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  • Writer's pictureLeslie Graham

From Ranch to Table

Garret and I had the pleasure of attending the Saskatchewan Beef Industry Conference where we had a discussion regarding the limited knowledge about beef production in young generations. The discussion focused on getting agriculture education back into the school systems. I would like to take this blog to give a basic outline of how we get beef.

Let's start with breeding stock. Breeding stock includes bulls who are put to work for about a 60-day breeding season. The duration and the time of year vary depending on the producer and the type of cattle. For the rest of the year, bulls are kept separate from the cow herd to limit accidental pregnancies. For the 60-day breeding season, the bulls are placed in a field with the cow herd. The breeding stock cow herd can include heifers and cows. Heifers are young animals that have never calved or are bred with their first calf. Cows are any animal that has calved once or more times. Depending on breed and age, bulls are able to service 20 to 30 cows. Younger bulls can service fewer cows than mature bulls.


Once these cows/heifers are bred (pregnant), the gestation length of a cow is 283 days but can range from 279 to 287 days. This is very similar to human gestation at 280 days. This length of gestation results in one calf crop per year out of a cow herd. The cow will then calve, or give birth, to her calf. There are risks associated with calving, similar to risks in humans, such as dystocia (calving difficulty). Some cows need assistance to calve due to calf orientation, calf size, or birthing canal size. This calf, assuming it was born healthy, will be standing and sucking within one to two hours after birth. Calves are born with no immune system and need to acquire colostrum, containing immunoglobulins to build their immune system. This colostrum comes from their mother in the first 6 to 12 hours after birth. It is important that each calf receive this colostrum within this time frame, as their stomach lining begins to develop after birth, and after 12 hours, these immunoglobulins will no longer be absorbed through the lining.


These calves are then kept with their mother for about six to seven months, depending on the producer. The calf relies on its mother's milk for nutrition during this time. Although, they will start picking at feed as they get older and watch their mother eat. These calves are then weaned, which means they are separated from their mother to transition them off milk and onto feed. This is a delicate and slow process to get calves onto feed as their rumen needs to adjust to the new ration. There are then a couple of options for these weanlings. Cattle need to be backgrounded which refers to feeding cattle a predominantly forage-based diet and managing these animals until they can enter a finishing feedlot. The goal of backgrounding is to have slow growth in the calves to promote muscle and organ development. Some producers keep their calves on their own farm to background while others send them to backgrounding feedlots, like us.


Here at P Cross Ranch, we custom feed the majority of the cattle in the feedlot. This means that we do not own the cattle, instead, we just feed and manage the cattle for other producers. Producers are able to save their forage sources for the cow herd and pay us to feed and manage these calves. Calves can be backgrounded for four to six months, depending on where they are going next. The majority of our calves are fed here until they reach 1000 lbs and then are sent to a finishing feedlot. These feedlots feed predominantly grain-based diets to promote fat production and rapid growth. The cattle are fed until they meet the finishing requirements of that particular feedlot.


Of course, there is an alternative option after backgrounding cattle where animals are kept by the producer to be added to the breeding stock herd. This cycle would then be repeated to yield another calf crop.


Finished cattle are then sent to slaughterhouses. Before these animals can be shipped, they need to meet the requirements on withdrawal times for antibiotics and hormones. This means that no animal sent to the slaughter plants will have any residual antibiotics or artificial hormones in their muscles. This is a common misconception among consumers. There are rules and regulations in place to ensure animals being slaughtered are healthy and clear from any additives. These slaughter plants butcher these animals and sell cuts of meat to retail businesses.


Hopefully, this blog post will help educate those people that do not fully understand the beef production process. This was meant to be a very basic outline to help people understand. Please contact me with any questions or if you would like to discuss the industry further. Thank you for supporting our business and this blog. Growing beef cattle is our lifestyle and our career, we need to do our part in promoting this industry before it becomes extinct.

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