Beef Cattle, Except Feedlots

SIC 0212

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This classification covers establishments primarily engaged in the production or feeding of beef cattle, except feedlots. Establishments primarily engaged in raising dairy cattle are classified in SIC 0241: Dairy Farms.

Industry Snapshot

The total number of operations in the handling of beef cattle fell from 757,000 in 2008 to 753,000 in 2009, still well below the 770,000 reported in 2005. Of the 753,000 operations, 601,000 had fewer than 500 head, while 83,000 had 50 to 99 head. Additionally, 67,000 had as much as 499 head in 2009, down from the 73,000 operations in 2008. Additionally, in 2009, operations with 500 or more head accounted for 47.7 percent of the total cattle inventory.

There were 757,900 operations handling beef cattle in 2007, most of which had fewer than 500 head. Although dairy farmers produce approximately 17 percent of the beef in this country (per the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)), that beef is largely a by-product of the milk business and is not included in this industry classification. This category includes all activities of ranchers or beef farmers up to the time their cattle are sent to the feedlot. Issues regarding the operation and management of feedlots are discussed in SIC 0211: Beef Cattle Feedlots.
The sale of cattle and calves is the largest segment of the American agricultural economy, which in turn comprises 20.5 percent (more than $49.1 billion) of the all U.S. commodities per the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2006--double that of the second leading commodity of dairy products. Also in that year, cattle and calves accounted for nearly four-fifths of the total $63.7 billion in meat animal cash receipts. In 2006, the annual average price per 100 pounds live weight for cattle dropped to $87.20 from the 2005 total of $84.70. Beef cattle are one of the few agricultural commodities produced in all fifty states, and the industry comprises more than 1 million businesses.

Beef has been central to America's dining habits for a long time. Recently, however, poultry has made great strides in eroding that primacy. Much of poultry's popularity has been attributed to lower prices and low fat content. The beef industry has worked hard to produce and promote a leaner product, and cites that one-third of all Americans have eaten some type of ground beef in the past 24 hours. Despite the many advances of the poultry industry, beef surpasses its competitors in both production and sales, and remains the country's favorite protein source.

According to USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, the United States was the largest producer of beef and veal products in the world in 2006, though it places fourth in exports as it has attempted to rebound from the disastrous 2003 findings of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). It also is the largest importer of beef, particularly of ground beef in frozen form. Despite a recent drop in annual beef consumption, U.S. per capita beef consumption in the worldwide leader.

Organization and Structure

Because a vast amount of acreage is needed to support beef cows, cattlemen own or manage more land than any other single industry. In the meadows of Montana or the irrigated pastures of California, one acre of land supports a cow and her calf for an entire year. In the deserts of the Southwest, however, an entire section of land, or 640 acres, can support only a handful of cows.

More than 1.2 billion acres of this country are considered agricultural lands by the USDA; this comprises approximately 50 percent of the United States and two-thirds of the contiguous states. Though two-thirds of this land is considered to be grazing land, 90 percent of it is unsuitable for growing commercial crops because of limited rainfall, steep slopes, rocky terrain, or poor soil. Thus, the land can only be used for pasturing beef cattle, sheep, goats, bison, horses, and wild animals.

These grazing lands are ideal for cattle, because the cattle can convert grass and other forages into high-protein food sources. The typical beef cow does not spend a single day in a cattle-fattening feedlot, but instead lives on grass and hay her entire life, being retained for breeding and nursing. Her offspring may be fattened in a feedlot for 20 percent of their lives, or her female offspring may be kept as replacement females. A typical range cow loses her productivity between the ages of eight and ten and must be replaced.

The cow is like a factory for the beef industry: she generates more cattle. Beef cows have a nine-month gestation period and usually give birth to a single calf either in the fall or the spring. These calves are called "commercial" cattle as opposed to "purebreds," which are born from both a sire and dame of purebred ancestry. The majority of calves in this country are born in the spring and sold in the fall. The average calf weighs between 80 and 85 pounds at birth and lives on a diet of grass and its mother's milk. The calves run beside their mothers until they are weaned, which usually occurs when the calves are between six and eight months old. At this age, the calves usually weigh between 500 and 550 pounds, though there are significant variations due to management and feed conditions.

While they are still running alongside their mothers, the calves are gathered or rounded up much like they were in the early days of ranching. The calves are then branded by their owners and vaccinated for a variety of diseases. Bull calves are altered or castrated, at which time they are called steers. Steering a bull prevents fighting, accidental breeding with cows and heifer calves, and allows for easier management.

Before the calves are weaned, bulls are turned in with the cows to breed them. Normally, between 80 and 90 percent of the cowherd will be bred successfully. Those cows that do not conceive are referred to as "open" and are sold for beef. The bulls that are used are usually purebred cattle in which multigeneration pedigrees have been maintained by a breed association. These bulls are produced by purebred breeders, whose sole intent is to provide seedstock for the commercial beef cattle producer. These purebred producers test their cattle for weight gain and meat quality, and keep extensive records on their pedigreed livestock. When commercial producers subsequently purchase bulls in the spring or fall of the year, they are aided by a pedigree and by computerized records that indicate how a particular sire's offspring might perform. The price of these commercial bulls usually ranges from $1,500 to $4,000, while the purebred sire that was used to produce them might cost upwards of $20,000. It is not uncommon for a particularly good purebred bull to be syndicated for several hundred thousand dollars or to be purchased by a bull stud. The use of artificial insemination and embryo transfer has become commonplace in the beef cattle industry and has made it possible to use genetics from the best cows to produce several offspring per year instead of a single calf.

When the calves are ready for weaning, they can be sold through an auction market or over a satellite video hookup known as a satellite auction. They also may be traded in-country by an order buyer, or the cattlemen may prefer to retain ownership. The calves are then run as "stockers." Stockers go back to feeding on grass until the time they weigh approximately 800 pounds. Other weaned calves may go straight into the feedlot for the final finishing stage and skip the stocker stage completely. As cattlemen continue to improve the genetics in their herds, many calves are weaning in excess of 650 pounds and reaching a finished weight of 1,250 pounds in the feedlot, when they are just over one year old.

Many ranchers consider themselves nothing more than grass farmers. Their job is to convert grass to beef as efficiently as possible. Cattle spend between 80 and 100 percent of their lives on grazing lands and have played a role in sustainable agricultural systems for centuries. Their manure and urine naturally fertilize the grasslands, and their hoofing action breaks up the crust of the soil. When they are run in the proper manner without overgrazing, cattle play a key role in maintaining soil productivity and keeping forages in a healthy condition. These forages in turn protect soil from wind and water erosion, and leguminous forages, such as alfalfa, add nitrogen to the soil.

While per capita consumption decreased during the 1980s and 1990s, and beef lost market share to poultry, the industry experienced one of the most prolonged profitable periods in its history. This is probably due to the fact that hundreds of thousands of beef producers left the industry during the last downturn in the cattle market. Several factors have been responsible for the decline in beef consumption since 1986.

Competing Meats.
Per capita annual boneless beef consumption in the United States stood at 64.7 pounds in 1998. This was down considerably from 1975, when per capita consumption peaked at 95.0 pounds, yet per capita consumption stabilized in the 1990s. With ebbs and flows, consumption levels have remained at 62 to 65 pounds, signaling that major declines were over.

A combination of factors contributed to beef's decline in the late 1980s. Competition from competing meats got the attention of beef producers, as poultry challenged beef's position as "The King of Meats." In the early 1990s, the poultry industry proudly announced that more chicken was consumed per person in this country than beef. This was the first time in the industry's history that beef was displaced as the most consumed meat in the country, in terms of poundage. Cattlemen like to point out, however, that beef at the retail level is a 94 percent boneless product, while chicken is only 69 percent boneless. On an edible meat basis, therefore, Americans still eat more beef--64.7 pounds versus 49.2 pounds of chicken in 1998. On a dollar basis the difference is more dramatic. Americans spent $187.91 per person on beef in 1998 compared with $125.16 on pork and $112.50 on chicken. As the largest dollar volume item sold in grocery stores, beef represents more than 6 percent of all grocery store sales. It is estimated that in 1999, Americans consumed 36.5 pounds of beef cuts compared to 27.7 pounds of ground beef.

However, beef producers were still concerned about beef's declining market share. In the late 1980s, for example, cattlemen began to voluntarily assess themselves one dollar per head every time a beef animal was sold and pooled these proceeds toward advertising, research, and education. Much of that money was spent on finding better ways to compete with poultry and seafood.

The War on Fat.
After experiencing decades of adulation from the public, the beef industry faced a host of new problems and new adversaries beginning in the early 1980s. The cattle industry was unaccustomed and unprepared for this avalanche of negative publicity. First there was the "war on fat." A Gallup poll in the early 1990s determined that the top dietary concern among consumers was the amount of fat in their food. This caught the beef cattle industry off guard.

American cattle differ from most beef animals produced in the world because they are grain fed. This grain finishing period, which usually lasts around 100 days, is unique to this country. It makes for a better tasting piece of beef, but it also increases the amount of fat in the beef carcass. In surveys of American beef consumers, taste remains the number one reason why they select beef over competing meats. This taste is achieved by intermuscular marbling, the tiny flecks of fat visible to the eye in steaks and roasts. This marbling is what gives beef its flavor and is one of the main criteria used in determining the grade and the price of beef.

Because of the manner in which beef animals distribute fat, intermuscular marbling is the last place where fat is deposited. Before the fat is distributed as intermuscular marbling, it is first deposited on the outside of the animal, visible to the consumer as the outer rind of fat on a piece of steak. Studies sponsored by the Meat Board estimated that the beef industry was producing 2,825 truckloads of fat at 40,000 pounds per load annually. This inefficient production of fat was costing all segments of the industry $4 billion annually. This figure, however, still does not represent the loss of per capita consumption that may have been attributable to fatty beef.

Faced with this dilemma, the beef industry declared its own war on fat. Due largely to a program sponsored by commercial beef producers, retailers have reduced the amount of external fat on meat cuts by 27 percent. The fat rind on most cuts is trimmed to one-quarter and even one-eighth of an inch. In some cuts, the fat trim is completely removed.

Commercial cattle producers also have responded by using new genetic enhancements on their cattle. Throughout its history, the U.S. beef industry has relied largely on three breeds of cattle--Angus, Hereford, and Shorthorn. These breeds were of English descent and were introduced to this country when pioneer cattlemen wanted to improve the degree of muscling found in Longhorn cattle.

In their quest to find faster growing and leaner breeds, cattlemen looked to Europe for new genetics, and since the 1960s there has been a constant parade of new breeds of beef cattle into the United States. Beginning with the Charolais from France, it is estimated that there have been more than 76 different breeds of beef cattle introduced into the United States. Some of these breeds, such as the Charolais, Simmental, and Limousin, have made major contributions to the beef industry, while many others were quickly discarded. These breeds from Europe became known as the "Continental Breeds" or "Exotics." Although they have not displaced Angus and Hereford as the most popular beef breeds, they are quite commonplace in crossbreeding programs.

It has become the norm in the beef industry to blend the genetics from two or three breeds for maximum heterosis or hybrid vigor. This results in faster growth, increased disease tolerance, and leaner beef. A cattleman, for example, might breed a Hereford bull with an Angus cow and then cross the resulting crossbred female with an exotic breed. Such crosses have become extremely popular and have helped to reduce fat.

As fat content has decreased, some critics argue that the flavor of beef has suffered. Consequently, beef producers are faced with the challenge of producing animals whose meat has the taste Americans prefer without the fat.

Value Added Products.
Beef is still largely sold as a generic product in retail grocery stores, whereas chicken and pork are often sold as "branded" products with fancy packaging and attractive labels. The beef industry has struggled with the concept, launching many private label brands with little success. However, the meat packing industry is concentrated in the hands of three major packers who have shown a reluctance to enter the branded meat business. This factor also has contributed to the decrease in the per capita consumption of beef.

Several breed associations have attempted to market a branded product with their breed name on the package. In many cases they have backed up the labels with extensive advertising programs. Many exotic breeds attempted to market "lite" beef with fewer calories and less fat. Other companies have introduced organic and "natural" beef products. Of the more than 200 companies that have tried to discover and exploit such niche markets, less than a dozen remained in business in the 1990s. The industry continues to search for ways to successfully brand beef, seeing it as a way to increase sales.

The most successful branded product has been Certified Angus Beef. This brand features highly marbled Angus beef. A great deal of effort goes into selling Angus beef carcasses to restaurants and high-end retail stores.

Beef Safety.
Throughout the 1990s beef producers faced a challenge from outbreaks of a strain of E. coli. Ground beef is the product most affected by the bacteria, as E. coli do not penetrate the inner muscling of steaks and roasts, and are easily destroyed when the outside meat is heated, seared, or barbecued. The safety hazard occurs when the E. coli are ground up with the hamburger and the meat is not cooked at temperatures high enough to destroy the bacteria. The E. coli incidents were thought to be a problem with culled beef and dairy cows that are ground for hamburger. These outbreaks caused new labeling laws on meat products that urged consumers to follow proper cooking instructions and not to eat rare hamburger. New studies on irradiation and acid rinses of beef carcasses also were implemented. The USDA insists that despite the E. coli incidents, beef remains a very safe food. In 1996 President Clinton announced a new, expanded meat inspection program that required the participation of the private sector as well as the USDA. The USDA implemented the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system to replace the look-touch-smell system that began in 1907. The system also requires companies to use antimicrobial chemical sprays and irradiation to combat meat contamination hazards; to determine where in the production process contamination takes place and prevent it from occurring; and to submit samples to the USDA.

Concern for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), popularized as "Mad Cow Disease," came to a head in the 1990s, as producers in the United Kingdom continuously found escalating numbers of afflicted cattle throughout the country. BSE is a fatal disease that affects the central nervous system of cattle. The USDA estimated that 171,000 head of cattle were diagnosed with BSE in Great Britain between 1986 and 1998. Several other European countries reported indigenous cases of BSE. In 1990, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) began taking aggressive measures to prevent BSE from entering the United States--their role was significantly increased after a single confirmed case was found in the state of Washington in late 2003. Otherwise, no cases of BSE had existed in the United States and the risk has been deemed as "extremely low" by the department. As a precautionary measure, the United States does not import cattle from countries with reported cases of BSE. Moreover, many scientists contend that the disease is not transmissible through an infected cow's meat or through physical contact.

In January 2008 the beef industry was challenged by allegations of cattle abuse at a California meat producer that was uncovered not by USDA inspectors but by an undercover animal rights group, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The cattle were found to be unable to walk, which is a requirement for cattle headed to slaughter as sick cattle have a higher probability of disease such as BSE. While it was unclear whether the meat had actually entered the U.S. food supply, organizations have discontinued their service with the supplier and the HSUS has questioned the USDA as to how the situation was not discovered by the department.

The industry has long been haunted by critics, consumers as well as researchers, who object to the use of hormones in modern day beef production. Although the hormones occur naturally and are administered in small doses, the critics say that they pose health risks, such as cancer. The debate will likely intensify as new biotech products, such as bovine somatotropin (BST), are introduced. This is alternatively known as bovine growth hormone, or BGH. These hormones produce meat and milk more efficiently and with less fat. Monsanto Company produced its BST named Posilac, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in 1994. However, most countries, including the European Union, have banned its use.

Challenges to the Industry.
Beef cattle producers have been facing an increasing number of challenges from environmentalists. Although cattle ranchers consider themselves "the original environmentalists," they are facing increasing federal environmental regulations involving endangered species and wetlands protection. As the largest private landowners in the country, ranchers are most affected by laws that restrict the rights of private property owners. Such issues have begun to overshadow diet and health concerns. Because the cattle business provides the primary livelihood for thousands of small communities, the resolution of such environmental issues as endangered species and wetlands protection is of vital importance.

Some environmental groups have questioned the amount of grazing land devoted to the cattle industry. Buffalo grazing developed our nation's grasslands. Beef cattle replaced the buffalo, and in the early years of the industry some abuses existed, when rangeland was free for the taking and there were no fences. Cattle barons ran as many cattle as they could, and during years with inadequate rainfall some rangelands deteriorated. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the overall condition of the national rangelands, both public and private, has improved during the past half-century. Eighty-seven percent of this land is considered "stable or improving." However, the National Resources Conservation Service of the USDA considers only 39 percent of rangelands to have no serious resource problems. They hoped to increase this to 45 percent by the year 2002.

Although there is no government price support program for beef cattle, the government does operate a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), whereby cattle producers and farmers are paid to keep previously farmed or marginal lands out of production for 10 to 15 years. Since 1980, 45 percent of cattle producers have participated in some form of government conservation program. During the same period, 64 percent have participated in private conservation programs, such as rotational grazing and range management systems. Range science concepts are relatively new and have only been put into practice since the 1960s. New ideas are emerging almost daily as to how beef cattle can best be integrated into an environment that also accommodates wildlife and growing numbers of people.

The beef cattle industry faced many other challenges during the 1990s. Although vegetarianism has remained relatively stable at about 3 percent of the population, an increasing number of people are occasionally eating vegetarian dinners. Although beef is a nutrient-dense food with a caloric content similar to that of chicken, it is generally not perceived as such by a large part of the general population. Health care and nutritional experts recognized, however, that beef can be part of a well-balanced diet because it is a good source of iron, zinc, and vitamin B-12.

Although there were difficulties in marketing beef during the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, there also have been some stunning success stories. The most economically significant success for the industry has been the increased demand for American beef internationally. The United States produced 24.9 percent of the world's beef supply in the 1990s, with exports representing 9 percent of the value of all U.S. beef production. From 1981 to 1998, export values increased from $1.9 billion to $4.4 billion. It is estimated that between 10 and 12 percent of the value of every steer produced domestically comes from the added demand created by the export market. Consequently, the National Cattlemen's Association was very much in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), because Mexico is a growing market for American beef. Exports to Mexico increased nearly 47 percent during 1994, the first year of NAFTA. This was followed by a brief downturn with the devaluation of the Mexican Peso, but rebounded by the end of the decade. NAFTA has been criticized for contributing to lower domestic cattle prices in the face of foreign imports, in spite of the fact that NAFTA did not change the regulations on cattle imports. Beef exports also suffered somewhat due to the slowdown in the Asian economy, and are down from a high of $5.3 billion in 1995. In 1999, 82.7 percent of exports went to Japan, Mexico, Canada, and the Republic of South Korea. European markets are less receptive to U.S. beef, which has been treated with hormones. Despite these slowdowns, exports significantly exceed imports, and there continued to be a strong export market for U.S. beef and by-products. After bottoming out in 2004 at 460 million pounds of beef exports (commercial carcass weight) with a value of $631 million, the industry increased those figures to 1.431 billion pounds and $2.175 billion in 2007. Further, U.S. exports as percent of production stood at 9.6 percent in 2003 which fell to 1.9 percent in 2004; this bounced back to 4.4 percent in 2007.

According the USDA statistics, nearly all American cattle producers are considered small or midsized (less than 500 cattle). These ranchers raise the majority of the nation's beef cattle. While the cattle feeding and meat packing industries continue to become more concentrated in the hands of fewer and larger corporations, the beef cowherds remain in the hands of small or midsized producers. Cattle also are raised as a sideline, a hobby, or in conjunction with a farming operation. In addition, they are often used to consume what is left after crops have been harvested.

The number of operations handling beef cattle has steadily declined from 774,630 operations in 2004 to 757,900 operations in 2007, with nearly all (99 percent) consisting of small operations with fewer than 500 head. The total retail equivalent value of the U.S. beef industry was estimated at $74 billion in 2007, with about 800,000 ranchers and cattle producers throughout the country per the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA). The association also reported that in 2007 there were more than 97.1 million total cattle in the United States, up from 95.4 million in 2005 and 94.9 million in 2004. Beef cattle weights have increased substantially in the recent past, so that the amount of beef processed has grown, even though the number of cattle slaughtered has declined slightly. Beef production during 2006 increased to nearly 26.1 billion pounds with 619 pounds production per cow from nearly 24.7 billion pounds in 2005 with 589 pounds production per cow. Beef cows totaled 32.6 million head in January 2007. Texas had the largest number of cattle that year, with 14.1 million head. Kansas and Nebraska followed with 6.65 million and 6.5 million head, respectively. Despite these figures, the total retail value of beef consumed decreased from the 2005 total of $79.5 billion to $78.2 billion in 2006. Total U.S. beef consumption increased to 28.1 billion pounds in 2007, up from 27.0 pounds in 2003. Per capita consumption of beef was 62.9 pounds in 2006--slightly higher than that of chicken (61.4 pounds).

Current Conditions

On January 1, 2009, there were a total of 94.5 million head of cattle scattered throughout the United States, down from the more than 97.1 million cattle reported in 2007. By January of 2010 the total cattle inventory continued on its downward trend with a reported 93.7 million as of January 2010, with no indication of herd expansion. Total cattle imports in 2009 fell 282,000 head to 2.0 million head, compared to 2.2 million head in 2008 while cattle exports fell to 58,000 in 2009, compared to 107,000 during 2008.

Beef production increased slightly to 26.5 billion pounds in 2008, while per capita consumption of beef was 27.3 pounds in 2008 with retail sales totaling $76 billion, up over $74 billion in 2008. However, during 2009 U.S. beef production fell to 26.0 billion pounds, as did per capita consumption to 26.9 billion pounds that resulted in retail sales declining to $73 billion.

As of January of 2011 the total number of cattle fell further to 92.1 million head, a 1.7 percent decline, marking the lowest U.S. cattle count since 1958, a reflection of elevated feed costs, producers retiring and liquidating their herds, including a period of drought conditions in the U.S. central and southern plains.

Following a three-year decline of U.S. cattle left some industry watchers wondering when will cattle producers begin to increase their herd. That prompted an industry survey of 1,312 cattle producers conducted by BEEF magazine. The survey found more than half of the cattle producers queried planned to increase their operations in 2011. Of those respondents that plan to expand, 33.7 percent plan to grow their herd size by one to 10 percent, with another 19.1 percent by 11 percent or more. Some 38 percent of those who plan to expand cited competition as the reason. On a smaller scale, the survey also found some producers were exiting the industry altogether, others were retiring, and some were downsizing.

Industry Leaders

King Ranch Inc. of Kingsville, Texas, was the industry leader with $214 million in 2005 revenue and about 500 employees. Some 60,000 cattle live on more than 825,000 acres on this ranch, which was founded in the 1850s and is still controlled by the King family. While there were no sales figures available for King Ranch Inc. the company grew its employees to 683 in 2009. Another industry leader was Tejon Ranch of Lebec, California, with 2006 sales of $28.4 million with about 118 employees though cattle operations were maintained by two livestock tenants who lease the land. Tejon Ranch had also sold portions of its land for development. Tejon Ranch reported $28.2 million in 2009 with 126 employees.


The work on a typical ranch varies with the season. In winter, when grass is dormant or covered with snow, the cattle must be fed hay. Ranchers usually grow and store this hay in the summer, but some ranchers purchase their hay. In the spring and summer, cattle are branded and worked; this requires hiring more hands. Several ranches share cowboys during these roundups. One of the more difficult chores comes at calving time, when cowboys routinely check the cows and heifers. Heifers are females that have not yet had a calf and usually have much more difficulty calving than an aged cow. A cowboy must often assist heifers in the birthing process.

In Nevada, male and female ranch workers are referred to as buckaroos, in Texas they may be called cowpunchers, and in Montana they are cowboys. Though they are referred to by a variety of names, these workers generally perform the same duties and receive a fairly low wage for their work. Typically they are given a house, a ration of beef per year, a pickup truck, and a monthly salary that ranges from around $650 to $2,000.

The beef cattle industry is steeped in tradition and family--in the mid-2000s, about 99 percent of farms were family-run. Many of these firms are known by the brand they give their cattle, such as the Pitchfork (The Pitchfork Land & Cattle Company) or The Four Sixes. The latter brand is simply 6666, which is said to be the poker hand the founder of the ranch was holding when he won the ranch.

While being a cowboy used to be a romantic notion, far fewer young men and women had aspirations of becoming cowboys in the 1990s. It is projected that the need for cowboys will continue to decline through the late 2000s. The production of beef remains high, but this is due more to the increased weight of animals than to larger herds.

There are several barriers to entry into this industry. It is difficult to find a ranch in America today that will be profitable. Ranches are often priced according to cow/calf unit, which is the amount of land necessary to run a cow and her calf for one year. This calculation is used to figure the carrying capacity of the land. Typically a ranch today sells for about $1,500 to as high as $3,000 per cow/calf unit.

Many ranches were up for sale in the 1990s and early 2000s, and a lot of them had federal land-grazing permits. Most eastern cattle ranches are composed entirely of "deeded land." In the West, however, the government owns sizable amounts of land in each state. For example, the federal government owns 86 percent of Nevada, 52 percent of Oregon, 49 percent of California, 64 percent of Idaho, 67 percent of Utah, 49 percent of Wyoming, and 41 percent of Arizona. This land has traditionally been rented to public lands ranchers who run their cattle part of the year on these marginal lands. These ranchers own small deeded ranches and use much of the farming land for hay production. Large blocks of federal land usually surround the deeded acreage. Ranchers often lease this ground from the federal government as a means of supplying cattle with water. The rancher is responsible for maintaining fences and overseeing the property. These lands are governed under a multiple-use concept, which means that other citizens can use the lands as well. However, Congress has attempted to increase the land rent and put constraints on the public lands ranchers.

Research and Technology

There were about 100 million cattle in the United States during the 1990s and around 95 million cattle in the 2000s, and the industry was producing as much beef as it did in the 1970s, when its cattle inventory numbered 120 million. Such efficiency has been made possible by the use of technology--new breeds, computerization, and increased mechanization. Output per man-hour in agriculture has increased twice as fast as that in manufacturing industries. American beef cattle producers are producing nearly 25 percent of the world's beef supply with just 10 percent of the world's cattle population. Other countries have been unable to match U.S. efficiency standards. For example, prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union, they had nearly 20 percent more cattle than the United States but produced 20 percent less beef.

The use of production testing and artificial insemination has made it possible to use the best genetics the industry has to offer. Fertilized eggs from superior producing cows are being flushed and then implanted in lower quality recipient cows, so that their offspring will have highly predictable traits for growth and meat quality. In effect, the recipient cow acts as a surrogate mother for a calf that carries none of her genes.

Breed associations keep extensive computer records, and the use of "Expected Progeny Differences" has made it possible for a rancher to select his cattle using statistical analysis related to genetic characteristics.

Money from ranchers' voluntary dollar-per-head assessment is being pooled and used to map the genes of beef cattle. It is expected that such research will allow future ranchers to implant genes for tenderness, marbling, or any number of economically important beef cattle traits.

Quality control became the watchword of the industry in the 1990s and 2000s--in 2007, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) declared that food safety was a 'high-risk federal government program' with funding and implementation concerns being cited. The beef cattle industry initiated its own Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program to assure consumers that beef is a wholesome food. BQA programs have been sponsored by most states, accounting for nearly all cattle marketed. Additionally, the Pathogen Reduction Act of 1996 required the industry to update its inspection methods, which had changed little in the previous 50 years. During 1996 to 1999 the new inspection methods were put into effect via the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. As of January 20, 2000, all raw meat and poultry products were being inspected using HACCP that was capable of detecting invisible pathogens. However, food illnesses have persisted through the 2000s. Various updates to the 1996 act have been introduced into Congress but they have not become law, including Sen. Thomas Harkin's 2005 Meat and Poultry Pathogen Reduction and Enforcement Act.

Microchips and scanners are being tested as a means to maintain cattle identification. For instance, a calf could be implanted with an identification chip at birth, and when that animal's carcass is hung on the rail the chip could be scanned and the individual could be traced back to its original owner. The chip also could reveal vaccination records, pedigree information, and feedlot data. Such information would allow the industry to identify superior producing animals and weed out those of poorer quality.

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DJ CME Cattle Review:New Contract Highs; Feedlots Stand Firm.
FWN Financial News; May 5, 2005; 632 words
...Mercantile Exchange live cattle and all feeder cattle futures except Oct climbed to new...highs Thursday after beef packers increased the face of firm feedlot asking prices for this...slaughter-ready cash live cattle supplies. June live...
CASE STUDY: Influence of years of Mississippi Farm to Feedlot Program participation on feedlot performance and carcass traits1
Professional Animal Scientist; December 1, 2011; 700+ words
...Mississippi Farm to Feedlot Program is an extension...intended to evaluate cattle feedlot and carcass...progressively selected for cattle with greater growth...response variables except mortality rate...improvement. Key words: beef cattle, carcass, farm...
Expect Cattle Prices to Remain Strong Going into 2014
Southeast Farm Press (Online Exclusive); November 20, 2013; 700+ words
...99,000 head of beef replacements and...2012 will limit beef production during...feeder and live cattle imports (from Canada...for all categories except beef replacement...and FCOF-feeder cattle outside of feedlots (0.7 percent...
Mississippi ranchers form alliance to improve cattle sales.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News; October 17, 2004; 700+ words
...Mississippi Quality Beef -- to earn get their cattle to your plate...changing the cattle industry. Traditionally...sell directly to feedlots, which purchase...information. Feedlots want that information...of Royal Beef Feedlot in Scott City...If a set of ...

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