Beef cattle is a major industry in Pennsylvania (PA) with over 25,000 farms raising over 1.6 M cattle and calves with a value of almost $700 M according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) 2012 Census of Agriculture. The largest category of farms have between 55 and 99 animals with sales of almost $77 M. These farms are considered to be small to mid-sized in PA.
There are several production methods used in the beef industry including beef cow-calf production , which the producer has cows and bulls to produce calves for sale to feeder operations, backgrounding operations or growing the calves to market weight. Small operations may raise the animals on pasture and market the animals as grass-fed and sell whole or portions of animals to individuals for a higher price per pound. Pasture production is not the most efficient method of achieving a high average daily gain in weight but many consumers are seeking grass-fed beef. Beef feeding operations purchase feeder calves, usually steers or heifers, and keep them in a feed lot to finish the animals for sale to slaughter houses. The animals are finished on grain and silage diets to achieve the maximum weight gain in the shortest period of time. Many of the feeding operations purchase animals from one or two trusted sources and raise enough animals to sell by the truck load to achieve the highest returns. These operations take advantage of economies of scale and usually know what their selling price will be when they purchase animals.
An optimal beef backgrounding plan will induce up to 800 pounds of weight gain in your beef calves. The weight gain from backgrounding comes primarily in the form of muscle and frame development, with little from fattening. These gains are accomplished as economically as possible by making maximum use of forages such as hay and silage in addition to pasture feeding. Little, if any, grain is used in most backgrounding programs.
Dairy operations have no use for bull calves and many are selecting semen to greatly reduce the amount of bull calves born. However, dairy beef steers may potentially increase the income of a dairy operation. If the producer has the housing capacity and some extra feed stocks, finishing dairy-beef can an option. If the dairy producer does not have the capacity, selling the bull calves to a dairy-beef producer may be a better option than selling the calf for veal. Consumer demand for lean meat is sparking increased demand for dairy-beef producers.
There are many resources available for beef producers or potential producers. One of these sources is the National Sustainable Agriculture Assistance Program developed and managed by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), also known as ATTRA. Some of the resources are for fee publications however, many are available for free. The site, contains information covering beef production and also information covering grazing.
An excellent resource for bovine myology (the muscle and skeletal anatomy of cattle) is the University of Nebraska. By reviewing the information provided you will be much better informed concerning the cuts normally found in grocery stores. You will be informed about the muscle make-up of many beef cuts and consumer research conducted to determine the most desirable cuts.
Marketing of your beef production may take several forms. You may direct market whole animals live, whole animals slaughtered and portions of animals (halves or quarters) or even individual cuts. A source of determining prices for live animals is the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service's report on cattle auctions. These prices will be a starting point for selling your beef. Depending on your production (feeder steers or calves), you may use these reports to better determine when to sell your production.
The Cattleman's Beef Board promotes advertising and beef consumption throughout the United States. It also supports consumer and marketing education and is funded through an assessment from beef producers.