History Of United States Cattle Industry

Cattle emerged in America at the end of the fifteenth century. That was when longhorn cattle were introduced. During that time, Christopher Columbus, on his second journey in 1493, brought cattle, intended for use as work animals.

Historical Cattle Genetics

Three stains of cattle emerged from this trip and from the other journeys of Spanish explorers:

  • The wild cattle, living on the Caribbean islands
  • The Longhorns of Texas and the US plains
  • Mexican fighting bulls

However, the first large group of cattle arrived in the colony of Jamestown in 1611 – cattle that were brought by English settlers. The Pilgrims also imported three cows and a bull in 1642, which originated from Devonshire.

The Spread of Cattle to the Midwest

Eventually, cattle made their way across the Alleghenies and into Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana in the first part of the 19th century. They were commonly seen in Illinois and Missouri in 1840.

In the Southwest US—especially on the ranges of Texas—the first cattle herds were seen after 1525. The cattle were the typical and famous Spanish Longhorns, which, again, originated from Mexico. By 1840. cattle were regularly seen in the Southwest.

Cattle Ranching In The Early Days

Cattle Farming in the Early Days

Cattle farming has indeed had an impact on the US, both historically and economically. French and British settlers also introduced cattle in the 1600s in Canada. In the early days, herds were raised for subsistence in communities and therefore were smaller.

However, during the 1800s, the population in the US grew, creating an opportunity for cattle farms to develop commercially. Grazing land made up most of the area of the Western frontier. While Western farmers drove cattle back over the Appalachians or used canals and rivers for delivery to the east, beef was not served, in great quantity, in the diet at the time. During the early part of the 19th century, cattle were used mainly for hides or tallow.

Texas Cattle Drives

During the mid-1800s, Texan ranchers were raising 10 head of cattle for each person in the country. In fact, from 1845 to around 1856, trailing cattle was a regular activity in the Southwest US.

The cattle were driven to central and southern slaughterhouses. Again, many of the cattle, in the 1840s, were sacrificed for tallow and hides. Meat, during this period, often ended up as food for buzzards and coyotes as the product could not be adequately transported or stored. Nevertheless, some beef was saved so it could be marketed as salt-packed meat.

Refrigerated Beef

While the first foray into transporting cattle by rail occurred in 1852, 1860 marked the year when rail transport became important. However, it was not until the 1860s, when the refrigerated rail car was introduced, that cattle emerged as a major food source. Therefore, you might say the refrigerated rail car, which was also known as a reefer, propelled the cattle industry to unfold into what it is today – a billion dollar US business.

In 1867, the first patent for a refrigerated rail car was issued to J.B. Sutherland for his refrigerated rail car design. Before then, ice and salt were placed beside and beneath cargo to reduce spoilage. However, the attempt at protecting perishables had some undesirable effects. Often, changes to the color of meat made the practice impractical. The top icing was also introduced, but with poor results. Spoiled food was frequently the outcome.

The Refrigerated Box Car

When J. B. Sutherland has issued a patent for his refrigerated rail car design in 1867, he provided a solution to spoilage. The innovative design featured holding areas for ice on each end of an insulated boxcar. Blocks of ice were manually loaded on the refrigerated cars and flaps—on the tops and bottoms of cars—regulated the air flow. The movement of the chilled air around the cargo kept it from spoiling.

An Improved Design

By 1878, an improved rail car design was introduced by Gustavus Franklin Swift, a magnet in the meat packing industry. His design permitted meat to be transported by rail from various locations in the US. Ultimately the magnate used 200 refrigerated rail cars for the transport of beef.

However, Swift, plus other meat packers at the time, had to overcome a great deal of resistance from the railroad industry. Because refrigerated boxcars were normally double the cost of a traditional boxcar, the potential for profits was not immediately recognized.

In response, meat packers, such as Swift and Philip Armour, resorted to investing their own money in developing refrigerated rail cars – an activity that rail lines were reluctant to support. Ultimately, the meat packers proved their point – showing how the refrigerated shipment of dressed meat was preferable over live shipments of cattle.

Before the Cattle Boom

Because of meat packer’s efforts, the use of the refrigerated rail cars expanded over 50% between the period of 1880 and 1900. Therefore, an increase in cattle production, historically, cannot be attributed to herd size alone.

Before the boom took place between 1880 and 1900, cattle farmers did not possess the resources to fatten the livestock. As noted, during this period, they were raising beef primarily for hides and tallow.

When they realized that the cattle they raised offered a greater profit potential—through the sale of beef—they made moves to realize this goal. As a result, four trends emerged during boom periods.

These trends comprised of the following:

  • The breeding of heartier and healthier cattle. The Spanish Longhorn were crossbred with British cattle so the superior product could be sold in the marketplace.
  • Feedlots and stockyards were erected in the Midwest. While the Plains states and Texas had plenty of grazing land, they could transport cattle to Midwest cities, such as Kansas City or Chicago via the railroad.

In these cities, cattle were delivered to stockyards and finished in feedlots. The process permitted the cattle to develop additional muscle mass in a shorter time. In turn, distributors could sell more beef per each head of cattle.

  • Processing and packaging facilities were relocated closer to Midwest operations. Before the relocation of processing and packaging facilities, live cattle were transported into a city to reduce the distance between a packing facility and consumer.

However, between the 1920s and the 1960s, the processing sites shifted to locations that were closer to Midwest cattle operations. Because of refrigeration, the freshness of the packaged beef ensured a costs savings, thereby bypassing the need to ship live cattle.

  • The construction of the Federal highway network in the 1950s permitted US slaughterhouses to grow their network past the rail lines. When this happened, another boom was experienced in the beef industry.

As you can see, these developments were instrumental in realizing massive growth in the US cattle industry. However, it does not stop with these innovations and improvements. The diet fed to cattle also played a pivotal role. Because of corn-based diets, feedlots and stockyards were able to bulk up cattle and deliver an even higher quality product.

Advanced Breeding Practices

Today, breeding practices produce almost perfect herds – most of which are resistant to disease. In addition, innovations in cattle farming have made it possible for ranchers to produce optimum yields per animal. This can be done without the need to incorporate drugs, chemicals, or artificial substances.

While the overall cattle population has declined regularly and substantially since 1970, enhanced health practices and feeding technologies enable US cattle farmers to produce more beef for the marketplace.

Operational and Economic Changes

Like other manufacturing sectors, the beef industry has been affected by economies of scale – mainly over the last two decades. During this period, cattle farming operations declined by 175,000, with a large number of these operations maintaining an inventory of under 50 head.
Moreover, the reduction of operations featuring a 1,000-head capacity has been offset by an increase in feedlots. These feedlots feature 16,000 and 32,000-head capacities. Also, processing facilities have been combined to permit more efficiency.
The current machinery that is used enables producers to process 4,000+ head of cattle daily. According to 2013 figures, four companies in the US produce 85% of the beef in the country. These companies include JBS, Tyson, Smithfield, and Cargill.

Better and More Streamlined Operations in Packaging

Because of innovations in machinery, operations in packing plants are now exceptionally streamlined. The invention of packaging machines enabled distributors to present cuts of beef for the first time. As a result, customers, such as restaurants, were able to buy specifically what they needed.

Reasons for Growth in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Tremendous growth has impacted the cattle industry during the 20th and 21st centuries. This growth is attributed to the following factors:

  • The rise in per capita income,
  • The expansion of two-income households, leading to an increase in consumer income,
  • Urbanization – or the need to buy beef in the store rather than grow or raise food on a farm.

Each of the above trends still affects the beef industry. While overall beef production has declined from its peak in the 1970s, the value tied into producing beef has increased steadily. For instance, beef production by weight fell over 10% between the years of 2002 and 2014. However, the value associated with the process doubled – increasing from around $27 billion to approximately $61 billion in sales.

Grading Beef

To keep up with consumer demand, grading has also taken on some changes over time. In 1917, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) instituted a voluntary grading program in the beef processing industry. Ten years later, grading stamps were seen on beef packaging.

How Grades Are Determined

While the regulations have undergone modifications over time, the grading of beef offers a standard and reliable analysis of a meat’s quality. This evaluation is based on the following:

  • The age of the animal when it is slaughtered
  • The amount of marbling or intramuscular fat
  • The yield of boneless tissue

USDA Grades

While beef processing facilities do not have to pay for a USDA inspection, doing so means bypassing the marketing prestige and price stability that grading affords. Shields are placed on packaging, signifying the specific rating. Therefore, USDA grades are assigned as follows:
Prime beef is the highest grade issued by the USDA. This rating is given to beef that features a large amount of marbling and premium textures. Most of the beef that receives this rating is sold to restaurants and hotels.

Choice beef is considered the second-highest USDA rating. As a result, this grade of beef sells for a higher price. The beef features a fair amount of marbling and is defined by a pleasant texture.
Select beef is considered the lowest grade of USDA beef. The texture is unremarkable and the beef contains little, if any, marbling.

Standard and commercial beef are rarely marked with the USDA shield on the package. Most of this beef is sold in the grocery store as a store brand product or stew beef.

Utility, Cutter and Canner beef are three grades of beef that are not sold to consumers. Instead, they are usually used in the processing of other foods, including hot dogs and dog foods.

In the past, beef marketers assigned labels to their products, such as Grade A Prime or Grade A Choice. The letter grading was based on a carcass’s maturity. However, the maturation rating is now combined with marbling grading to designate if the beef is Prime, Choice, or Select.

Indeed, the US cattle industry will continue to evolve – not only in the US but as well as in China. Marketers in the US, such a California Stone Creek. are working toward meeting China’s strong demand for premium cuts. Chinese meat importers are especially interested in barbecue type products, such as fillet steaks and rib eye cuts.

Meeting China’s Beef Needs

While Australia currently predominates the Chinese market, the US is closing in competitively. That is because US producers can offer a lower price point for premium beef. In most instances, US beef is less expensive than Australian-raised cattle of the same quality.

Despite the high level of interest expressed by Chinese meat importers, the wave of shipments are expected to proceed slowly. This gradual progression results from the import regulations and shipping limits imposed for exporting.

Yet, patience is a virtue, as China reopened its market to US beef exporters in May 2017. That is why we, at California Stone Creek, are ready to meet the demand.

Wagyu Beef – A Premium Meat Product

We, at California Stone Creek, can satisfy Chinese import requirements by supplying customers with Wagyu beef. Wagyu beef is sourced from a Japanese cattle breed that is considered an excellent source of protein. The animals, which are horned and red or black in color, feature more marbling and therefore are considered a premium meat product.

Our Commitment

We, at California Stone Creek, believe in the future of beef exportation to China and are excited about serving this country’s continued needs for premium beef products. That is why we are dedicated to producing the best cuts of beef in the marketplace.