How is it that fresh beef is available year round?
Let’s have some fun and answer the following questions:
Do you agree or disagree: to truly enjoy a real outdoor adventure, there needs to be a healthy amount of suffering involved?
You need to feel the burn in your legs and your lungs from traversing a mountain range for 5 hours while carrying your 70lb + backpack?
Or, the ache of your back as you make your second of three packout trips under the light of a headlamp?
Do you secretly like the icy rush of jumping into frigid waters, the kind that takes your breath away for at least 8 seconds, but it’s OK only because you know you’ll fight to keep your head above water and soon enjoy the warmth that comes from your body’s fight or flight instinct kicking in and warming you up from within?
If you answered YES:you’re possibly an avid big game hunter. You enjoy the thrill of the whole adventure: sleeping under the stars on the cold hard ground, being energized by the storms that suddenly roll in and pelt you with hail, and the adrenaline rush of crossing paths with bears and mountain lions that may or may not leave you alone. And of course the prize for all this “suffering” is the joy of eating your wild caught meat for the whole year to come...after you take the time and effort to process that big carcass of course.
And if you answered NO: you’re possibly a person who appreciates the convenience and time saving benefits of having fresh beef available 24/7 at your local grocery store.
So how is it that fresh beef is always available year round?
First, ranching and cowboys are mainstream enough these days that no one is under the impression that there are guys out there who go out and hunt the “elusive cow” every week. Thanks to animal agriculture we no longer have to hope that the seasonal hunt goes well and something is caught.
In the U.S. cattle are born and raised year round. Every year a farmer will get one calf per cow due to an average gestation period of 283 days or 9.4 months. Farmers & ranchers will typically choose to breed their cows and have them calve in either the Spring or the Fall. That decision has more to do with their own management philosophy and taking into account several factors.
One factor that is particularly high on that list is the nutrition and forage availability. In other words, what is growing out on their pasture or range, i.e. grasses, herbs, weeds and other broadleaf plants. This will often be driven by where within the U.S. they are located. For example, areas such as the South and Southeast are less prone to drought, have longer grazing seasons and milder winters which provide a producer a cost advantage as well as more options because there is more natural forage available year round. In the cattle business, more natural forage availability is a big deal.
And this is most likely a big reason why the great state of Texas continues to rank first in the nation in total number of cattle and calves with 14 percent of the total United States inventory, or 13.1 million head as of January 1, 2021.
While cattle are born and raised year round, the majority of calves are born in the spring. This year’s calf crop was estimated at 35.1 million head, where 74% of those calves were born in the first half of 2021 and the remaining 26% are expected to be born in the second half of 2021 per the USDA’s biannual report on Cattle inventories that came out July 23, 2021.
Another part of the cattle business that helps keep the supply of fresh beef coming year round is cattle feeding operations. Cattle feeding operations allow for animals to be fed and grown to market weight whether there is snow on the ground or in times of drought, both of which create the condition of having little to no natural forage available.
Cattle can either enter the feedlot early or late in the production cycle. When making that decision the farmer often considers the pasture conditions. If conditions are good the farmer can keep the cattle on pasture longer. If conditions are bad and depending on whether or not the farmer is willing or able to pay for feed, i.e. hay, he can send them to a feedlot sooner.
If I’ve sparked any curiosity and you’ve got some questions, drop a comment below and let me know what questions you have!
Thanks to our U.S. cattle farmers, ranchers and feeders, we all get to enjoy a year round supply of fresh, delicious beef that makes some of the best gourmet beef jerky you’ve ever tasted, I guarantee it.