As you’re staring down at your hamburger or steak, how often do you wonder how it got there? For some people it might be a little easier to rationalize how milk or eggs get put on their table. You’re not alone. Beef production isn’t necessarily the ‘in’ thing to talk about for most. However, I thoroughly enjoy it.
It all starts on a cow-calf farm or ranch. This is where heifers (first-time moms) and cows (female bovines that have already calved) are bred to superior bulls. Their pregnancy will last 9 months (as long as humans) then they will ‘calve’, or give birth once a year. Ranchers take calving just as seriously as other tasks and plan it during a specific time so they can ensure that the calves get the best care and protection from any challenges that are present and are able to meet their market demand.
Calves are weaned (naturally removed from nursing) around eight months of age when they weigh approximately five hundred pounds and are already partially grazing for nutrients.This time can vary slightly on each individual ranch. Before this male calves are castrated and all calves are dehorned. These management techniques are necessary for both the animals, farmers and consumers. I will describe why in a later post.
At this time calves are usually purchased at a nearby livestock auction by ‘stockers’ or ‘backgrounders’ and around a third of the female animals are kept on the ranch to continue the life cycle. During this time in their life they will graze and consume a variety of forages and some grain. Cattle that are grass fed continue in this type of situation util they reach market weight and do not visit the feedyard.
Around twelve to eighteen months of age these beef animals are typically moved into a feedyard. Here they consume a balanced diet of grains, forages, vitamins and minerals. In fact – they even have a special nutritionist to formulate a ration (diet) so they can transition from grass easier and are only fed what is healthy for their body weight. They spend between 120-180 days here (four to six months). Stocking density is the word to describe how many cattle are in a particular pen in a lot and it is managed to allow for between 125 and 250 square feet per animal so they have plenty of room to move around as they please, rest and socialize!
Once they have reached market weight all beef is harvested in processing facilities that are in tip top shape by skilled workers. Carcasses are processed into beef cuts. I will go into greater detail about the harvesting process if you would prefer in a later post!
Wa-Lah, there you go!
Thank you so much for reading.
Until next time,