Beef Community

Members of the Beef Community

  • The beef lifecycle is one of the most unique and complex lifecycles of any food, taking between 18 months to 3 years to bring beef from pasture to plate.
  • Raising beef requires a broad community of dedicated people working together, including farmers, ranchers, cattle feeders, veterinarians and nutritionists, as well as those involved in packing/processing, retail and foodservice.  
  • The beef community is not vertically integrated, meaning that an animal will change owners or caretakers an average of 2-3 times during its lifetime, with each caretaker along the way specializing in a key area of the lifecycle of the animal.
  • Today, there are approximately one million U.S. cattle farmers and ranchers who make decisions daily on how to raise beef and work to keep their animals healthy and safe.
  • Nationwide, there are approximately 90 million head of cattle, with a typical herd averaging just 50 animals according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data.
  • Ninety-seven percent of beef farms or ranches are family-owned, and 54 percent of those farms and ranches have been in the same family for three generations or more. 
  • The beef community represents the largest single segment of American agriculture based on USDA data, with more farms classified as beef cattle operations (35 percent) than any other type.
  • The beef community’s mission is to provide the safest, highest-quality, most consumer-friendly beef in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner.


  • The beef community directly and indirectly accounts for more than 1.4 million full-time jobs in the U.S. and contributes more than $188 billion in output to the national economy.
  • Perhaps the most basic contribution farmers and ranchers make to their local communities is by managing a business that relies on local goods or services and creates local job opportunities.
  • On average, one beef operation provides jobs for more than two family members and two non-family members.
  • Additionally, farmers and ranchers often support area farmers by buying crops from them to feed their cattle.
  • The beef community encompasses a wide variety of beef production models as diverse as the approximately 620,000 beef cattle operations in the U.S., and working together as a community allows each of these independent small family business owners to make the best use of their local natural resources.
  • Farmers and ranchers are also very active in their communities; nearly 50 percent volunteer their time to youth organizations compared to a national average of about seven percent.
  • Open space, primarily managed by cattle farmers and ranchers, provides habitat for 75 percent of America’s wildlife, and feedyards are a significant source of natural fertilizer, reducing the fossil fuels needed to manufacture synthetic fertilizers.

Beef Checkoff

  • The Beef Promotion and Research Act – the “Beef Checkoff Program” – was created by Congress as part of the 1985 Farm Bill and later became mandatory after producers approved the program through a referendum in 1988.
  • All U.S. farmers and ranchers, as well as importers, pay $1 per head or the equivalent every time a beef animal is sold during its lifetime.
  • Every dollar invested in the beef checkoff is used to build demand for beef globally through promotion, research, industry information, consumer information, foreign marketing and producer communication.
  • By law, beef checkoff funds cannot be used to influence government policy or action, including lobbying.
  • The checkoff doesn’t own cattle or packing plants or retail outlets, can’t control prices and must promote all beef breeds, operations and production models.
  • All national checkoff-funded programs are budgeted and evaluated by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB), which is a stand-alone organization of checkoff-paying farmer and rancher volunteers who are nominated by their state-based organizations and appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Exporters are also represented on CBB.
  • Dairy producers also pay the Beef Checkoff and are represented by CBB, and about 20 percent of beef raised in the U.S. comes from dairy-breed animals.
  • Three out of four producers continue to support the checkoff, according to representative, independent surveys of producers nationwide.
  • 72 percent of them say the beef checkoff contributes to the profitability of their own operation.
  • 76 percent of our producers say the checkoff would be there for them in the time of a crisis.
  • The Beef Checkoff Program returned about $11.20 for every $1.00 invested between 2006 and 2013.
  • Total domestic beef demand would have been 11.3 percent less without the checkoff programs in place.

Next Chapter: Beef Lifecycle