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Raising Beef Cattle

Farmers care for their cattle through several different stages.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.