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Intro to Beef

The average American eats 55 pounds of beef every year. As a country, we eat nearly 50 billion hamburgers annually. Beef cattle are raised in every state in America although Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri rank as the states with the highest number of beef cattle. Beef is an important part of the American diet and also plays an important role in the economy.

Why such a high demand for beef? In addition to being prized for its delicious taste, beef provides many nutrients essential to the human diet. Beef is a good source of zinc, iron, and protein; as well as vitamin B12.

Cattle are ruminant animals. Their four-part stomach allows them to graze pastures and rangelands, eating grass and plants that humans cannot digest in areas that are not good for growing other food crops. These grazing animals convert plant material into high-quality food for humans. Because of this ability, as well as their mostly calm and manageable demeanor, people have relied on cattle as a food source for thousands of years.

In the United States, cattle were introduced in the early 1500s, coming from Mexico through Texas and California. The English later brought large numbers of cattle when they founded the Jamestown Colony.

Rangelands cover approximately 26 percent of land across America. That’s 587 million acres! This land is often too dry and mountainous to be good for growing crops, but can sustain grazing of domesticated animals when well managed. The pasture or range is one of the most important resources to a beef producer because it provides the food and water that the animals need at little cost and effort.

Typically, cattle are turned out to graze on their land late in the spring. Mothers will raise their calves on the open range throughout the summer. The producers will keep a close eye on their cattle, monitoring their growth and health during this time period. Sometime in the fall, the cattle will be rounded up. At this point, the cattle that will be saved for breeding stock are separated from the cattle that will go into beef production. The breeding stock includes pregnant mothers who will give birth in the spring and then be returned to the range to complete the cycle all over again.

Some of the animals designated for beef production will be sold to stockers. Stockers are cattlemen who raise weaned steers and/or heifers until they are ready to be sent to market or to a feedlot. Most beef cattle will spend four to six months at a feedlot where they are fed a grain-based diet that helps them gain weight quickly. During this “finishing phase,” the cattle’s health is monitored on a daily basis. When market weight is reached, the animals are sent to a processing facility. The average beef animal weighs 1,200 pounds (544 kg) and yields approximately 520 pounds (236 kg) of meat. While beef cattle are primarily raised for meat, they also provide valuable by-products such as medicine, paint, adhesives, soap, cosmetics, detergents, and hundreds of other products. Including by-products, as much as 99% of the animal is used.