for about a week to get a whole cow accounted for, and people are on board with buying some nice local beef. I’ve sold more than that one cow, but between quarters and halves being claimed, I haven’t come out even yet … of course, all the parts equaling a whole is the only portion of this equation that is absolute and certain.


Oh, irony, you’re such a math whiz at [email protected]


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