Learn About Beef Cattle Farming
Beef cattle farmers are responsible for the daily care and management of cattle raised for beef production. Here's an overview of the job for anyone interested in a career as a cattle farmer.
The duties of a beef farmer may include feeding, administering medication, maintaining facilities, monitoring the herd for signs of illness, assisting with calving, performing artificial insemination, and managing waste. They also may be responsible for marketing their animals, transporting sales stock, baling hay or harvesting other forage for use as feed, maintaining farm equipment, and maintaining facilities.
Beef cattle farmers work in with large animal veterinarians to maintain the health of their cattle through vaccination and medication protocols. They may also rely on advice from animal nutritionists and livestock feed sales representatives to create balanced rations for their herd.
Beef cattle farmers may also benefit from having personnel management experience, as most commercial farms have employees to manage and direct. Even smaller family cow-calf operations may hire outside help when needed. Farm managers must be able to schedule employee shifts, address employee concerns, and oversee the day to day activities on the farm.
As is the case with many livestock careers, a beef cattle farmer may work long hours. It is not uncommon for cattle farmers to work weekend, evening, or holiday shifts. The work many involve working in extreme temperatures and varying weather conditions. It is also important that cattle farmers take safety precautions when working with these large and potentially dangerous animals.
Beef cattle farmers may operate as commercial feedlot beef producers or as cow-calf operations. Feedlot producers are involved with raising beef cattle to market weight and usually purchase their cattle as weanlings instead of breeding their own stock. Cow-calf operations breed and raise their own cattle, often for resale at weaning age to commercial stockyards or feed lots.
The United States is the world’s largest producer of beef. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, most beef cattle farmers operate in the southern portion of the U.S., chiefly in the Southeast and Southern Plains (especially Texas), since the extended grazing season reduces feed costs.
Education & Training
Most beef cattle farmers have a high school diploma, though an increasing number hold college degrees in animal science, agriculture, or a closely related field. Coursework for such degrees generally includes animal science, beef production, meat science, anatomy, physiology, reproduction, genetics, nutrition, ration formulation, crop science, farm management, technology, business, and agricultural marketing.
Many future beef cattle farmers get their start by participating in youth programs such as Future Farmers of America (FFA) or 4-H clubs, where they have the opportunity to handle a variety of farm animals and participate in livestock shows. Others grow up on family cattle farms and gain hands-on experience working with stock there.
Beef cattle farmers may find additional educational and networking opportunities through professional organizations such as the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, the Beef Improvement Federation, the American Angus Association, the American Hereford Association, Beefmaster Breeders Universal, the American International Charolais Association, or the American Simmental Association.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) salary survey indicates that farm and ranch managers earned a median wage of $60,750 annually ($29.21 hourly) in May of 2010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,280 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $106,980. Income can vary widely based on the costs of feed, varying weather conditions, and the sale price of beef at the market.
A 2012 survey by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA/ERS) estimated that profitability per cow will increase significantly over the long term, rising from a current average profit of $96.11 per cow in 2012 to a $252.98 per cow profit in 2021.
Beef cattle farmers must factor in several expenses when calculating their salary for the year. These expenses include the costs of feed, fuel, supplies, labor, insurance, veterinary services, waste removal, and equipment maintenance or replacement.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics survey predicts that there will be a slight decline in the number of job opportunities for farm and ranch managers. This trend is in line with the move towards consolidation in the industry, as small producers are increasingly being absorbed by large commercial operations.
The beef production industry has shown continued strength over the past decade in the U.S., with revenues rising from $60 billion in 2002 to $74 billion in 2010. Long range forecasts from the USDA, released in February of 2012 project that the total number of beef cattle will rise from 30 million in 2012 to more than 34 million in 2021.