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Background of Beef Production in U.S.

Beef cattle production is an important industry in the United States and throughout the world. Since beef cattle can graze forages in the open range and pasturelands, they serve a unique role in providing high quality protein for human consumption from byproducts and forage sources that humans do not consume. Considerable land in the U.S. and the world that will not support intensive crop production, can often times sustain grasses and forages that conserve the land, and produce feeds that cattle can utilize. Beef cattle production is dispersed throughout the U.S., but a significant amount of beef is produced on the rangelands of the Western U.S.

Historical Background

The cattle used for beef production in the U.S. historically originated from two areas of the world. These include the Bos taurus cattle from Europe and the Bos indicus from tropical countries. Bos taurus were native to the temperate countries of the UK (Scotland, England and Wales), France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. These cattle were used primarily for meat and milk production with other byproducts such as hides tanned for leather. Bos indicus were native cattle in the tropical countries of SE Asia, and Africa. They have the characteristic "humped back" appearance, the capability to tolerate high temperature and humidity environments, disease resistance to ticks, mosquitoes and other tropical insects, and often were used for work, meat and milk production.

According to "The Science of Animal Husbandry" by Blakely and Bade, Second edition (1979) and "Animal Science" by Gillespie (1998), when Columbus came to America, there were no domestic type animals. Cattle etc., were brought on Columbus' second voyage in 1493. Small importations continued periodically with Vera Cruz bringing the Spanish type longhorn cattle from Spain into Mexico in 1521. These cattle later spread throughout the western U.S. as they were brought to Christian missions built by the Spanish. Herds of 424,000 cattle at two missions have been recorded. More cattle were brought to the New World by Portuguese traders in 1553. The English were the first to bring large numbers of cattle to the United States when they founded the Jamestown colony in 1611. Following the American Revolution, livestock moved westward, and by the early 1800s were distributed over most of the East, the South and the far West.

The animals imported from Europe were used mainly for milk, butter, hides and draft. With wild game plentiful, meat was not the citizen's main concern. These animals under the guiding hands of notables like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson multiplied and purebred herds developed in the East.

Cattle production today has become more specialized in the U.S. with concentrations of feedlot cattle in  parts of the Corn Belt, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest Cow-calf operations mostly operate on land not suited or needed for crop production.  The U.S. is home to the world's largest fed-cattle industry. (USDA, Cattle & Beef Background)

As the standard of living has increased throughout the world, protein consumption has increased and the overall quality of human diets has improved. Beef has become a significant protein source in the U.S. diet with nearly 61 lbs of beef consumed per person each year in the U.S. Beef is offered on the menus of most restaurants and consumption of beef is considered a status of wealth in many countries because it is usually a relatively expensive protein food source. (USDA, Beef From Farm to Table)

Industry size

July 1 U.S. Cattle Inventory 1992 through 2012

The size of the beef industry in the U.S. has declined gradually over the last 20 years. There were 1.0 million beef cow operations in 1986, which had declined to 0.83 million operations in 2000 and down to .729 million in 2012. The numbers of beef cows, however, have remained stable at about 30 million head. The number of cattle produced for meat consumption has also remained steady with 11.3 million (2012) compared to 11.9 million on feed (1992), and 11.8 million on feed (2001). (USDA, Cattle On Feed) The beef industry provides more than one million jobs in the U.S., creating a ripple effect in the economy. For every dollar of cattle sales, there is approximately five dollars in additional business activity generated. During the 2000s, U.S. Beef production generated more than $49 billion annually in direct economic output, plus about five times that amount per year in related economic output. (Beef Checkoff, U.S. Cash Receipts from Farming)

U.S. Cattle and Beef Operations and Inventory
2012 U.S. 500 + Cattle Operations & Inventory
U.S. Cattle Operations & Inventory 2012
U.S. Beef Operations and Inventory in 2012
2012 U.S. 1000+ Beef Cow Operations and Inventory

There are many beef cattle operations in the U.S., but most are small in the numbers of animals that they produce. A similar trend is shown with beef cow operations.

Back to Beef Main Menu

U.S. USDA. Economic Research Service. Cattle & Beef; Overview. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/animal-products/cattle-beef.aspx#.UWWm0pMX-5Q>.Exit EPA

U.S. USDA. Economic Research Service. Cattle & Beef; Background. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/animal-products/cattle-beef/background.aspx#.UWWm-JMX-5Q>.Exit EPA

U.S. USDA. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Farms, Land in Farms, and Livestock Operations 2012 Summary. N.p., Feb. 2013. Web. <http://usda01.library.cornell.edu/usda/current/FarmLandIn/FarmLandIn-02-19-2013.pdf>. Exit EPA

U.S. USDA. National Agricultural Statistics Service. 2007 Census of Agriculture; Cattle Production. N.p., 24 May 2010. Web. <http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/Online_Highlights/Fact_Sheets/Production/beef_cattle.pdf>.Exit EPA

U.S. USDA. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Charts and Maps;Cattle. N.p. Web. <http://www.nass.usda.gov/Charts_and_Maps/Cattle/index.asp>. Exit EPA

U.S. USDA. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Cattle on Feed. N.p., Dec. 2012. Web. <http://usda01.library.cornell.edu/usda/nass/CattOnFe//2010s/2012/CattOnFe-12-21-2012.pdf>. Exit EPA

Beef Checkoff. U.S. Cash Receipts from Farming. N.p. Web. <http://www.beefusa.org/CMDocs/BeefUSA/Resources/Statistics/annualuscashrecieptsfromfarming.pdf>.Exit EPA

U.S. USDA. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Beef… from Farm to Table. N.p., Jan. 25, 2012. Web. <http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/beef_from_farm_to_table/>.Exit EPA

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