Monday, December 6, 2010

Beef Production 101 from Mark

This post is long overdue and I’m sorry. I would really like to catch up on the calendar of operations, but being that this blog is also about beef production not only cattle production (You may be thinking, what is the difference?). Let me try to explain how I view the difference between beef and cattle production.

Cattle production or animal husbandry if you like is the act or art of raising cattle; all the things that go into daily care of the animals like nutrition, water, and resource management. Beef production is more of the science if you will. We determine the breeding season to try and match the nutrients in the native forage to the cow’s peak demand while suckling a calf, we determine the proper timing of calf hood interventions such as inoculations, castration, and weaning in order to get the optimum benefits with the least amount of stress, we sample grass and water to make sure we provide beneficial supplements for deficient essential minerals, but most importantly we decide on the genetic makeup our herd, no these are not “GMO” cows this is one of the most important elements of cattle ranching, it is the science of animal breeding.

We apply both subjective and objective criteria to determine the type of cattle we want to raise. There are a great number of traits that can be bred for - some breeds are more tolerant of the heat or cold, some breeds produce more milk, some have better dispositions, some produce superior beef (meat). This last item is something that was identified as one of the main consumer issues about beef in the 1990’s. So, a majority of beef producers moved to breeds of cattle known to produce higher quality beef. Typically, these are the British breeds they are so named because they were originally imported from the British Isles the scientific name is Bos taurus. These cattle acclimate well in cooler climates and do well where high quality nutrition is available; also, they tend to have calm dispositions. The name of one of these breeds you may recognize is “Black Angus”.

The other type of cattle is Bos inidicus, or eared breeds derived from southern Asia. These cattle acclimate well in very hot areas, they travel and forage well, they adapt very well where nutrition is more sparse, they tend to produce leaner beef, they are not known for having very calm dispositions, these cattle are prominent in the western U.S. which is very arid. I don’t have photo example of the breeds, but I do have a photo of arid grazing land that you can compare with the pasture in the photos above.

All these photos are on our ranch, the diversity is not only stark, but also challenging. We happen to raise angus cross cattle and they would certainly do better on the lush green pasture than this desert land, but as I have discussed in previous blogs climatic conditions dictate that we bring the cattle down to lower elevations in the winter.

This is the same area as the second photo in March of 2010. Make no mistake cattle are raised in climates like this all over the U.S., but they must be fed hay. On our operation we try to use the different types of pasture and forage available during the peak production periods so that we don’t have to feed hay. We don’t have the ability to raise hay so we have to buy it, and that is an expense we like to avoid. So the dilemmas we face as beef producers is to raise the type of cattle that produce the highest quality beef that fits consumer preferences, but at the same time are able to adapt efficiently to the resources available on our ranch. Yes, economics are implied because if we can’t strike the right balance between productivity and efficiency then the ranch in not “sustainable”.

So, to summarize - we spend a great deal of time considering the right type of cattle and genetic traits that best fit our environment, consumer demands, and economically sustainable. Perhaps in future posts I will talk more specifically about husbandry and stewardship practices we employ to try and meet consumer concerns. Until next time, so long from the ranch.


  1. This is why I loved ranches, Cattle's are everywhere, fresh breeze of air and the relaxing feeling of being home. Now I miss the Ranches in Texas. Anyway, I loved your photos as well as the way how you summary the beef production. Was that hard to have a great deal?

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