What Are the Popular Cattle Breeds in the United States?

Cattle come in many different shapes and sizes – much of which can be attributed to various breeds of beef cattle. Not all cattle breeds are created equal – some are well-known for their meat quality while other cattle breeds are well-known for the amount of muscle they possess.


Angus cow and her calf – Photo courtesy: Flickr, Creative Commons, The Fingerboards

Here’s an introduction to five popular cattle breeds in the U.S.


Angus is probably the most recognized cattle breed. But do you know why they are so popular with farmers and ranchers? One reason is their high-quality carcass characteristics which yield well-marbled, flavorful beef. Marbling is the intramuscular fat you see within a cut of beef and Angus are well-known for their ability to yield those cuts. Additionally, Angus cattle require little maintenance during calving season, are good mothers and are very feed efficient.


Charolais cows and calves - Photo courtesy: Flickr, Creative Commons, Edith Mari Rosebrock

Charolais cows and calves – Photo courtesy: Flickr, Creative Commons, Edith Mari Rosebrock

Charolais cattle, (pronounced “char-lay”) originated from France and were brought to the U.S. in the mid-1930s. They are used in many crossbreeding programs to increase the amount of lean muscle on an animal because they are large-bodied, heavier cattle. Charolais cattle are able to withstand cold relatively well, be more heat tolerant than darker hided breeds and raise heavier calves. Charolais are generally white or creamy white in color and are naturally horned, however, through genetic selection by farmers and ranchers, polled Charolais (with no horns) have become an important part of the breed.


The Hereford breed, (pronounced “her-furd”) was developed in England nearly 250 years ago by farmers who needed cattle that were efficient at converting native-grasses into beef for a growing population. That trait continues to be a boon for ranchers today as Herefords are widely used worldwide. Their popularity is due in part to their resilience in difficult climates, high reproductive performance and low maintenance costs.


Hereford cows – Photo courtesy: Flickr, Creative Commons, Baalands


The Simmental cattle breed is another example of a breed with multiple color variations – there are both red and black Simmentals. They were introduced to the United States in the late 19th century and have been positively influencing the beef community ever since. They are a larger breed in terms of body frame, but they require little assistance during calving season and have excellent weight gaining potential. Additionally, Simmental cattle are renowned for their docility, mothering abilities and carcass characteristics.


Black Simmental cows and calves – Photo courtesy: Soderglen Ranches Ltd.

Red Simmental cow and calf - Photo courtesy: Dora Lee Genetics

Red Simmental cow and calf – Photo courtesy: Dora Lee Genetics

Red Angus        

Yep, you read right. There are red Angus cattle! Although they are not raised as widely as black Angus, they offer the same valuable carcass characteristics that result in increased marbling and flavor. And just like their black relatives, red Angus are a docile cattle breed and possess good mothering traits, although they are more tolerant of hot temperatures than black Angus.


Red Angus cows and calves – Photo courtesy: Flickr, Creative Commons, Wendy Nuttall

Red, Black or Cream – All U.S. Beef is Nutritious

While there are many physical differences between the various cattle breeds in the United States, they have one thing in common: all breeds yield nutritious, wholesome beef that can be part of a healthy dietary pattern. So, don’t get hung up on the breed of beef on the menu, focus on the cut you are choosing and remember to pair it with a variety of whole grains, fruits and veggies for a well-rounded, delicious meal.

Meet Your Rancher: Rodney and Sadie Derstein – Kismet, KS

Rodney and Sadie Derstein - Kansas ranchers

Rodney and Sadie Derstein

Rancher(s): Rodney and Sadie Derstein

Location: Kismet, Kansas

Ages: Rodney, 31 –  Sadie, 26

Segment: Backgrounding

Operation Name: Cimarron River Cattle Company



Facts About Beef (FAB): Tell us a little bit about your operation and what you do at Cimarron River Cattle Company.

Sadie Derstein (SD): We are a custom backgrounding operation, which means we source calves from cow-calf farmers and ranchers and give them the specialized attention and care that they need to continue to grow. One of the most important things that we can do to boost the animal’s immune system is to make sure that they have a well-balanced diet, so we work closely with our cattle nutritionist who formulates our cattle’s diets with the best mixture of protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins the cattle need to thrive and grow.

FAB: How is your operation unique? What are some of the challenges?

Rodney Derstein (RD): You could say being a young, married couple who work together every single day makes us unique.  When we first bought our ranch it was just us two doing it all.  We work well together and have found ways to divide responsibilities on ranch.

SD: We are also unique in that Rodney, in addition to helping run our ranch, works full-time for a feed company where he sources unusable by-products, such as wet and dry distillers grains—the unfermented grain byproducts that contain protein, fiber, and fat—that are used as part of the scientifically-balanced diet for cattle.

FAB: How do you use technologies such as growth promotants and antibiotics on your ranch?

RD: All of our cattle are owned by other farmers and ranchers—we’re their caretakers—so we follow the direction of our customers to determine which technologies we can or can’t use on certain animals. Often times, this depends on which marketing program the animal will be entered into once it becomes beef—for example, if the animal will go into a “naturally raised” or “certified organic” marketing program, it cannot and will not be given a growth promotant. When it comes to our antibiotics usage, we work hand in hand with our consulting veterinarian, Dr. Nels, on a weekly basis in order to determine the right amount of antibiotics, use them for the right amount of time and in order to treat the right illness, and we’ve worked out a written treatment protocol which we follow closely.

Location of Kismet, KS. Source: Google Maps

Location of Kismet, KS. Source: Google Maps

FAB: How do you play a role in raising high-quality beef?

SD: We believe that high-quality beef starts with high-quality care, so we follow the BQA (Beef Quality Assurance) standards when handling cattle, making sure that we move animals quietly and in low-stress ways—and we also educate our employees on proper cattle handling.  In addition, cleaning water tanks at least once per week, providing any shelter that we can and making sure the pens are cleaned regularly are always at the top of our list. We want the cattle in our yard to be as comfortable as possible.

FAB: What would you say to critics who call you a “factory farm?”

SD: Well, we would have to invite them to come and spend the day with us.  Come and spend the day  on horseback and see what actually goes on and how the animals are treated. This is our little paradise; we work side-by-side every day and put everything we have into raising beef. The cattle here are comfortable and their needs are put ahead of ours, every single time. We are proud of being able to play a small part in the beef community. Early mornings and long days are worth it when you know that you are helping feed others.

FAB: How do you prepare your favorite cut of beef?

RD: I like my steak medium rare with a dash of salt.

FAB: If readers want to follow your ranch activities on social media, where can they find you?

Instagram: @rderstein and @sderstein

Twitter: @CimarronRiverCC

Facebook: Cimarron River Cattle Co.


Meet Your Rancher: Joan Ruskamp – Dodge, NE




Joan and Steve Ruskamp

Rancher(s): Joan Ruskamp

Location: Dodge, NE

Age: 55

Segment: Feedyard

Operation Name:   J & S Feedlot


What is your favorite part of being a beef rancher?

Joan Ruskamp: My favorite part is walking pens when the morning is absolutely beautiful, the cattle are all spread out and comfortable and content.

How important is animal welfare at your feedyard?

A tree shade on the Ruskamp feedyard provides shade for cattle during hot summer months.

A tree shade on the Ruskamp feedyard provides shade for cattle during hot summer months.

JR: We are always trying to make our cattle as comfortable as possible. In the summer we utilize a sprinkler system to keep the cattle cool. Normally when there is a breeze, cattle can adapt but when it’s really hot and there’s no breeze we utilize methods to help them stay comfortable. This year we bought a tree shade, which is a large awning that provides shade to the cattle, but we discovered that flies also like shade. We found that the cattle were getting agitated from the flies and weren’t staying cool under the shade, so we turned the sprinkler on and they all left the shade and went to the sprinkler. We collaborate with experts to provide the best possible care for our cattle, whether it be through sprinklers, shades, sloping pens so the cattle aren’t standing in mud or even other methods that we haven’t yet explored. We focus on cattle comfort to minimize any suffering that can come due to weather fluctuations and we provide nutritionally balanced rations to meet specific needs each group of cattle has – we also place high importance on low-stress cattle handling to keep the cattle calm when we are administering vaccinations or moving them from pen to pen.

The pen sprinkler system at J-S Feedyard, owned by Joan and Steve Ruskamp. Source: Joan Ruskamp

The pen sprinkler system at J-S Feedyard, owned by Joan and Steve Ruskamp. Source: Joan Ruskamp

How are you working to carry on your farm’s legacy?

JR: On our farm, we are utilizing the best resources and research that we have available. Even though none of our children are planning to return to the farm, we do have grandchildren so we are looking down the road to keep the farm sustainable for them and to continue to build an environment where cattle can thrive for the next generation. We always want our farm to be better the next year than it was the year before. We are continuously improving and we reinvest money every year to keep getting better. When we bought our farm in 1981 from Steve’s uncle it was important to us to honor those that started this farm by continuously improving it. We are constantly looking back with respect and looking forward with responsibility.

What does sustainability mean to you?

JR: Sustainability is the ability for us to feed cattle in a way that allows them to thrive while having the best impact possible on the environment around us with the economic value allowing our farm and community to thrive year after year after year.

Tell us a little bit about how you use antibiotics on your feedyard.

Location of Dodge, NE. Source: Google Maps

Location of Dodge, NE. Source: Google Maps

JR: We use antibiotics as one tool to care for our cattle. Our animals are evaluated to determine the best tool for combating the illness, which may or may not be antibiotics. The animal is kept in a hospital pen for recovery and then returned back to his home pen. If we receive a pen of calves that have been highly stressed we consider giving them an antibiotic to give them a better start. Some of the stresses calves experience can be severe weather, nutritional deficiencies or delays in shipping to our feedyard from the time they were sold. Normal bacteria over-populate quickly when an animal is stressed so providing a veterinarian-prescribed treatment upon arrival allows us to assist the animal in fighting off harmful bacteria.

FAB: What is your favorite cut of beef and preparation method?

JR: My favorite cut of beef is thinly sliced eye of round sandwiches. My husband is the grilling expert in our family and he has perfected a technique of grilling eye of round roasts. The meat is grilled at a low temp for several hours until it reaches 140 degrees. It is important to slice it as you eat it and not let it sit in a roaster. We served this to some five-star chefs from Jordan while they were here on a feedlot tour. They loved it and wanted the recipe!

Meet Your Rancher: Garrett Foote – Texico, New Mexico



The Foote Family

Rancher: Garrett Foote
Location: Texico, NM
Age: 21
Segment: Stocker/Backgrounder
Operation Name: Tim Foote Cattle Company

FactsAboutBeef.com: Tell us a little about yourself.

Garrett: I just graduated from Texas Tech University, with a degree in Animal Science, and will be attending Law School in the fall. I also work on my family’s Texico, NM ranch, Tim Foote Cattle Company, on breaks and weekends as a backgrounder (also known as a stocker).

FAB: What is a backgrounder?

Garrett: Backgrounders, also known as stockers, raise cattle from when they are weaned off of their mother’s milk and then send them to the feed yard when they reach a desired weight, usually between 750-800 pounds. Backgrounders and stockers are important in the beef lifecycle because we facilitate the transition from grass pasture to a grain diet. At a stocker or backgrounder ranch like ours, cattle typically graze on grass for a period of time, and a grain diet (called a “ration”) will be introduced to the feed bunk.

FAB: What does your grain ration consist of?

Garrett: Our grain ration consists of dried distillers grains, soybean hulls, cracked corn, whey, and supplements to keep the health and digestive system balanced. We also feed wheat, corn, or sorghum silage depending on what is available each season. Everything we feed depends on the season, how much was grown and harvested, and the location of where it was grown. We raise our own crops to feed, but sometimes have to buy from people in our region.

Texico, NM

Location of Texico, NM. Source: Google Maps

FAB: How long do cattle typically stay on your operation?

Garrett: The amount of time that cattle remain on our operation depends on how much they weigh when we receive them. We typically receive cattle that weigh between 400 and 700 pounds. We feed heifers (female cows) until they weigh approximately 750 pounds and steers (male cows) until they weigh 800 pounds. Cattle will stay on our operation anywhere from 30 to 150 days. Our operation is family owned and we typically feed between 35,000 to 40,000 cattle per year, but have 13,000 to 14,000 on our ranch at any given time.

FAB: What makes your operation unique (geographical, environmental, resources, type of cattle, etc.)?

Garrett: Our ranch is located 15 miles north of Texico, NM, which is on the eastern New Mexico border. This region’s dry, mild environment is ideal for raising cattle – the mild temperatures reduce stress and cattle are less likely to get sick in the dry climate.

We feed mainly black cattle and graze them on wheat from the winter months into spring; in the summer months they graze on grass. We do this because there are nutritional and

environmental benefits. Grass and wheat in our area is very nutrient dense; and it’s cheaper to use resources from our area instead of buying feed.

FAB: How are you different from cow/calf and feed yard operations? How are you similar?

Garrett: Cattle come to our operation right after cow/calf and just before the feed yard. Cattle need the extra step and transition time between being weaned off of milk, and moved to a grain diet. Our primary focus is to raise cattle to a certain weight before they are sent to the feed yard to be raised for another four to six months. We are similar because cow/calf operations, feed yards, and our operation, provide safe beef for consumers, and the health, care, and well-being of the animal is extremely important to us.

FAB: How do you play a role in raising safe beef?

Garrett: We work with our veterinarian and nutritionist to develop animal care programs to keep our cattle healthy and provide a good environment for raising safe beef. We raise a large part of the feed for our cattle and know where it comes from. This allows us to be sure that the feed was harvested and collected correctly and is safe for cattle to consume. Any time it rains, or new cattle come in, we clean all of the pens to keep the environment dry and clean.

How Beef Goes from Pasture to Plate

The beef lifecycle is a complex system that requires a broad community of people working together to create high-quality beef. These people – farmers, ranchers, animal caretakers, veterinarians, nutritionists and those involved in packing/processing — are committed to responsibly raising beef. There are a variety of steps in the lifecycle, and ‘How Beef Goes from Pasture to Plate’ gives a firsthand look into the beef community.

Meet Your Rancher: Jake and Carolyn Geis – Tyndall, South Dakota


Cow Engagement Pic
Jake and Carolyn Geis

Rancher(s): Jake and Carolyn Geis
Location: Tyndall, South Dakota
Age: 28 & 26
Segment: Cow/calf
Operation Name: Diamond Ranch

Facts About Beef: Tell us a little bit about your operation and what you do at the Diamond Ranch?

Jake Geis: My wife, Carolyn, and I own part of a cow/calf operation where we maintain a breeding herd of mama cows that give birth to calves once a year. Like many other cattle ranchers, cattle are not the majority of our family’s income, so in addition to caring for cattle, we also have jobs outside of the ranch. I am a veterinarian in Tyndall, South Dakota, while Carolyn is finishing up vet school at Iowa State University. The day to day chores on our ranch, such as checking on the cattle, making sure they are maintaining good health, and feeding the cows and heifers in the winter, are taken care of by my folks, Ron and Cindy. Carolyn and I develop the cattle’s health plan, take part in the major activities, like vaccinating the calves or building new fence. All four of us are an integral part of the ranch team and Carolyn and I spend nights, weekends, and holidays helping out on the ranch.

As practicing and soon-to-be veterinarians, Carolyn and I focus predominantly on cattle medicine, so our cattle are probably the most babied cattle in the state. The cattle we raise are called “baldies”, which are a cross breed of Herefords and Angus. We like these breeds because they fit well with our environment, which is rolling hills and Tallgrass Prairie.

FAB: What do you find most exciting about ranching and raising cattle?

Carolyn: We’re so excited to be working with our families in this industry and to have the opportunity to share it with our children someday. It’s not often in today’s world that a way of life and a business gets passed from one generation to the next like tradesmen used to do centuries ago. Although the techniques and management practices are continuously improved and updated with the times, the basic premise of raising good quality cattle to make superior quality beef never changes and we’re proud to be a part of that legacy.

tyndall, sd

Location of Tyndall, SD. Source: Google Maps

FAB: How do you juggle your everyday ranch duties with your full-time job as a veterinarian?

Jake: Since my parents take care of the everyday activities, our contribution is through herd health, veterinary consulting expertise, and on big projects like building a fence. So trying to line up the time to vaccinate calves or check cows to see if they are pregnant around my on-call schedule and Carolyn’s class schedule is a bit hectic, but we make it work and spend a lot of time on the phone planning so when we are all back we can jump right in and get the job done.

Carolyn: I think our schedule is very representative of the thousands of part-time ranchers across the country. Taking vacation time from your town/city job doesn’t mean you’ll get to relax, but you’ll be able to get cattle work done. And with so many part-time ranchers, there’s a strong chance the hamburger you eat came from a place like ours.

FAB: How do you use technology on your ranch?

Jake: Technology is the mechanism that allows us to raise beef safely, efficiently, and with the least impact on the environment. We could probably write a book on all the different ways technology impacts what we do! One example was when we began using growth promoting implants in our calves. It made the calves more efficient, so they used fewer resources per pound of growth. This helped us maintain our level of production while putting less strain on the environment our cattle live in.

The key for us is to embrace technology that meets our goals. We ask, “Will this make our cattle more efficient? Will it keep them healthy and happy? Will it conserve or promote the well-being of the land or the native plant and animal life?” If so, then we use it. New technologies aren’t something to be scared of, they are something that can help us do a better job than has ever been done before.

FAB: How do you play a role in raising safe beef?

Jake: Veterinarians have a lot of responsibility in raising safe beef. Not only do we prescribe the medications necessary to treat ill cattle, but we often are the primary consultants for cattlemen on best practices. We strive to stay up-to-date on the latest information on beef production and safety, and then in turn share this information with our clients.

As consulting veterinarians, often we will get questions about a type of treatment or if an animal is acceptable to go to slaughter. The question we often ask ourselves and our clients in these situations is, “Would I or would you want to eat meat from that animal?” The cattle we raise and/or take care of in our practice end up on our plates at home or in a restaurant, so as cattlemen we make every effort to make sure that high-quality beef starts with raising high-quality cattle. Cattlemen share the same ethics and trust the recommendations of veterinarians like us, so when we recommend a different treatment or that an animal not go to slaughter, our clients obey our recommendations.

FAB: What is your favorite cut of beef and preparation method?

Carolyn: If I must pick a favorite, I will venture out of my love for a good T-bone steak and say a treat that we don’t get very often is skirt steak! After you buy this coveted cut, you’ll find that it usually comes in a long narrow strip rolled up on itself. Unroll it so it lays flat and remove the tough membrane that covers it. Sprinkle one side with salt, pepper and ground oregano.  Flip it over and sprinkle the other side with salt, pepper, garlic salt and more ground oregano. Throw that beautiful piece of beef on a preheated grill set to medium high until it’s got a beautiful crust on it. Flip it over and cook until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Take it off the grill, but don’t you dare cut into it, just let it be for a bit. After about 5 minutes, cut it at an angle against the grain into thin strips. Place several strips on a small flour or corn tortilla that has been heated through on a griddle/pan and squeeze a lime wedge over it. Then the toppings are up to you! I keep it simple with thin sliced onion, some sour cream and a bit of cilantro, but go crazy…this doesn’t happen every day!

Jake: Ribeye, grilled to medium rare. Simple man, simple meal.

FAB: If anyone wants to follow your ranch activities on social media, where can they find you?

Carolyn: If you would like to hear what we are up to, check out our blog at www.thecowdocs.com. We can also be reached on Twitter (@thecowdocs) or Facebook. Thanks for getting to know us today!

Beef. It’s What’s for the Holidays.

Myth: It’s impossible to shop for beef lovers.

Fact: Nothing says happy holidays like the gift of beef. From beef jerky to boxed beef to Schmacon, there are some great beef gift options.

Whether you’re staying home or traveling, spending time with friends or family, the one thing that connects all of our plans and traditions during the holiday season is food. As we gather over meals at home and at parties, this season is not only an ideal time to reconnect with your family, but also with your food.

As you dig into your holiday roast consider gaining a deeper understanding of how that delicious and wholesome food, including beef, made it to your plate through a look into the lives of the folks who made it possible.

Farmland is currently available for digital download.

Farmland,” a documentary by Oscar® award-winning director, James Moll, offers a way to connect with those who grow and raise our food and get an inside glimpse into their livelihood.  This documentary chronicles the lives of farmers and ranchers in their 20’s – the future of our food system. Many Americans don’t know a farmer or rancher, let alone have the opportunity to step foot on a farm or ranch and experience where their food comes from. The film illustrates how food and family are inseparable – not only for us as consumers, but also for those who raise it.

The good news for the holidays is that it’s now available for rent or purchase on platforms including iTunes, YouTube, Amazon, PlayStation and vudu – buy it for your family or purchase a gift card for others to do the same.

And in case you’re in the market for any beefy holiday gifts, here are a few ideas…

  1. We already know wine and beef are a perfect pairing, but wine infused beef jerky? Winery Clos du Bois winery and Krave jerky launched a limited-edition, wine-infused beef jerky flavor: Cabernet Sauvignon Balsamic Blackberry
  2. Steaks, whether the well-known Omaha Steaks, Strassburger Steaks or any other steaks that can be delivered, steaks are always great gift ideas. Or, if you have an inquisitive foodie on your hands, consider checking out Schmacon, the “un-bacon” for your holiday morning feast.
  3. Beef is delicious no matter how you slice or dice it, but slicing and dicing it is easier with the right tools. A good carving knife and a solid cutting board make wonderful holiday gifts for the beef-lover on your list.
  4. Have a music fan or a comedy lover on your list? Get some schwag from the Peterson Farm Brothers, brothers and Kansas-based cattle ranchers who produce entertaining and educational videos about how they raise food, such as “I’m Farming and I Grow It.” Check out their website and their e-store.
  5. Does the man (or woman) in your life love steak? Consider a steak-scented candle. ManCave Candles has an “Off the Grill” candle. While we haven’t tried it ourselves, the warning that intense hunger may occur is pretty enticing.

Hypertext links to other sites are for information purposes only and do not constitute any endorsement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Beef Checkoff.

Meet Your Rancher: Troy and Stacy Hadrick — Faulkton, South Dakota


Troy and Stacy Hadrick on their South Dakota ranch

Troy and Stacy Hadrick on their South Dakota ranch

Name: Troy and Stacy Hadrick
Location: Faulkton, South Dakota
Segment: Cow/calf, Stocker, Feeder

Facts About Beef: What makes your operation unique – geographical, environmental, type of cattle, etc.?  

Troy Hadrick (TH): We raise Angus cattle on the prairies of north central South Dakota. Our average yearly precipitation is around 19 inches, but a significant portion of that will come as snow. We experience a very wide range in temperatures during the year. Winter low temps can drop down to -30 with -60 wind chills, but our summer high temperatures can climb up to 110 degrees or more. These challenging environmental conditions can be tough so it’s important to have the kind of cattle that can thrive in this type of environment.

FAB: What is the importance of family ties, past and present, to your operation?

TH: I’ve been fortunate to work with family my entire life. I grew up on this ranch working with my grandfather, father, uncle and cousins. Now my cousins and I have taken over ownership of the business and are the 4th generation in our family to farm and ranch at this location, 5th in the United States. So when it comes to making good decisions about how we care for the land and cattle, we have generations of knowledge and experience to fall back on. Even though technology continues to change and our cattle don’t look like the ones grandpa raised, however the principals of good stewardship never change. Every fall we move cattle past a little spot where there are a handful of trees growing out in a pasture. That’s the spot where my great-great grandparents settled when they moved to South Dakota a century ago. I’m proud to continue that tradition and even more proud to be raising the next generation of our family on our ranch.


FAB: What are some of the biggest challenges for managing your ranch?

TH: Managing our feed sources is something that has to be constantly monitored. With our harsh winters it imperative that we have plenty of feed to survive until green grass grows again. Another challenge I have to that we spread our cattle out over several different pastures for the summer. Being spread out like that requires us to be “mobile.” We have to be able to set up in a pasture with portable equipment to do the necessary work to the cattle. Some of the work that needs to be done to the cattle include things vaccinations, fly spraying or pregnancy checking.

FAB: What is a “typical” day like for you?

TH: A typical day for me involves changes with our distinct seasons. During the winter months I spend my time feeding cattle and making sure fresh water is consistently available and does not freeze over. Come spring we will start calving, which involves round-the-clock care. The summers are a nice break since the cattle are out on green grass but I still have to monitor them for any health issues that may require attention as well as making sure they have a fresh supply of water and are supplemented with salt and mineral. During the fall we will be preparing for weaning and the upcoming winter. So a typical day for me always involves cattle but what I’m doing with them varies a lot throughout the year. Another thing that a typical day involves for me is agriculture advocacy. Whether it’s in person or online, we realize the importance of reaching out to consumers to share our way of life and let them see for themselves what a typical day entails. Helping other farmers and ranchers learn how to share their own stories is another passion of ours.

FAB: How do you use technology on your ranch?

TH: Technology has played a very important role for us. We use computer-balanced rations for our cattle during those times of year when we are feeding to be sure we are meeting all of their nutrient requirements. I pay especially close attention to the genetics of our cattle. I want to produce the highest quality beef product that I can while also maintaining functional cattle at the ranch level. In order to accomplish this we use artificial insemination. It allows us to use the best bulls in the world. Every cow on the place will be bred this way. In the fall I will use an ultrasound machine for pregnancy checking the cows, allowing us to actually see the fetus to insure it’s healthy and also determine an expected due date. Knowing the age of the fetus in every cow lets me manage them accordingly.

Technology also allows me to monitor and trade in the markets or share a picture of a newborn calf on social media. Like many other professions, smartphones have become an important tool for ranchers.

Location of Faulkton, South Dakota Source: Google Maps

Location of Faulkton, South Dakota Source: Google Maps

FAB: How do you play a role in raising safe beef?

TH: I’m the first step in the beef safety chain. My responsibility is to keep them healthy by working closely with our veterinarian, follow all labeling requirements and Beef Quality Assurance guidelines. At the end of the day I know that a family is going to be enjoying the beef that originated from my ranch and I want to do everything I can to be sure it’s safe and delicious.

FAB: How do you prepare your favorite cut of beef?

TH: My favorite cut of beef is a ribeye steak. I especially enjoy a cowboy cut ribeye steak. I typically like to let the steaks thaw in the refrigerator for several days. This allows for some additional aging. After that I will grill them on a low heat until it’s medium rare to medium. I like to put just a dash of seasoned salt on them and that’s it.

FAB: If interested parties want to follow your ranch activities on social media, where can they find you?

TH: I always enjoy using social media to let consumers get a feel for what we do every day on the ranch. You can friend us on Facebook for find us on Twitter @TroyHadrick or @StacyHadrick

The Beef Lifecycle: From Farm to Fork

The beef lifecycle is perhaps one of the most unique and complex lifecycles of any food. It takes anywhere from 2-3 years to bring beef from farm to fork. The beef community is not vertically integrated, meaning that an animal will change owners or caretakers an average of 2-3 times during its lifetime. Each caretaker along the way specializes in a key area of a cow’s life, providing the proper care, nutrition and animal health plans that the animal needs at that specific point in its life.

The farmers and ranchers at each stage of the beef lifecycle utilize diverse resources available in their geographic area, such as local feedstuffs, land that can’t be used to raise crops, or grass that might grow all year around. The entire beef community focuses on proper animal care, such as Beef Quality Assurance, in order to raise high-quality beef for millions of people around the world to enjoy.

In short, it takes abroad community of dedicated people working together to bring beef from farm to fork. The beef community is made up of cow-calf ranches, stockers & backgrounders, livestock auction markets, feedyards (feedlots) and packing plants  See the beef lifecycle infographic below for a visual snapshot of how beef goes from farm to fork.

Below is a brief overview of the beef lifecycle:

  1. Cow-Calf Farm or Ranch – Raising beef begins with ranchers who maintain a breeding herd of mama cows that give birth to calves once a year. When a calf is born, it weighs about 60 to 100 pounds. Over the next few months, each calf will live off its mother’s milk and graze on grass pastures.
  2. Weaning –Calves are weaned from their mother’s milk at about six to 10 months of age when they weigh between 450 and 700 pounds. These calves continue to graze on grass pastures. About 1/3 of the female cows will stay on the farm to continue to grow and to become new mama cows the following year.
  3. Stockers and Backgrounders – After weaning, cattle continue to grow and thrive by grazing on grass and pastures during the stocker and backgrounder phase.
  4. Livestock Auction Markets – After weaning and/or during the stocker and backgrounder phase, cattle are sold at livestock auction markets.
  5. Feedyard – Mature cattle are often moved to feedyards (also called feedlots). Here cattle typically spend four to six months, during which time they have constant access to water and room to move around. They are free to graze at feed bunks containing a carefully balanced diet made up of roughage (such as hay, grass and fiber), grain (such as corn, wheat and soybean meal) and local renewable feed sources, such as the tops of sugar beet plants, potato peelings or even citrus pulp. Veterinarians, nutritionists and cattlemen work together to look after each animal. Feedlots can range in size, shape and geographic location.
  6. Packing Plant – Once cattle reach market weight (typically 1,200 to 1,400 pounds and 18 to 22 months of age), they are sent to a packing plant (also called a processing facility). United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors are stationed in all federally inspected packing plants and oversee the implementation of safety, animal welfare and quality standards from the time animals enter the plant until the final beef products are shipped to grocery stores and restaurants establishments. If animals are sick or have an injury the USDA inspector will deem the animal unfit for human consumption, and the animal will not enter the food supply.
  7. Food Service and Retail – Beef is shipped and sold in the United States and abroad. In the retail and food service (restaurant) channels, operators take steps to provide consumers with the safest, most wholesome and nutritious products possible. For delicious recipes for beef, including tips on cooking steak and making the perfect hamburger, visit beefitswhatfordinner.com.

It takes a dedicated community of people to bring beef from farm to fork, but the result is wholesome, delicious and high-quality beef that people can feel good about. Learn more about each segment of the beef lifecycle by clicking on the above links or by visiting farmer and rancher blogs, such as:

Need Responsibly Raised Beef? Call Us

This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff.

In response to a recent blog post on the Huffington Post website by Chipotle Founder, Chairman and Co-CEO, Steve Ells entitled Conventional vs. Grass-fed Beef, we spoke with two California ranchers about how they raise beef today: one grass-fed beef producer and one conventional (grass-fed and grain-finished) producer. Darrell Wood is a cow/calf producer in Vina, CA, and President of Panorama Meats, a supplier of certified organic, 100% grass-finished beef to retailers in the Western United States. Darrel Sweet is a cow/calf producer in Livermore, CA, who raises cattle on grass then sells them to a feedyard in California that finishes the cattle on a combination grass and grain. The two Darrel(l)s provided their perspective on the announcement that Chipotle will now source grass-fed beef from Australia because “U.S. grass-fed beef that meets our standards is simply not produced in sufficient quantities to meet our demand.” Interestingly, both ranchers concluded that Mr. Ells is entitled to his opinions but might not understand how beef is raised in the U.S. today.


Cattle rancher Darrell Wood

Darrell Wood (raises organic, grass-finished beef): The U.S. beef system is very unique in its ability to meet consumer demand for a year-round fresh beef product. Not only is the system innovative in the ability to provide beef products, it is also unique in the ability to provide abundant choices. A consumer (including restaurants) is able to choose from conventional, organic, antibiotic free, hormone free, grass-finished, grain-finished or any combination of those options. What we have is special.


Cattle Rancher Darrel Sweet

Darrel Sweet (raises conventional beef):
It is important to note that these certification programs are verifications of production methods, they have nothing to do with food safety. These claims are simply guaranteeing a certain process was used in raising the animal – it is not about safety. If I treat an animal with antibiotics because they are sick that does not mean it is less safe. And that is the responsible thing to do.

Wood: I agree with Darrel. Treating a sick animal is absolutely the responsible thing to do. We have an obligation to animals in our care. I occasionally need to treat an animal with an antibiotic to help it recover from an illness. That does not mean the meat from that animal is lower quality or less safe. It simply doesn’t meet the organic standards so won’t be marketed as organic.  Cattlemen are only able to use the resources they have available to them to produce beef. I am fortunate that I have access to both a summer and winter grass pasture. This allows me to produce 100% grass-fed beef year-round by simply moving cattle between pastures. I began producing grass-fed beef to ensure the long term viability of our ranch for my son and daughter. My children will be the 8th generation to work this land. Before going to college they both said they wanted to be part of the ranch, but I could not guarantee that the ranch would be around when they got out of college. I began to evaluate the resources we had and look for other ways to market our cattle. We are able to get a 25% premium for our product because it is 100% grass-fed and organic, that has been the core of our business ever since. The goal has always been to sustain our family business.

Sweet: My situation, 185 miles south from Darrell Wood, is very different. My pastures are green only six months out of the year, the other six months they are dormant or brown. If I were to produce grass-fed beef I would have two options, I would need to cut my herd size in half in order to allow for enough feed or I would need to stock feed accordingly when the grass is dry. Both options would not be economically viable for my business, ultimately leading to the end of our farm a farm that I am the 5th generation to work on; my grandchildren are the 7th generation. Currently we raise our cattle until they are about 6-8 months old; they are weaned from their mothers and moved onto another cattle operation to continue maturing and growing. At that point they are 100% grass-fed and if the animal was not given antibiotics because of illness, it could be marketed as 100% grass-fed and naturally-raised (raised without hormones or antibiotics). That’s the decision of the feedyard that buys them and markets them to the consumer. They used to sell naturally-raised beef but the demand for that product hasn’t been strong enough to make it worthwhile.

Wood: On the other hand, our grass-fed beef business is consistently growing; we are always getting additional producers to meet the demand. Panorama has previously supplied to Chipotle, about six years ago, and has had conversations with Chipotle as recently as a year ago about providing grass-fed beef for their program again. They were satisfied that our product met their definition of “Responsibly Raised” however, obtaining a premium as a grass-fed beef supplier for Chipotle can be a challenge.. This leads me to believe it is price driven, so ultimately they went with an overseas product because it was cheaper.

Sweet: It’s unfortunate that Mr. Ells doesn’t seem to understand the cattle business. Saying that there are not enough cattle producers like Darrell Wood and then going overseas for the same products at a cheaper price sends the wrong message to producers. You need to recover your costs – that’s basic business. Beef producers have always responded to market signals to provide consumers with the beef products they demand and going overseas for your supply of grass-fed beef is not sending the right signal. 

Wood: Raising responsible beef means being a good steward of the resources you have. In some cases that means raising cattle on grass and finishing them on grain, like my friend Darrel.It really boils down to the quality of the grass pastures available to you and whether the grass grows year-round.

Sweet: Exactly, and the prolonged drought we are in has certainly taken its toll. Because of diminished grass quality we are now able to graze fewer cows per acre of land then we were before. In fact, yesterday I was working on watershed lands owned and managed by a water agency that provides drinking water for several million San Francisco Bay area consumers. This piece of land is required by statute to use for grazing in order to save three endangers species: Tiger Salamander, Red Legged Frog and Kit Fox. This type of partnership not only allows me more acres to graze, it also allows for me to help protect open space and endangered species for years to come.

Wood: Both Sweet and I are involved in this type of work on our ranches through an organization called The California Rangeland Trust. We realized a number of years back, with urban encroachment we, as ranchers, needed to do more to protect open space and endangered species. One of the best ways to utilize this land is through cattle grazing. I would love for Mr. Ells to call me or visit my ranch to learn more about how beef is raised and discuss his options for providing responsibly raised beef to Chipotle customers.

%d bloggers like this: