How Cattle are Raised

Regardless of the size or type of beef operation they run, one thing that California ranchers have in common is the quality of care these animal stewards provide for their livestock. Just like someone in the accounting industry may be good with numbers, cattle producers are good with cattle and enjoy their work. For California beef producers, ranching is a business, but more importantly, it is a way of life and ranchers do what they do because they love they outdoors and their animals.

Ranchers are committed to providing the best care possible for their livestock and providing a healthy and humanely-raised product for consumers.

Cattlemen and women take a great deal of pride in what they do and follow a protocol called the Cattle Producers’ Code of Ethics.

Types of Cattle Operations


California ranches consist of one or more of four types of operations: cow-calf, seed stock, stocker, and feedlot.

A cow-calf operation maintains a breeding herd of cows, replacement heifers (young females) and bulls. Steer calves and most heifer calves are sold, but some may be selected to enter the breeding herd. Calves are sold at weaning (typically 205 days of age) or are retained for an additional forage production season as stockers. Climatic and management conditions dictate different calving seasons in different regions.

These cattle are typically purebred British or Continental breeds or a cross of several beef breeds, known as a composite. Though the list of breeds is quite long, some of the more recognized beef cattle breeds are Angus, Hereford, Charolais, Brangus, Maine-Anjou, Simmental, Limousin.

Seedstock production is a specialized cow-calf operation that produces purebred or registered cattle. The goal of seedstock production is to make genetic improvements in cattle that benefit the entire beef industry. Improvements in purebred cattle are documented through extensive records maintained by both the individual rancher and breed organizations. Seedstock are marketed as bulls and replacement females to other seedstock producers or to cow-calf producers.

Cattle that are not purebred are referred to as commercial cattle. Often times, commercial cattle or registered composite cattle are bred to have the qualities of two or more breeds.

Stocker operations grow steer and/or heifer calves or yearlings on rangeland or other roughage. Generally, cattle are purchased following weaning in the fall and are wintered on low quality feed until new grass can support the animals’ nutritional requirements. Stocker cattle are normally marketed or transported to feedlots at the end of the grazing season when nutritional quality of the forage begins to decline.

Feedlots (or feedyards) are facilities designed to meet the feed, water and care requirements of large numbers of cattle. Beef fed solely roughage feeds take longer to reach market weight and condition, and land resources in the U.S. are insufficient for a forage-based beef supply at the current level of consumer demand.

Feedlots utilize abundant sources of feed grains and by-products to efficiently feed large numbers of cattle. These higher energy feed sources greatly reduce the time required to reach market weights. By feeding cattle in feedlots, finished cattle weighing 1,050 to 1,150 pounds can be marketed at 18 to 24 months of age. Most of California’s feedlots are located in the lower Sacramento, San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys.

Once the top cattle feeding state in the nation, California’s feedlots have declined in number over the last several decades due to overregulation and the exodus of beef processing facilities from the state. Still, there are over 500,000 cattle fed on California feedlots.

Something that makes California’s feedlot sector unique is that many of the cattle on these operation are not traditional beef breeds. Because of California’s large dairy industry, many of the steers sent to feedlots in the Golden State are of dairyherd genetics, predominantly Holstein. Though these cattle take longer to feed to slaughter weight because Holsteins are not as fleshy as beef breeds, Holstein cattle grade well and can be as high quality as traditional beef breeds. Holstein cattle make up a significant portion of U.S. beef.

Niche Markets

There are many phrases used in today’s beef industry. Marketing terms like grass-fed, corn-fed, natural and organic are just a few of these terms. While all beef provides high quality nutrition, consumers in today’s world have a variety of options in selecting beef for their dinner table depending on their budget and preferences. CCA represents ranchers who raise all types of beef.

To learn more about these different marketing options and what they mean to consumers, click here.