The Horse Forum banner

Can someone help me understand the life cycle of beef cattle?

2206 Views 45 Replies 17 Participants Last post by  Dreamcatcher Arabians
I don't know why, but recently I've started wondering. Most of my knowledge of the life cycle of beef cattle comes from Hank the Cowdog, which might make some of you laugh but he actually does explain things clearly sometimes.

So, here is what I think I know.
  • Someone has a herd of cows and a bull. The bull impregnates the cows.
  • Calves are born. When they are ready, the male cattle are castrated and are now steers.
  • The steers (and maybe some of the cows?) are raised on pasture.
  • At a certain point (a year? Nine months?) these cattle are taken to an auction.
  • The person who buys them at the auction is the owner of a feedlot (???). He takes the cattle to the feedlot and feeds them until they make weight.
  • Then he takes them to another auction? Or somehow sells them to the actual processor? Maybe the processor just has a contract with the feed lot guy to provide X many head every so often, and the processor just picks them straight up from the feed lot?
  • Is the processor the same as the company that sells the meat? Like, I don't even know who sells beef products, but let's say it was Jim Bob's beef sausage company. Is Jim Bob the one who slaughters the cattle? Or is the processor yet another separate link, and the processor sells the beef parts to Jim Bob once he's slaughtered them, and then Jim Bob takes them to his factory and makes the sausage?

How far off am I? Are there really this many different people and steps involved? Logically, given the way our food system works, I can believe it, but on the other hand it seems kind of silly to have one animal go through this many owners.
  • Like
Reactions: Knave and boots
21 - 40 of 46 Posts

· Super Moderator
Joined
·
17,182 Posts
Wow! I had no idea that was a thing! Any idea that's available for goats? I keep going back and forth about getting a couple of milk goats for our acreage but I don't know what I'd do with the males if they had male offspring. I would feel bad eating an animal I had raised, or selling it to be eaten. What can I say, I'm a softie.

My only hope if I got a male would be that it would have a really bad attitude and I wouldn't mind selling it to be eaten. I had a hen like that once. I was about to give her to someone else who said he'd fix her attitude or eat her, and I was fine with that, but a raccoon got her so the problem took care of itself.
I don't know if it is commercially available. It was still in the study phase last I spoke with a friend that has a goat dairy. They did see an 85% rate of getting what you expect if done one way and stored pelletetized. That was 6 ish years ago???
 
  • Like
Reactions: ACinATX

· Registered
Joined
·
8,099 Posts
Discussion Starter · #23 ·
I would be cautious knowing you have bear in your woods you said and not sure if goat is a meal they would come for or other wild animals to visit and feast on...
Chickens are going to be difficult enough to safeguard if you have them and a safe pen, not free-range can I envision.
Yes I'm still trying to work out how to keep the animals alive. My current thought is to have an area, maybe 100x100 (?) that is fully fenced with a strong electric fence. And has a roof or fencing at the top as well. I'd keep the goats and chickens in there at night and let them free-range in the day. In addition to the bears, there's the occasional mountain lion -- a neighbor lost a goat to one a few years back.

Although we do have hawks out there, so I don't know if the chickens would even be safe in the day. It was really distressing, the way the raccoons killed our chickens, and I don't want to get any more small animals until I'm reasonably sure that I can protect them.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Knave

· Registered
Joined
·
1,621 Posts
.
[/QUOTE]
Wow! I had no idea that was a thing! Any idea that's available for goats? I keep going back and forth about getting a couple of milk goats for our acreage but I don't know what I'd do with the males if they had male offspring. I would feel bad eating an animal I had raised, or selling it to be eaten. What can I say, I'm a softie.

My only hope if I got a male would be that it would have a really bad attitude and I wouldn't mind selling it to be eaten. I had a hen like that once. I was about to give her to someone else who said he'd fix her attitude or eat her, and I was fine with that, but a raccoon got her so the problem took care of itself.
I don't have any trouble eating what I raise and am so thankful I can because that way I know exactly what chemicals and hormones go in it. None! I also only use antibiotiocs when absolutely needed.
 

· Premium Member
Joined
·
8,229 Posts
I’ve had milk goats. I liked them. I like the cow better, because everyone drinks her milk. My family would get odd about the goat milk. My goat did raise me a nice calf one year! I also got about two gallons a day from that goat. She was a crazy good milker with a terrible attitude. That’s the other thing about the cow. She may be accused of an attitude now and then, but that particular goat always had an attitude.

As far as what I’ve seen, I think dairy cows are very happy cows until they are culled. There isn’t much to do about that; it’s part of the business. Now, I think it would be kinder to dry up a cow before culling her, but it would not be cost efficient.

My milk cow is dry lotted. Any thing she eats effects the taste of the milk. So, I don’t let her eat any of the things. She’s fat. She’s happy although on occasion my family yells at me until I diet her. She’s half beef cow, and apparently they cannot eat to the level of a milk cow. Lol

We get some beef cows who get old. Once they get shelly they get sold. I remember checking their teeth when I was young, but now we do it based on their look. Some do good for what feels like forever. If they come in open, they are culled.
 

· Super Moderator
Joined
·
18,549 Posts
I grew up in the northeast and dairy farming is a large business....
Grazing is what occurs during the seasons of grass growth.
In winter when weather can be very stormy, cold, freezing the cows are brought closer to the barns for protection and ease of getting them in to be milked.
We had distant relatives who were dairy farmers in Vermont... Their cows were on the pastures on mountain sides and came home to be milked then left to go graze.... in winter they had huge holding pens where they were safe and well fed.
Cause its nasty weather does not stop the fact they need milked 24/7....
We also have a friend of a friend of a friend who originates from "America's dairyland" state....he is a farmer.
I've never gotten a answer of how large his farm{s} are but suffice it to say his cows are out grazing weather appropriate he said. He showed me a picture of dots in a field taken by drone think he said....
In winter, he has 10 acres of drylot to bring his cattle into to feed and get them to the milk barn...at one of the farms.
Then he has other farming ventures... He mentioned to my son he had just bought 2 new combines...at a cost of $500,000+ each..... :eek:
Small change he said with a laugh...so guessing he is doing well for himself and his family who farms with him...the family business.
As far as the eye can see he told me the farms go...and then some. With binoculars....he is a character.
I can't imagine...he laughed when I told him the dairy by us was the size in land it is...small was his comment and we changed the subject to another. I did ask laughing if he wanted another daughter.....:ROFLMAO:
🐴...
 

· Premium Member
Retired breeder
Joined
·
2,971 Posts
I don't have any trouble eating what I raise and am so thankful I can because that way I know exactly what chemicals and hormones go in it. None! I also only use antibiotiocs when absolutely needed.
[/QUOTE]

We always raised our own beef, pork and chickens too. I like knowing what they are being fed, and more importantly, what they are not being fed!
 

· Premium Member
Joined
·
8,229 Posts
I eat what we raise. It only bothered me once, because I was very attached to that calf. He was my pet. I’ve eaten my pets as long as I could remember.

I don’t eat my chickens anymore though. It was a funny story. I was pregnant, and a mean pregnant. I killed these four chickens, butchered and made a fancy dinner. Husband didn’t want the gravy, and I was cranky yelling “don’t tell me you don’t like it if you don’t use the gravy!”

I fed my toddler first, and she ate it like it was the best meal ever. That kid liked all food. Husband was over there pushing it around his plate, and I was mad. Then I took a bite. It was awful!

We had Mormon crickets bad that year. If you’ve seen them you’ll remember them. If you have smelled them, you’ll know what I’m saying. The chickens had been eating those, and they literally tasted like that smell. I was gagging, and apologizing, and the dogs wouldn’t even eat it!
 

· Super Moderator
Joined
·
18,549 Posts
@ACinATX ....
Please, please don't think the threat is only at night from those animals...
It is 24/7 in reality.
My gf next door had a fox come take her chickens in broad daylight from her backyard. Killed part of her flock...
Bears roam at all hours of the day but are most commonly seen dawn/dusk hours. It was noted by law enforcement a bear was seen broad daylight a few months ago where no bears had been in 15 years....housing boom and land clearing is driving animals to areas new to find food. This is happening everywhere, worse in rural as people flea the so populated areas..
Hawks and owls hunt when they are hungry no matter the hour.
Mountain lion, here its the black panther or bobcat and they have walked down my driveway mid-day eyeing me as they brazenly walked past me where I stood in my yard.
Prepare your safe-zone for 24/7 use to protect those animals and yourself.

Till we moved here, we came from a area where land was so valuable people did not have acreage....horses rare, very rare were on your property but kept in a very $$$$ boarding barn of rings, barns and dirt t/o. Trails were in state parks and a few county locations....horses were a true "elite" hobby.
Our meat, of all kinds arrived on a styrofoam tray with plastic wrap sealed around it...truth.
Chickens, were not allowed in most communities because of the vermin that comes when not kept scrupulously clean housing for them!
We love our way of life and could never go back to what was...never. We were not naive about animals, but a learning curve it has been and continues in regards to cattle and livestock.
🐴...
 

· Super Moderator
Joined
·
17,182 Posts
I never saw dairy cattle out on pasture until I went to California. Here in WA they are always dry lotted. I have been all over the western half of the US, and still, the only place I saw dairy cattle out on grass was California. So if they are out near where you are, it's not that common.
The states I mentioned were states I had direct contact with dairies. Family and friends that dairy across the south and up the eastern sea board as well as parts of the mid west that were visited when we were looking to expand our composting operation typically had some access for part of the year. Most was at night though some had daytime access as well or a choice. Does every farm offer pasture? No. It just depends. I'd say out west there are areas where it just isn't practical. Arizona and New Mexico being two we visited where it wasn't practical. Colorado was a different story. I'd say most of the US that has pasture available during the warmer more temperate seasons has dairies that do offer or keep on pasture (small percent). There are a quite a few factors that go into the decision. Environmental and economical, size of the operation vs number of available acres as well as consumer opinion all weigh in to the decision.
 

· Premium Member
Retired breeder
Joined
·
2,971 Posts
I have never seen dairy cattle out on pasture anywhere in Washington. There may be a few small dairies on the coast, but anything of any size, the cattle are in a dry lot.
In Boardman Oregon, there are dairies there with over 20K head each. They milk 24/7. The cattle are in a drylot. Yes, I have seen them, been there. They have carousels that the cattle step up on to for milking, then ride it around during the milking, and it lets them back out to the right pen. The problem with those is there is a huge number of turnover on cattle because they do the splits getting off the thing when it's wet. Good idea, but needs to be improved by a lot.

What is common back east is not common out west, and vice versa.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
32 Posts
well, i do not know anything about cows.... but our small town has three big dairies. All on grass 3/4 of the year. the rest of the year alot of flooding. Two are organic dairies. They breed the younginis to angus so all the resulting calves can be sold easily. Then they AI with "girl" only. There are also small herds of "meat" cattle around.
I have a herd of nigerian dwarf goats. Their milk taste yummy, although im not much of a milk drinker. I do make basic soap and going to learn to make cheese.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
290 Posts
How cattle are raised in an area depends on the resources of the area. I'm on the East Coast in an area dominated by poultry (meat) production. The crop land is used to raise grains to feed the poultry. To a lessor extent there are some processing and fresh market vegetables as well as sod and nursery production for the expanding population. Beef and dairy are way down on the list. I do feed out about 40 beef animals a year for sale direct to consumers. I buy 300-400# calves locally from 4-5 low input backyard cow herds. I think the big cow/calf producers shoot for weaning a 600-700# calf each year. My cattle are always on grain but do spend the growing season on pasture. My pasture is a sloping and somewhat wet area not suitable for crop production. In the winter they are in the feedlot with hay and grain. Lots of times there is another farmer in between the cow calf producer and the feedlot called a backgrounder. This person would have a cheap feed source such as pasture or corn stalks and take the cattle up to 800-1000# which the ideal size to go in a feedlot. No cheap feed sources and no backgrounders here. I deliver beef directly to a custom butcher bimonthly for my customers who pay the butcher and pick up their meat when it is ready. Butcher appointments are hard to get and are made a year in advance. Right now I'm sold out of beef until September. In years past I took any excess cattle not sold locally to an auction about 3 hours away. I stayed to watch one time and was surprised that the 500 or so cattle auctioned that day were bought by 5-6 professional order buyers. I've got a few friends with small beef cow herds who raise their calves all the way to market weight and sell direct to consumers.

No dairies in my county but a few in surrounding counties. Because of the value and productivity of the land most are confinement herds. My brother in law is a dairy farmer in an adjacent state. His heifers are on pasture, much like mine in that it isn't suitable for crop production. His milking herd is in confinement. Cow comfort is very important as a comfortable cow is a productive cow. The cows can come and go at will between the feed bunk and their individual free stalls complete with a mattress. Big fans keep the cows cool in the summer. Their feed ration is tested and balanced frequently to account for the availability and quality of feed ingredients. A hoof trimmer comes several times a year to keep the cows sound.

Again there is almost as many ways to raise cattle as there are farms that raise them. My systems is not perfect but it utilizes the resources I have available. No way I'm going to convert irrigated crop land to pasture, except for the 3 acres where the horses live.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
8,099 Posts
Discussion Starter · #35 ·
Lots of times there is another farmer in between the cow calf producer and the feedlot called a backgrounder. This person would have a cheap feed source such as pasture or corn stalks and take the cattle up to 800-1000# which the ideal size to go in a feedlot.
Ah, that's really interesting! I obviously had no idea. Makes sense, though.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Knave

· Premium Member
Gracie, Lily, Chewy, Sam, Jack and Bill
Joined
·
200 Posts
Definitely some different livestock keeping practices depending on the location. All the dairies around here have cattle out on pasture year round.

As for cattle in general, there’s definitely more than just the beef and dairy industry specifically. My family has been raising and showing registered Angus cattle for 80 years. Pedigreed cattle of any breed or type can be bred for show, producing genetically strong animals for specific needs, selling high end bulls and or heifers, etc…. There are also miniature breeds of cattle, composite breeds, commercial (which can be purebred but unregistered or Heinz 57)…
I have a friend who backgrounds beef cattle…. They basically handle the care and feeding from sale to the feedlot…

I personally have a few miniature cattle. I have Aberdeen Angus and then I have a few crossbreds…an Aberdeen/mini jersey cow, her daughter who’s by a mini zebu bull, and her daughter who is by my Aberdeen bull. I breed to have a beef in my own freezer as well as sell well handled small calves to other like minded people. My neighbor raises registered mini jersey a2a2 cattle and mini dexter cattle (a duel purpose breed)

Goats… I love them and have had them for many years. Yes, you can AI, but it’s much easier to do it “au natural” lol
If you want to avoid the stink, you can use young bucks ( under a year old). If you want to milk your does, you will need to keep older bucks far away from the girls or your milk will taste “Bucky” lol. There are many available dairy and meat breeds. The dairy breeds tend to be noisier than the meat varieties, but all goats like to talk. Nubians ( a dairy breed) have a distinctive screech to their voices. Lol. Common dairy breeds…. Nubian, La Mancha, Alpine, Oberhasli as well as Nigerian Dwarfs… Common meat breeds… Boer, Kiko, Spanish, Savanna…

I have a closed composite herd co of Nubian, La Mancha, Kiko, Spanish and a very tiny bit of Boer…. Boers can be high maintenance and come with a host of issues…foot rot, parasites, lousy mothering ability, need a ton of feed…. The Kiko and Spanish have great feet, amazing mothers, parasite resistance and thrive on brush. I don’t want to milk, but adding some dairy to my meat goats has given me really nice udders and mommas who do really well caring for multiples without needing micromanaged. I have sold my buck kids intact for the same price as wethered kids, so I now only wether if requested. I’ve sold to 4-h ers, other breeders, family homes and even people who participate in goat packing adventures. The thing with any goats….have good fence!! If it doesn’t hold water, it won’t hold a goat! Lol! All of mine know and respect electric fence.

Oh.. forgot you mentioned chickens and also possible predators…. The answer for that is a livestock guardian dog. I have two.. both are Anatolian/Great Pyrenees. The one actually caught a hawk before it grabbed a napping kid!
 

· Registered
Joined
·
1,174 Posts
You pretty much have the steps of how feeder calves (as they are called around here) go from one station to the next. As I understand it, the processor sells his product to the retailers, whether that happens to be a restaurant, pet food manufacturer, or a grocery store. But then again, it wouldn't surprise me if there was another middle men in between the processor and retailer. I sold my calves some time after weaning. But since I don't use steroids or antibiotics, I always held back a few until they weighed between 800-900# and sold them privately. Those went from me to the processor, to the customer.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
1,621 Posts
Just as an FYI we had a processor here that took less than perfect cattle for slaughter. Old cows, bad leg , foot problems etc. all they had to be was ambulatory (able to walk up the slaughter chute) I asked them one time what they did with these animals. He said that the prime rib and prime steaks in them were still tender although not marbled well. All those cuts went to the coasts big cities and the rest was ground into burger. His explaination was the coastal cities weren't as savy as the midwestern buyers on what a really good well marbled steak tasted like so they could be satisfied with a lesser quality of steak. Not saying this to bemean anyone just stating what was explained to me.
 
21 - 40 of 46 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.
Top