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Beef cattle grazing in a pasture. Photo taken 11-01-16.

A Quick Synopsis of the Beef Production Industry

Beef production is a very fragmented and segregated industry. Unlike many production industries beef production has many different layers, each with its own risks.
The state of Florida is known for its commercial or cow-calf production. These are the ranches and back lots of homes where cows have calves and then grow the calves. The cow’s milk is the cheapest source of nutrients to provide to the calf. Thus the calf stays with its mother for approximately 8 months. Some calves are sold at an auction barn, while larger operations will sell theirs via contract for a pre-determined price, so most of the cattle producers here in Florida are just that, cattle producers, not truly beef producers.
The calves are then taken to one of two places, a feedlot or a stocker/backgrounder. A stocker operation is a ranch that takes these calves and feeds them on forage for cheap growth. This is usually done with cool season annuals in the fall-winter time so the stocker operations are able to grow a spring-summer commercial crop (such as peanuts), too. This makes stockers able to profit almost all year long. These operations don’t have to have any breeding cows, so they just focus on growing grass. This cheap growth primarily increases just the skeletal potential of the calves. After around 3 months, these calves are sold to a feedlot.
Feedlots are where calves are fed a diet high in grain in order to maximize intramuscular fat. This increases the quality of the meat and is what is demanded in most markets. However, grass-fed beef is slowly becoming more popular. Grass-fed beef is a product with a different flavor due to the lack of grain and is a completely personal preference. But it does take longer to finish grass-fed beef as their diets are lower in fat compared to feedlot rations.
Hopefully, this overly simplified description provides you with some insight on the complexity of the beef industry.