Beef cattle

Beef cattle are cattle raised for meat production (as distinguished from dairy cattle, used for milk production). The meat of mature or almost mature cattle is mostly known as beef. In beef production there are three main stages: cow-calf operations, backgrounding, and feedlot operations. The production cycle of the animals starts at cow-calf operations; this operation is designed specifically to breed cows for their offspring. From here the calves are backgrounded for a feedlot. Animals grown specifically for the feedlot are known as feeder cattle, the goal of these animals is fattening. Animals not grown for a feedlot are typically female and are commonly known as replacement heifers. While the principal use of beef cattle is meat production, other uses include leather, and beef by-products used in candy, shampoo, cosmetics, and insulin.

A young bull of the Blonde d'Aquitaine breed.
Japanese wagyu bull on a farm north of Kobe

Calving and breeding

Besides breeding to meet the demand for beef production, owners also use selective breeding to attain specific traits in their beef cattle. An example of a desired trait could be leaner meat[1] or resistance to illness.[2] Breeds known as dual-purpose are also used for beef production. These breeds have been selected for two purposes at once, such as both beef and dairy production, or both beef and draught. Dual-purpose breeds include many of the Zebu breeds of India such as Tharparkar and Ongole Cattle. There are multiple continental breeds that were bred for this purpose as well. The original Simmental/Fleckvieh from Switzerland is a prime example. Not only are they a dual-purpose breed for beef and dairy, but in the past they were also used for draught. However, throughout the generations, the breed has diverged into two groups through selective breeding.[3]

Most beef cattle are mated naturally, whereby a bull is released into a cowherd approximately 55 days after the calving period, depending on the cows' body condition score (BCS). If it was a cow's first time calving, she will take longer to re-breed by at least 10 days.[4] However, beef cattle can also be bred through artificial insemination,[1] depending on the cow and the size of the herd. Cattle are normally bred during the summer so that calving may occur the following spring.[1] However, cattle breeding can occur at other times of year. Depending on the operation, calving may occur all year round. Owners can select the breeding time based on a number of factors, including reproductive performance, seasonal cattle pricing and handling facilities.[1]

There are many factors that come into play when selecting for a bull. Some of the most important factors are disease prevention/spread. Buying a bull who hasn't been tested for common diseases is a risk, it would more than likely transmit to a whole herd. Purchasing genetics that will improve the original herd rather than remaining the same or decreasing. Some breed for mothering abilities, some for size, some for meat properties, etc. Breeding Soundness Examination or BSE are essential to the quality of any bull, a general physical exam and inspection of both the genital organs and their productivity.[5] Knowing more information about the animal will help make an educated decision.

Cattle maintenance

Cattle handlers are expected to maintain a low stress environment for their herds, involving constant safety, health, comfort, nourishment and humane handling. According to the Canadian National Farm Animal Care Council, beef cattle must have access to shelter from extreme weather, safe handling and equipment, veterinary care and humane slaughter.[6] If an animal is infected or suspected to have an illness, it is the responsibility of the owners to report it immediately to a practicing veterinarian for either treatment or euthanasia.[7] Depending on a multitude of factors (season, type of production system, stocking density, etc.), illness and disease can spread quickly through the herd from animal to animal.[8] Owners are expected to monitor their cattle's condition regularly for early detection and treatment, as some cattle illnesses can threaten both cattle and human health (known as zoonotic)[6] as witnessed with Mad cow disease and Tuberculosis.

On average, cattle will consume 1.4 to 4% of their body weight daily.[9] There are a range of types of feed available for these animals. The standard text in the United States, Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, has been through eight editions over at least seventy years.[10] The 1996 seventh edition substituted the concept of metabolizeable protein for the sixth edition's crude protein.[11][12] In the 20th century, Canadian practice followed the American guidance.[13] Already in 1970, the Food and Drug Administration was regulating pharmaceutical supplements in beef cattle feed such as hormones and prophylactic antibiotics.[14]

Some animals live on pasture their entire lives and therefore only experience fresh grass, these are typically cow-calf operations in more tropical climates. Backgrounded calves and feedlot animals tend to have different diets that contain more grain than the pasture type. Grain is more expensive than pasture but the animals grow faster with the higher protein levels. Since cattle are herbivores and need roughage in their diet, silage, hay and/or haylage are all viable feed options.[15] Despite this 3/4th of the 32 pounds (14.52 kg) of feed cattle consume each day will be corn.[16] Cattle weighing 1000 lbs. will drink an average of 41 L a day, and approximately 82 L in hot weather.[17] They need a constant supply of good quality feed and potable water according to the 5 Freedoms of Animal Welfare.[18]

Most Beef cattle are finished in feedlots. The first feedlots were constructed in the early 1950s. Some of these feedlots grew so large they warranted a new designation, "Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation" (CAFO). Most American beef cattle spend the last half of their lives in a CAFO.[16]

Cattle processing

A steer that weighs 1,000 lb (450 kg) when alive makes a carcass weighing approximately 615 lb (280 kg), once the blood, head, feet, skin, offal and guts are removed. The carcass is then hung in a cold room for between one and four weeks, during which time it loses some weight as water dries from the meat. It is then deboned and cut by a butcher or packing house, the carcass would make about 430 lb (200 kg) of beef.[19] Depending on what cuts of meat are desired, there is a scale of marbled meat used to determine the quality. Marbling is the fat that is within the muscle, not around it. The more marbled a cut is, the higher it will grade and be worth more.[20]

Slaughtering of livestock has three distinct stages: preslaughter handling, stunning and slaughtering. The biggest concern is preslaughter handling, how the animal is treated before it is stunned and slaughtered. Stress at this time can cause adverse effects on the meat, water access and lower stocking densities have been allowed to minimize this. However, access to feed is restricted for 12–24 hours prior to slaughtering for ease of evisceration. Stunning is done when the animal is restrained in a chute so movement is limited. Once restrained the animal can be stunned in one of three methods: penetrating captive bolt, non-penetrating captive bolt and gunshot. Most abattoirs use captive bolts over guns. Stunning ensures the animal feels no pain during slaughtering and reduces the animals stress, therefore increasing the quality of meat. The final step is slaughtering, typically the animal will be hung by its back leg and its throat will be slit to allow exsanguination. The hide will be removed for further processing at this point and the animal will be broken down with evisceration and decapitation. The carcass will be placed in a cooler for 24–48 hours prior to meat cutting.[21]


Breed Origin Description
Adaptaur Australia A tropically adapted Bos taurus breed, developed from crosses between Herefords and Shorthorns.
Afrikaner cattle South Africa Afrikaners are usually deep red or black with long spreading horns. They have the small cervico-thoracic hump typical of Sanga cattle.
Aberdeen Angus Scotland Pure black, sometimes with white at udder. Polled. Hardy and thrifty.
Australian Braford Australia Developed for resistance to ticks and for heat tolerance by crossing Brahmans and Herefords.
Australian Brangus Australia Polled breed developed by crossing Angus and Brahman
Australian Charbray Australia Developed by crossing Charolais and Brahman and selected for resistance to heat, humidity, parasites and diseases.
Barzona United States (Arizona) Developed in the high desert, inter-mountain region of Arizona.
Beefalo United States Hybrid between a cow and an American bison.
Beef Shorthorn England and Scotland Suitable for both dairy and beef.
Beefmaster United States (Texas) Developed by breeding the Brahman, Shorthorn, and Hereford.
Belgian Blue Belgium Grey roan, or white with grey on head. Extremely muscular (double muscled). Fast-growing if well-fed.
Belmont Red Australia A composite breed using Africander (African Sanga) and Hereford-Shorthorn
Belted Galloway Scotland Black with white band around middle, stocky, fairly long hair, polled. Very hardy and thrifty.
Black Hereford Great Britain A crossbreed produced by crossing a Hereford bull with Holstein or Friesian cows; used to obtain beef offspring from dairy cows. Not maintained as a separate breed, although females may be used for further breeding with other beef bulls.
Blonde d'Aquitaine France Pale brown, paler round eyes and nose. Muscular. Fast-growing if well-fed.
Bonsmara South Africa Developed from 10/16 Afrikaner, 3/16 Hereford and 3/16 Shorthorn cattle.
Boran East Africa (Ethiopia-Kenya) Usually white, with the bulls being darker (sometimes almost black).
Brahman India, Pakistan and United States Large, pendulous ears and dewlaps, hump over the shoulders.
Brangus United States Developed by crossing Angus and Brahman.
British White Great Britain White body, with black (or sometimes red) ears, nose and feet; polled (hornless). Hardy and thrifty.
Caracu Brazil
Charolais France Wholly white or cream, lyre-shaped pale horns, or polled. Fast-growing if well-fed.
Chianina Italy Dual-purpose, originally large draft breed, later selected for beef.
Corriente Mexico Hardy, small, athletic, criollo-type, descended from Iberian cattle. Used in rodeo sports, noted for lean meat. Short horns, various colors, often spotted. Also called Criollo or Chinampo.
Crioulo Lageano Iberian Peninsula 400-year-old longhorn breed with around 700 individuals that live close to the plateau of Lages, Santa Catarina, Brazil.
Dairy Shorthorn United Kingdom Suitable for both dairy and beef.
Dexter Ireland Very small, black or dun, dark horns. Sometimes has a dwarfing gene, leading to very short legs. Hardy and thrifty.
Droughtmaster Australia Developed by crossing Brahman cattle with taurine breeds, especially the Beef Shorthorn. Tolerant of heat and ticks.
English Longhorn England Red or brindle, with white back and belly. Very long cylindrical horns usually spreading sideways or downwards, often curving and even eventually making a circle. Medium size, hardy.
Fleckvieh Switzerland Red pied or solid red, polled or horned. Sturdy dual-purpose for beef and dairy. Formerly triple-purpose (beef, dairy and draught). Fast-growing if well-fed.
Florida Cracker cattle United States Small, criollo-type descended from cattle brought to the Southern U.S. by the Spanish conquistadors. Adapted to subtropical climate, parasite-resistant. An endangered breed.
Galloway Scotland Black, stocky, fairly long hair, polled. Very hardy and thrifty.
Gascon cattle France Grey, hardy, maternal breed. Good growth and conformation of calves. Suitable for all farming systems, bred pure or crossed with a terminal sire.
Gelbvieh Germany Red, strong skin pigmentation, polled. Superior fertility, calving ease, mothering ability, and growth rate of calves.[22]
Hanwoo Korea
Hérens Switzerland
Hereford England Red, white head, white finching on neck, and white switch.
Highland Scotland Small, stocky; black, red, dun or white. Very long coat and very long pale horns, upswept in cows and steers. Very hardy and thrifty.
Hungarian Grey Hungary Robust, easy-calving and long-lived. Horns long, curved and directed upward. Slender and tall. Well-adapted to extensive pasture systems.
Irish Moiled Ireland Red with white back and belly, or white with red ears, nose and feet. Polled. Hardy and thrifty.
Jabres Central Java, Indonesia Colors varied from light brown to dark brown with a black stripe spans from back to tail.
Japanese Shorthorn Japan A breed of small beef cattle.
Limousin Limousin and Marche regions of France Mid-brown, paler round eyes and nose. Fast-growing if well-fed.
Lincoln Red England
Lowline Australia Developed by selectively breeding small Angus cattle.
Luing Luing and surrounding Inner Hebrides, Scotland Rough coat, red-brown, polled. Bred by crossing Beef Shorthorn with Highland. Very hardy and thrifty.
Madurese East Java, Indonesia Small body, short legs, reddish yellow hair.
Maine-Anjou Anjou region in France Red-and-white pied, polled, fast-growing if well-fed.
Mocho Nacional Brazil Polled
Murray Grey South Eastern Australia Grey or silver polled cattle developed from a roan Shorthorn cow and an Angus bull. Easy-care versatile cattle that have been exported to many countries.
Nelore India Exported to Brazil, where it has become a dominant breed.
Nguni South Africa Extremely hardy breed developed by the Nguni tribes for harsh African conditions. Originally derived from the African Sanga cattle, although quite distinct. Three subgroups are recognized: Makhatini, Swazi and Pedi.
North Devon Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, England Ruby-red, white tail switch, white horns.
Piedmontese Piedmont, Italy Bred both for beef and dairy production; double-muscled. White-coloured and possessing myostatin genes.
Pineywoods Gulf Coast, US Landrace heritage endangered breed, lean, small, adapted to climate of the Deep South, disease-resistant. Short horns, various colors, often spotted.
Pinzgauer Austria Indigenous to the Pinz Valley. Dairy cattle in Europe, but well-adapted to drier landscapes of the US, Australia and South Africa, where they are kept for beef production. Solid red with very distinctive white blaze from wither, down to tail tip and underside.
Red Angus Australia, United States Colour variety of Angus in some countries: solid red. Polled.
Red Poll East Anglia in England Red with white switch, polled (hornless), dual-purpose.
Red Sindhi Sindh in Pakistan Red Sindhi cattle are the most popular of all zebu dairy breeds. In Pakistan, they are kept for beef production or dairy farming.
Romagnola Italy Bred primarily for beef production; often used as draught beasts in the past. White or grey with black pigmented skin and upward curving horns.
Romosinuano Colombia
Rubia Gallega Spain A breed of cattle native to the autonomous community of Galicia in north-western Spain. It is raised mainly for meat. It is distributed throughout Galicia, with about 75% of the population concentrated in the province of Lugo. The coat may be red-blond, wheaten, or cinnamon-coloured.
Salers France Red. Hardy, easy calving.
Santa Gertrudis Southern Texas, US Developed by crossing red Shorthorn and Brahman.
Sibi bhagnari Sibi Baluchistan The breed typically has a white or grey coloured body and is black around the neck and has a black tail switch. The head is medium-sized with a short strong neck, small ears, short horns, small dewlap, straight back, wide chest and a moderate sized hump. Dual-purpose (beef & draught).
Simmental Western Switzerland Yellowish-brown, white head. Fast-growing if well-fed. Triple-purpose (beef, dairy and draught).
Shorthorn/Beef Shorthorn Northern England Red, red with white back and belly, or white.
Square Meater New South Wales, Australia Small, grey or silver, polled; similar to Murray Grey.
Stabiliser America Bred for efficiency, moderate-sized cow, red or black, polled, composite of native and continental breeds - originally Angus, Hereford, Simmental and Gelbvieh.
Sussex South-east England Rich chestnut red with white tail switch and white horns. Also used for draught until the early 20th century. Hardy and thrifty.
Tabapuan Brazil
Tajima Japan Black Wagyu bred for internationally renowned beef such as Kobe and Matsuzaka.
Texas Longhorn United States Various colours, with very long, tapering, upswept horns extending as much as 80 inches (2.0 m) tip to tip. Very hardy in dry climates. Light-muscled, so bulls often used for first-calf heifers.
Wagyū Japan Black, horned, and noted for heavy marbling (intramuscular fat deposition).
Welsh Black Wales Black, white upswept horns with black tips. Hardy.
White Park Great Britain, Ireland White, with black (or sometimes red) ears, nose and feet; white horns with dark tips. Hardy and thrifty.
Żubroń Poland Hybrid between a cow and a European bison.

See also


  1. "Beef Production". University of Guelph, Animal Sciences. Retrieved April 6, 2013.
  2. "Beef Research School: What's the Latest Research on Antimicrobial Resistance?". RealAgricultureOnline. Retrieved April 6, 2013.
  3. "The History of Fleckvieh Dual Purpose Cattle". Better Dairy Cow. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  4. "Pregnant cows, timing of pregnancy, open cows, pregnancy rate". University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  5. "Overview of Breeding Soundness Examination of the Male". Merck Manual Veterinary Manual. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  6. "Recommended code of practice for the care and handling of farm animals: Beef cattle" (PDF). Agriculture Canada. Retrieved April 6, 2013.
  7. Eadie, Jim (May 16, 2017). "Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle". Beef Producer. Archived from the original on September 24, 2020. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  8. "Code of practice for the care and handling of beef cattle: Review of scientific research on priority issues" (PDF). Agriculture Canada. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  9. "How much feed will my cow eat". Ministry of Agriculture Alberta. Retrieved April 6, 2013.
  10. "Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle Eighth Revised Edition (2016)"
  11. "Beef cattle nutrition series - Part 3: Nutrient Requirement Tables", University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture publication MP391
  12. National Research Council (U.S.). Subcommittee on Beef Cattle Nutrition: "Nutrient requirements of beef cattle, sixth revised edition 1984"
  13. "Recommended code of practice for the care and handling of farm animals: Beef Cattle", p.2 of the 1991 edition
  14. [ Weichenthal, B. A; Russell, H. G (1970): "Beef cattle feeding suggestions : nutrient requirements, balancing rations, protein supplements, suggested rations" Urbana, IL : University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, College of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service
  15. "Feeding Beef Cattle: Tips for a Healthy, Pasture-Based Diet". Mother Earth News. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  16. Pollan, Michael (2006). The Omnivores Dilemma. Penguin.
  17. "Beef Cattle: The codes of practice" (PDF). Agriculture Canada. Retrieved April 6, 2013.
  18. "5 Freedoms of Animal Welfare". Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  19. "1000 lb. steer to 610 lbs. beef". Oklahoma Food Safety Division. Retrieved April 6, 2013.
  20. "What is Marbling in Meat?". The Spruce. Retrieved March 22, 2018.
  21. "Meat processing - Livestock slaughter procedures". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  22. "Breeds of Livestock". Gelbvieh. Archived from the original on November 4, 2008. Retrieved November 11, 2008.
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