Commodity: Beef

You may have learned about dairy cattle, which give us milk and dairy products. But there is another group of cattle called "beef cattle." These provide food too: Beef. You may know many types of beef products by name: Hamburger or ground beef, steak, or tenderloin are some names. But there are other products made from beef cattle too. Beef is an important commodity for Minnesota. Let's learn more about it.

Beef Cattle History

The word "cattle" comes from the Old French word "chattel", which means "possession". Historians think cattle were first domesticated in Europe and Asia during the Stone Age. When an animal has been "domesticated", it no longer has to find its own food and shelter. Humans provide these items because it is either tamed for a pet, like a dog, used on a farm, or raised for meat. Beef cattle came to the U.S. when Christopher Columbus made his second trip here in 1493. The first cattle in Minnesota belonged to soldiers at Fort Snelling, which was built in the early 1820s.

Beef Cattle History
beef cows
Cow on farm

Many Uses for Beef Cattle

Beef cattle may weigh around 1,100 pounds. From that, it will provide about 475 pounds of beef. But 99% of every beef animal is used. That means beef cattle also supply other products:

  • Beef cattle produce steaks, roasts, and hamburgers for you to enjoy at home, at school, and at restaurants.
  • Beef contains many important nutrients, including protein, zinc, niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, and iron.
  • There are 29 cuts of beef that are lean, like tenderloin, strip steak, and 95% lean ground beef.
  • Hides, hooves, and hair are used to make things like sports equipment, leather goods, and paint brushes. Footballs are often called "pigskins," but they are actually made from cow hide.
  • Fats are used to make soap, shampoo, and cosmetics.
  • The pancreas and liver are used to make medications for diseases such as anemia and hypoglycemia.

Raising Beef Cattle

Farmers care for their cattle through several different stages.

  • Beef cattle produce steaks, roasts, and hamburgers for you to enjoy at home, at school, and at restaurants.
  • Beef contains many important nutrients, including protein, zinc, niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, and iron.
  • There are 29 cuts of beef that are lean, like tenderloin, strip steak, and 95% lean ground beef.
  • Hides, hooves, and hair are used to make things like sports equipment, leather goods, and paint brushes. Footballs are often called "pigskins," but they are actually made from cow hide.
  • Fats are used to make soap, shampoo, and cosmetics.
  • The pancreas and liver are used to make medications for diseases such as anemia and hypoglycemia.
  • Cows and heifers give birth to calves. This happens once a year. Calves drink milk from their mothers. They eat grass for the first few months of their lives.
  • When they are 8 months old, calves no longer drink milk from their mothers. They also weigh about 500 pounds. Farmers called "stockers" or "backgrounders" buy calves at this stage. The calves are placed in a new pasture with other calves their age. The calves continue to grow as they eat grass, hay, and grain. Some cattle stay on pasture their entire lives. The meat from these cattle is called grass-fed or grass-finished.
  • Next, the cattle are moved to feedyards. They spend up to five months here. While in the feedyard, the cattle do not graze on pasture. Instead, they eat a nutritious diet of grasses, corn plant silage, and hay. They also eat grains like corn and wheat.
  • At 18 to 20 months' old, cattle are taken to packing plants. Here workers break down the cattle into meat cuts and other products. The process of harvesting is done in an approved way that helps the beef be safe for humans.
  • Once the packing plant is done, the beef moves to other processing places that send individual meat cuts to grocery stores or restaurants. The by-products, such as the hide or hooves, are sent to non-food processing places.

Beef Cattle Terms

There are several types of beef cattle:

heifer in field with cows

Calf

A young beef animal

Cow on farm

Cow

A female beef animal that has had a calf

Black and white crossbred Angus brood cow

Heifer

A female beef animal that has not had a calf.

Angus Bull

Bull

A male used to breed cows and heifers

cow looking

Steer

A male beef animal that can't reproduce and is used for meat only

Hereford Calves Eating Corn Feed

Beef in Minnesota

Minnesota is 12th in the U.S. for raising cattle and calves. We produce about 3% of the U.S. beef supply. There are farms all over the state- 18,000 of them! Of those 18,000, 97% are family owned and managed. While there are farms all over the state, feedyards are mostly found in the southern part of Minnesota.

All those farms make a big contribution. The value of the beef produced in Minnesota in 2015 is about $1.2 billion.

Here are just a few of the family farmers who help Minnesota's beef cattle commodity so successful.

Beef Fun Facts

  • star icon shape

    It takes 3,000 cows to supply the NFL with enough leather for a year's supply of footballs.

  • star incon

    Cows have a stomach with four compartments. This allows them to digest foods that humans cannot digest.

  • star icon

    The average cow moves its jaw more than 40,000 times a day.

  • star icon shape

    The hide from one cow can make 144 baseballs, 20 footballs, or 12 basketballs.

Red Angus bull calf in field
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