Based on Jan. 1, 2016 USDA figures, beef cow numbers have started to build back, but  are still about one-third lower than the mid-‘70s peak of around 45 million head. What has happened to beef production over that period? As the chart below shows, cow numbers and beef production tracked closely from 1950 to about 1980. (Earlier data show that relationship goes back even earlier than 1950.) In 1980, beef production started gradually increasing even though cow numbers declined. Why?

beef browsing march

By at least 1950, and continuing for 20-25 years, the average mature beef cow weighed about 1000 lb and the average finished steer weighed about the same. Today, the average beef cow weighs 1300 lb or more; the American Angus Association reports about 1400 lb. for mature cows which also is about the current average of finished steers. So that factor alone results in more beef per cow.

By at least 1950, and continuing for 20-25 years, the average mature beef cow weighed about 1000 lb and the average finished steer weighed about the same. Today, the average beef cow weighs 1300 lb or more; the American Angus Association reports about 1400 lb. for mature cows which also is about the current average of finished steers. So that factor alone results in more beef per cow.


Up until the late ‘60s or so, size (that is, body weight, the best measure of size) of beef cattle had pretty well stabilized for several decades. Sires and dams being used were about genetically equivalent in size (and had been for a while) and there was little if any interest in getting cattle bigger. Then, emphasis started being placed on increasing size. Producers started using sires genetically larger than the cows in the herd, both through within-breed selection and use of newly-imported larger breeds. This meant calves were genetically larger than their dam, so more beef was produced per cow. This effect is still in place today, though not to the extent seen earlier. (Over time, as replacement heifers were kept from larger and larger sires, average cow size also gradually increased.)

At one time, large numbers of calves were slaughtered right off the cow, especially in the South. Old timers here will remember the fat slaughter calf market. I grew up in a small town in the northern Blacklands of Texas. Our local, small grocery stores had only calf and no fed beef. With the advent of large-scale commercial feedlots in the ‘60s, practically everything not kept as replacement females now goes to a feedlot. That results in more beef per cow, as do nutritional advancements, growth promotants, etc .

Finally, does more beef per cow necessarily mean higher efficiency? Probably not. Without knowing everything that goes into production, including cost, beef produced per cow is more a measure of production than of efficiency.



Stocker calves often experience various types of stress before being received including, but not limited to, weaning, commingling, handling, and transportation. There has been some speculation that such stress might adversely impact response from growth implants. A group of 203 bull or steer calves of rather uniform weight (averaging 447± 6 lb) and of unknown health history were obtained from local livestock auctions. Calves were vaccinated for BRD, Clostridia, and tetanus, dewormed, and any bulls were castrated by banding. At that time, calves were assigned to one of four experimental groups: 1) implanted at processing with Synovex S®, 2) implanted 14 days later, 3) implanted 28 days later, or 4) not implanted. All calves were placed on a corn-gluten based receiving ration for 42 days followed by 78 days grazing wheat pasture.

At the end of wheat pasture grazing, non-implanted controls averaged weighing 689 lb. Implanted groups averaged 732 lb, significantly above controls. There was no significant difference among the three implanted groups. There were no significant differences among the four groups in health status during the entire trial. The authors concluded “our observations suggest that there is not a clear benefit to delaying growth implantation and that a growth implant does not affect health or vaccine response in newly received calves”.

(J. Animal Sci. 93:4089; West Texas A&M Univ., Univ. of Arkansas, Zoetis)



The Oklahoma Quality Beef Network is a joint project of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service and the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association. Every fall, OQBS Certified sales are held at livestock markets throughout the state. Two categories of certification are offered:  1)VAC-45 for ranch-raised calves weaned at least 45 days and 2) PRECON which can include calves gathered from various sources that have been together at least 60 days from receiving and processing. For both verifications, producers must follow a specified vaccination protocol for BRD complex, clostridial, and Mannheimia-Pasteurella protection. Groups must be verified for compliance with program requirements by Oklahoma State University personnel.

Data were collected from eight sales held in October through December last year. Included in the data set were 501 lots with 6,095 calves, an additional 2,796 head of OQBN calves sold private treaty, and 9,090 non-certified calves. The weighted average price for certified calves was $11.08/cwt higher. This compares to previous year’s averages of: 2011-$11.09, 2012-$11.31, 2013-$10.37, and 2014-$19.20 (when prices everywhere were at an all-time high). Premiums were highest for calves weighing 300-400 lb. Deleting the high year, premiums for a 550 lb calf would be about $60/hd. (In personal conversation, Dr. Ted McCollum, Texas A&M AgriLife Center at Amarillo, notes a good many of these calves may be bought by wheat farmers willing to pay perhaps more premium than some producers would to minimize health problems.)

Any price premium from value-added programs should be evaluated with weight gain realized during the post weaning period and total cost incurred. Other value-added programs are available to producers in several states. For more information on this program see .



Early weaning has sometimes been suggested in recent years, particularly when forage availability is reduced, milk production declines, or body condition of cows may become below optimal. One of the possible benefits put forward is better nutritional efficiency. Over two years and two locations, 156 lactating cows that had calved at least twice were managed in drylot. At calving, all cows were fed 20lb DM/day. Half of the calves were weaned at an average age of 91± 18 days of age (EW) and the other half at 203± 16 days (NW). At early weaning, those cows were limit-fed 15 lb DM/day and their weaned calves 9 lb DM/day until weaning. Cow/calf pairs received 24 lb DM/day until normal weaning. Throughout the study the ration was 15-20% CP, 78-80% TDN (depending on year and location), containing various amounts of corn silage, distillers grains, cornstalks, wheat straw, and supplement.

From the date of early weaning to normal weaning, EW dams averaged gaining significantly more (37 lb) than NW dams. Cow Body Condition Score and conception rates did not significantly differ between the two groups. At 203 days of age, calf weight for NW was significantly higher for EW at one location and significantly higher for EW at the other location. Calf ADG/total feed consumed (cow + calf) was significantly greater for NW at one location and tended to be greater for EW at the other location. Across both locations, ADG/feed was not significantly different.

The authors concluded “because calf ADG per unit of feed energy intake for the cow and calf combined were relatively similar, the total energy requirements for weaned cows and calves or nursing pairs do not appear to be markedly different”.  NOTE: In situations where early weaning has been shown to be beneficial, the primary benefit is generally derived from improved reproduction due to better cow body condition. Also, early weaned calves immediately placed on high concentrate rations have sometimes been shown to produce higher levels of carcass marbling than traditionally managed calves.

(Prof. Anim. Sci. 31:455; Univ. of Nebraska)



Heifers were early weaned in April averaging 376± 33 lb and grazed on bahiagrass pasture, stocked at 300 lb initial body weight/acre. Four experimental groups were established at that time:

  • supplemented at 1% body weight without monensin;
  • supplemented at 2% body weight without monensin;
  • supplemented at 1% body weight with monensin;
  • supplemented at 2% body weight with monensin.

Supplement contained 17% CP and 78% TDN; monensin was provided at 20 ppm.

Both CP and digestibility of pasture significantly decreased during the study period of April to June. Neither supplement level nor monensin significantly affected pasture CP or digestibility. Heifers on 2% supplementation gained significantly more than 1% (2.17 lb/day vs. 1.89 lb/day); monensin significantly increased gain (2.18 lb/day vs. 1.85 lb/day), so monensin was effective at both supplementation levels. Though an economic analysis was not conducted it appeared from these results that, as has been shown in other research, monensin supplementation is an effective and profitable practice. The authors noted that the profitability of increasing supplementation from 1% to 2% will depend on cost of supplement and cattle prices.

(2016 So. Sec. Am. Soc. Anim. Sci. Meeting, Abst. 53: Univ. of Florida, Sao Paulo St. Univ., Oregon St. Univ.)



The National Pedigreed Livestock Council is an organization of U. S. livestock registries. Most of the more numerous beef breed associations are members of NPLC. Currently, 16 beef breed association members report registration numbers to NPLC. The table below shows percentages of the total registered in 1965 and 2015 by breed (one-half  of the breeds were not yet registered in the U. S. in 1965):

BREED 1965 % 2015 %
Angus 34.6 43.7
Beefmaster 2.5
Brahman 1.5 1.4
Brangus 0.4 3.5
Charloais 2.8 5.2
Chianina 1.0
Gelbvieh 5.2
Hereford 56.0 11.0
Limousin 3.1
Main-Anjou 1.3
Red Angus 0.2 7.5
Salers 0.7
Santa Gertrudis 1.1 0.8
Shorthorn 3.4 2.1
Simmental 10.3
Texas Longhorn 1.3

Not shown here but for comparison, in 2015 there were about one-third more Holsteins registered than the most numerous beef breed (Angus) and more Jerseys registered than the second most numerous beef breed (Hereford). While registration percentages may not reflect the exact picture, they should give us a good idea of the makeup of the nation’s commercial beef herd. In 1965, British breeds made up about 94% of the total, Continentals (all Charolais) 3%, and Brahman and Brahman influenced 3%. In 1990 (not shown above) these percentages were about 49%, 36%, and 15%. In 2015 they were about 65%, 27%, and 8%. The trend toward more Continentals and Brahman/Brahman influenced through the ‘80s and ‘90s has been reversed. Who knows where we’ll go from here.

(National Pedigreed Livestock Council,



When giving injections, needles can break or separate from the barrel of the syringe and remain in the animal. While this is extremely rare, consumer safety is seriously compromised if the animal enters the food chain. Best Management Practices to prevent broken needles include:

  • restrain animals properly;
  • do not straighten and use bent needles again, replace immediately:
  • change needles whey they get dull or after 10 head, whichever comes first;
  • if you have a problem with bent needles (even after proper restraint), step up to a larger diameter needle, such as going from 18 to 16 gauge.


March browsing 2

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