Oregon’s Cattle Industry

The cattle industry contributes more than $900 million to Oregon’s economy which makes it the top agricultural commodity. The industry not only provides employment opportunities, but ensures economic viability throughout the state. Although beef producers can be found in the Willamette Valley, the majority of cattle ranches are on the southern and east side of the state in Malheur, Morrow, Harney, Klamath, and Lake counties. In these counties, cattle graze on private and federal rangelands and timberlands, where land is arid and unsuitable for farming practices.

Oregon’s ranching industry has a long history of responsible land stewardship; taking care of the land that their livelihood depends on, preserving open space in the rapidly growing West, and providing food and habitat for 70 percent of our state’s wildlife. Grazing cattle on range and timberlands minimizes the invasion of non-native plant species and the risk of wildfires by decreasing the amount of flammable material on the land. Grazing also promotes grass tillering, plant reproduction, and healthy plant communities. Not to mention, cattle serve a valuable role in the ecosystem by converting forages that are unable to be digested by humans into a nutrient-rich food source.

The beef lifecycle is unique and complex, consisting of two to three stages of commercial production. At each stage of production, cattle are well cared for by beef producers who focus on animal health, nutrition, and sustainable land management practices.

  • The beef lifecycle starts with a cow-calf producer. The cow-calf  producer maintains a breeding herd, in which cows are bred and give birth to a new calf each year. The calves stay on the ranch with their mothers until they are about six to 10 months old. During this time, they grow strong and healthy by drinking their mother’s milk and grazing on lush green grass. Once calves are of age, they are weaned from their mothers and either sold at a livestock auction or kept in the herd. Roughly one third of the heifers (females who have not had a calf) will stay with the herd, continue to grow, and become mothers the following year.
  • The next stage of production is the stocker or backgrounder. Weaned calves are purchased at a livestock auction and then shipped to the ranch. They spend the next several months grazing on pasture grass and munching on quality hay during the winter months. During this stage, steers and heifers develop a large frame and build quality muscle.
  • The final stage is the feedlot. Cattle typically spend four to six months at the feedlot, where they are fed a nutritious diet consisting or roughage, various grains, and byproducts. Nutritionists, veterinarians, and beef producers work together to ensure each animal gets the best care possible. Once cattle reach market weight, typically between 1,100 and 1,400 pounds and 18 to 22 months of age, they are sent to a processing facility.
  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ensures our meat supply is amongst the safest in the world. It begins with the Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Point (HAACP) system, which is an internationally accepted program that uses a preventative approach to food safety based on seven principles. The USDA also requires that federal inspectors are present at all meat-processing establishments through the Federal Meat and Inspection Act (FMIA). Slaughter facilities cannot conduct slaughter operations unless Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) personnel are present. Products are also monitored during processing, handling and packaging to guarantee they are safe and accurately labeled.

It is worth noting that there are other segments of the beef industry as well, such as the grass-fed beef sector. Grass-fed cattle are raised the same way as grain-fed cattle, but never enter the feedlot at the finishing stage. Grass finishing takes longer than grain finishing because of the lack of energy in grasses.

Both grain-fed and grass-fed beef are a wholesome and nutritious food that provides the body with 10 essential nutrients. These nutrients include iron, choline, protein, selenium, zinc, phosphorous, niacin, riboflavin, and vitamins B6 and B12. One serving of beef provide 25 grams of quality protein, which is about half of the recommended daily value. Furthermore, there are 29 lean cuts of beef, which help consumers reach daily nutritional requirements. Research shows that eating lean beef can lower LDL “bad” cholesterol levels.

  • Beef Cattle Facts:
    • The hide from one cow can make 144 baseballs, 20 footballs, and or 12 basketballs
    • Cattle provide us with hundreds of important by-products. Nearly the entire beef animal is used in some way!
    • Beef production represents the single largest segment of American agriculture
    • 85 percent of grazing land is unsuitable for growing crops
    • Beef is one of the most important dietary sources of iron
    • Over 97% of  farms and ranches are family owned

Learn more about local cattle producers here: Severson Farms