Comparing Today’s Livestock Production to Days Past

Comparing today’s livestock production to days past, there has been our industry has gone through quite a bit of change.  Beef production in the U.S. has its origins in the cattle drives of the mid-1800s, rounding up and moving herds of wild longhorns to rail lines for shipping to packers in the east. Gradually, it was realized that better management of both land and animals was worth the added effort and so ranches were formed, grazing systems implemented, and the longhorn replaced with British and Continental breeds. Today, our industry continues to shift with improved production prediction through EPDs, and the widespread availability of top tier genetics through AI programs. 

Even with these improved tools, things aren’t always easy. Modern beef producers are asked to not only take care of their animals and land, but also manage the economic ins and outs of a business, market their product, manage personnel, and still have time for family and friends.  That’s not even counting any additional grain or forage production they may do as well. 

We are asked to be productive in a system that never stays the same long.  Between floods and droughts, winter cold and summer heat, Mother Nature has never like to show her hand or let any producer get too comfortable.  Add to this all the economic and management considerations to be dealt with and it’s a wonder that anyone been able to stay in this industry for more than a couple years.

Through this adversity we have learned how to survive and even find opportunity.  We rely on hard work and perseverance, support from friends and neighbors when times get tough, and learned to adapt to an ever changing world.  While change may not be easy, staying static too long is a death knell.  In an age of increasing specialization, the beef industry has been able maintained diverse operations that rely on flexibility to succeed.  That adaptability makes us unique.

Having flexibility in how to address challenges has served us well over the years.   There is always another option. We can hay a pasture or graze it, wean early or late, sell calves or yearlings or even stockers.  We can feed out cattle or manage a traditional cow/calf operation, intensively graze or dry lot, produce our own feed or purchase it.  This flexibility, built into beef production has helped us adjust to an ever changing world time and time again.  It also provides opportunities for any personality or viewpoint to find a way to succeed.  That’s not to say success is ever easy, but beef production offers a multitude of routes one can take to get there. 

The beef industry isn’t the same as it was during the hay day of the 1800 cattle drives.  It’s not even the same that it was 10 years ago.   What has seen us through from then to now is the ability to adapt and adjust.  Staying true to this legacy is critical to maintain our way of life for the future.  

-Ben Beckman is a beef systems Extension Educator serving the counties of Antelope, Cedar, Knox, Madison and Pierce.  He is based out of the Cedar County Extension office in Hartington.  You can reach him by phone: (402) 254-6821 or email: .