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From conception to consumption

Beef travels a long road to get to the table

Staff writer

How long does it take to produce the meat that consumers buy and eat mostly every day in this country?

It’s a long road, taking over two years from the time a cow is bred to when a beef calf is fattened and ready for the packing plant. It also takes a lot of feed, a lot of expense, and a lot of work.

Every cattleman has his own way of doing things, but the road to market follows the same general pattern.

From the time a cow is bred, it takes nine months before her calf is born. During those nine months and even before conceiving, the cow requires good nutrition to produce a healthy calf. That includes protein and minerals along with roughage to keep its digestive system working properly and to produce the milk needed to sustain the calf.

Kyle Klassen of Lehigh has a cowherd that is bred in spring and calves in January and February every year. He tags each calf with the cow’s number as it is born.

Before the cow-calf pairs are trucked to pasture in spring, Klassen bands the males to castrate them, making them into steers. He also vaccinates them against viruses, blackleg, and pinkeye.

The calves are weaned in fall and fed a purchased starter pellet for 28 days. They then are fed a mixture of corn and dry distiller’s grain until they reach 500 to 600 pounds and are sold at livestock markets as feeder calves. By that time, they are eight to nine months old.

Nick Krause of Marion has a mixture of Angus, Red Angus, and Hereford cows with two calving times, spring and fall. He maintains possession of the calves from birth all the way to fattening, sending them to a commercial feed yard for finishing.

Male calves are banded at birth and all are given protective shots at one month old.

Krause weans calves at seven to eight months old, weighing 500 to 650 pounds. They are fed stress pellets for a while to make the transition easier.

Steers born as male calves in the spring are kept a few months after weaning and then shipped to the feed yard weighing 650 pounds. They fatten at 14 months old, weighing 1,400 pounds.

Steer calves born in fall are put on grass after weaning and weigh about 850 pounds when they are shipped to the feed yard.

“This adds a couple of months before they are finished,” Kraus said. “They are 16 months old then, but they hit a better market when they are sold.”

Considering all that goes into producing beef, the loss of just one animal because of sickness or any other cause is a big blow to a producer’s bottom line. It is in his best interest to keep his animals as healthy as possible to provide the nutritious meat consumers enjoy.

Last modified Oct. 12, 2017

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