Something to be Proud of

Published on: 19:55PM Sep 25, 2010

Something to be proud of


   Cattle and beef production represent the largest single segment of American agriculture. In fact, the USDA says more farms are classified as beef cattle operations (35%) than any other type.   USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture classified 687,540 farms as beef cattle operations.  The future of our industry depends on producing a safe, wholesome and nutritious food tailored to the needs of our consumers.   For many farmers and ranchers, raising cattle is a family tradition.  Some of us may be first generation, some of us may be 3rd, 5th or even 9th generation cattle ranchers.  There’s more to raising safe, wholesome, quality beef cattle than just turning your bull out to pasture in late summer with your heifers and cow’s.  It takes knowledge by trial & error, knowledge by learning from other producers, desire, integrity and honesty.  Most farms and ranches in the United States, including cattle ranches, are family owned and operated.  Even the largest farms tend to be family farms. More than 97 percent of beef cattle farms and ranches are classified as family farms.  When it comes to beef cattle production, most operations are smaller than you might think.  According to USDA, the majority of beef cattle operations (79%) have less than 50 head of cattle.  Although cattle farms and ranches are spread across the United State, nearly a third of cattle operations are located in the Plains states.


   We all strive to provide safe, high-quality beef for our consumers both stateside and over-seas at an affordable price while sustaining and improving resources under our close watch/care.   Beef production methods have evolved to achieve this goal, resulting in new management protocols and technologies specifically through programs like The Beef Quality Assurance Program (BQA) and NCBA’s MBA Program.  Both of those programs help us meet consumer demand.  And now a day’s, consumers demand quality animal care otherwise known as BQA.  As Beef producers, the best way to produce safe, wholesome and nutritious beef is to simply combine the latest scientific advances (see NCBA’s web-site and the Center for Beef Excellence site), with time-honored family traditions which most of us already posses.  If you’re a first generation farmer/rancher/producer, there’s no better time than the present to start cementing family traditions for following generations.  Every family started as first generation "somethings"!  Right?  Why not start a family tradition of producing Beef with the guidelines set forth by the BQA program?


   If your not a Beef producer and don’t have the opportunity of becoming one, but like to learn as much as you can about what you eat and where it really comes from and how it get’s there?  The following is a brief synopsis I found on the Explore web-site…

   Beef production begins with a cow-calf producer who maintains a breeding herd of cows that raise calves every year. When a calf is born, it weighs 60-100 pounds. Beef calves are weaned at six to 10 months of age when they weigh 450-700 pounds.   Calves leave their ranch or farm of origin between six and 12 months of age. Younger or lighterweight calves may be sent to a backgrounder or stocker who continues to graze them on grass or other forages until they are 12 to 16 months old.  Both the cow-calf and stocker segments graze cattle on range and pastureland that is largely unsuitable for crop production. In fact, about 85 percent of U.S. grazing lands are unsuitable for producing crops, and grazing animals on this land more than doubles the area that can be used to produce food.

   After the calves are weaned, some are sold at an auction market.   A cow-calf producer may also choose to keep the best females to add to the breeding herd. Some animals may not be sold at an auction market, and instead will go directly from the cow-calf producer to the feedlot or from the backgrounder/stocker to the feedlot.   Most beef cattle spend approximately four to six months in a feedlot just prior to harvest where  they are fed a grain-based diet.  At the feedlot (also called feedyard), cattle are grouped into pens that provide space for socializing and exercise. They receive feed rations that are balanced by a professional nutritionist.     

   Feedlots employ a consulting veterinarian, and employees monitor the cattle’s health and well-being daily. Feedlots are efficient and provide consistent, wholesome and affordable beef using fewer resources. The time cattle spend in a feedlot is often called the "finishing phase."  Some producers choose to finish cattle on grass pasture. The beef derived from these animals is "grass-finished" (sometimes called "grass fed").  This is a significantly smaller segment of modern beef production because it requires unique climate conditions, and it takes the cattle longer to reach market weight.  All cattle—whether they are grass-finished or finished in a feedlot—spend the majority of their lives grazing on grass pasture.

   Once cattle reach market weight—typically 1,200-1,400 pounds and 18-22 months of age, they are sent to a processing facility to be harvested. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors are stationed in all federally inspected packing plants and oversee the implementation of safety, quality and animal welfare standards from the time animals enter the plant until the final beef products are shipped to retail and foodservice establishments for consumers to purchase.

   There, that was fairly painless right?  If you’re a consumer and you have any other questions about where you food comes from and how it got there, log on to  Above all, don’t be afraid to stop at a farm or ranch and ask a producer about how they raise their Beef and why?  Ask as many producers as you can find, you may be surprised how many different way’s of raising Beef there are. 

  Beef production affects the U.S. economy. According to USDA, producers of meat animals in 2008 were responsible for more than $66 billion in added value to the U.S. economy, as measured by their contribution to the national output.  Now that’s Something to be Proud of!