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

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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.
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So, AC, are you going to have some cattle and goats in the future?
I'm kind of in love with mini highland cattle: About Mini Highlands — Iowa Mini Highlands

I kind of thought about it, like maybe I could raise them and we could get an ag exemption on the land. They're apparently a fairly rare breed, so the offspring would probably go to people looking for an interesting animal rather than something to eat. I don't know how they are for milk producing, though. But they'd probably produce more milk than we could use, as no one around here drinks milk, and the only dairy we eat is yogurt and cheese (and I don't see myself making cheese).

And pygmy goats. That's a whole other thing, though. Like I mentioned above, one of the neighbors lost a goat to a mountain lion a few years ago, and I don't really want to go through that. It was bad enough losing chickens to the raccoons. I really want the goats to be complementary grazers to the horses (in other words, I want them to eat all the weeds and particularly all of the blackberry shoots) and maybe a bit of milk, but I'm worried about fencing. The place is 10.5 acres so they'd have room to roam and maybe they wouldn't want to leave the property, but I can't afford to fence that much land in goat-proof fencing, if such a thing even exists.

Also, as I mentioned, I don't think I could eat something I raised. I don't eat meat anyways, so it's kind of not an issue. It's only my husband that does. And he can't eat THAT much meat. Plus I honestly wonder if he could eat something that he had raised.
 

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I kind of thought about it, like maybe I could raise them and we could get an ag exemption on the land. They're apparently a fairly rare breed, so the offspring would probably go to people looking for an interesting animal rather than something to eat. I don't know how they are for milk producing, though. But they'd probably produce more milk than we could use, as no one around here drinks milk, and the only dairy we eat is yogurt and cheese (and I don't see myself making cheese).

Hmmm... Highland cattle aren't a rare breed, I'm not sure about miniature Highland cattle, but then they're not a breed. The miniature isn't recognised by the Scottish breed society and I'd guess that would be the same in your airts.

The true Highland is a small cow that's slow to mature anyway, there's no height breed standard as shown on the site. Miniatures are either crosses, have had issues, bred smaller and smaller, or are still maturing. Nor are the miniatures Kyloes come back to life. The Kyloe was bred into the larger mainland breed generations ago. They're more of a designer type. I don't mention miniatures around the people I know;), I think they feel mucking around with one of the oldest breeds is beyond wrong.

All that said the miniature could be a good option for you and would work well with your plans and space. The true Highland is healthy, self-sufficient breed with lean meat and, I'm told, very high fat milk that takes getting used to. I'd guess that the little ones would have some of those characteristics. So you'd need to decide what's important to you, such as health and background - being registered might not be necessary.
 

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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.
Yes the cattle business takes many twists and turns and has some specialty staus that few people ever think about.
You almost have to know what type of operation your talking about. There is the traditional cow/calf operation that requires a bull be present or artificial insemmination available to produce a calf. Once the calf is weaned the mother cow begins aheat cycle and the bull performs his function to produce. The calf can either go to a veal pen and be grain fed to 250 to 300 pounds and then processed for veal. Another calf will pasture to 500 pounds and be sold as a "feeder calf" and go to a feedlot where they are fattened to 800 to 900 lbs and are reffered to as baby beef. The third alternative is to fatten to 1200 + pounds and they are processed for the average retail market at grocery stores usually by the big half dozen meat packers in the U.S. The operation I grew up on Had a huge ranch in Georgia which was a cow/calf operation and shipped all the feeder calves to the Feedlot in Ohio where we would fatten 500 head a year
mostly hereford or baldy steers and with a wieght gain of 4 to 5 lbs a day, all the steers were sent to a packing house in Cleveland and they in turn sold it under contract to all the high end restaurants East the Mississippi. Because the quailty was that good. Nowadays folks want grass fed beef so the intense feedlot diet is not a necessity which is a good thing, but producing quality grass fed steers for slaughter requires a combination of high quality forage and a geographic location where you can grow your own forage. The Mid West probably fits that description better than far north or deep south states.
 

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Dairy cattle tend to be bred more via AI because the farmer doesn’t always want to produce a ‘dairy breed’ offspring every time.
If the offspring is just going to be grown on and sold, the demand is better if it can be sold as a meat animal.
The cow will be AI’d with semen from a beef bull
 

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Siiiigh, I love the expression on Highland Cows faces. They are just priceless. I'd love to have a couple but I can't think why, I don't need anymore pets! I wouldn't eat them (hubby wouldn't allow it), can't do dairy, and you can't ride 'em, so why? But dang, they're so cute!
 
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