Over 70 breeds of cattle can be found in the United States today. However, only about 12 to 15 breeds have a major influence on the cattle industry.
Last week, we reviewed the most common breeds of dairy cattle. This week we’ll look at the most common breeds of beef cattle in the United States, considering the same factors — appearance, hardiness, fertility, history and production uses.
Although a large portion of the beef industry relies on crossbreeding to enhance the genetics of purebreds, management and consistency in product quality vary. Therefore, we will focus on purebreds.
- Color: Black or red.
- Markings: None.
- Size: Medium. Cows weigh around 1,200 pounds; bulls weigh over 1,800 pounds.
- Horns: Naturally polled.
- Region: Nationwide.
- Living conditions: Hardy cattle that can survive harsh winters, during snowfall and storms. Red Angus are said to adapt to warmer climates better than the more dominant Black Angus.
- Calves: Bulls are sought after for breeding and cows calve easily because of their dominant polled gene. Additionally, Angus calves mature faster than other breeds. Purebred calves are usually too small to go to market when they are born, so crossbreeding with dairy cattle is common for veal production.
- Health and temperament: Angus cattle are relatively docile and hardy. Even with minimal days on feed they manage to produce Prime and Choice grade meats.
The first Angus cattle were brought to the United States in 1873 when George Grant imported them from Scotland to Kansas. Although the cattle were rejected at first, their value was eventually realized and 1,200 cattle were imported into the Midwest from 1878 to 1883.
Angus cattle are a staple of the American beef industry. It is the most common breed of beef cattle in the U.S., known for superior muscling and marbling qualities. To be labeled “Certified Angus Beef” by USDA Graders, cattle must meet 10 criteria:
- Modest or higher marbling
- Medium or fine marbling texture
- “A” maturity
- 10- to 16-square-inch ribeye area
- Less than 1,050-pound hot carcass weight
- Less than 1-inch fat thickness
- Superior muscling
- No hump on the neck exceeding 2 inches
- Practically free of capillary ruptures
- No dark cutting characteristics
NOTE: Red and black varieties are considered separate breeds in the United States, but have similar characteristics, which is why they were combined.
- Color: White to creamy white.
- Markings: None.
- Size: Large. Cows weight 1,250 to 2,000 pounds and bulls weigh 2,000 to over 2,500 pounds.
- Horns: Naturally horned.
- Region: Widespread in the United States. Introduced to southern states from Mexico, first, and later to New England states from Canada.
- Living Conditions: Able to perform well under a variety of environmental conditions.
- Calves: Charolais cattle produce heavy calves. Bulls have developed a reputation for grading up and herd improvement. Cows have a relatively easy time calving.
- Health and temperament: Charolais are rugged, large muscled cattle. They are able to graze aggressively in warm weather and withstand cold weather. Although they are not the most docile breed, Charolais are gentle natured.
In 1934, Charolais cattle were brought to the United States from Mexico. Imports stopped in the mid-1940s due to an outbreak of Hoof and Mouth Disease. The quarantine between the United States, Canada and Mexico lasted until 1965 when Canada opened its doors again. New bloodlines were then introduced to the New England states.
Charolais cattle are raised for beef. They are known for their superior growth ability and heavily muscled loins and haunches. They produce increased carcass weights, better yield grades and more marbling.
- Color: Red.
- Markings: None.
- Size: Large. On average, cows weigh around 1,650 pounds and bulls weigh around 2,200 pounds.
- Horns: Originally horned, but now a majority are polled.
- Region: Widespread throughout the United States. Ranks fifth in number of animals among beef breed associations in the United States.
- Living conditions: Able to adapt to many different climate conditions. In addition to the U.S., they have been introduced in Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and South Africa.
- Calves: The breed has superior fertility, calving ease, mothering ability, and growth rate of the calves.
- Health and temperament: Gelbvieh are known for their quiet temperament, quick maturity, longevity, muscling and high rate of grain and feed efficiency.
In July of 1971, Gelbvieh were introduced to the United States by Carnation Genetics by importing semen from Germany.
While the breed was originally selected for meat, milk and work, today, it is used primarily for beef production. Gelbvieh produce high cutout yields. They are known as a lean breed and a source of high quality, tender young beef.
- Color: Red and white.
- Markings: Hereford cattle are easily recognized by their hides, marked with a white face, crest, dewlap and underline.
- Size: Medium. Cows weight around 1,200 pounds and bulls weigh up to 1,800 pounds.
- Horns: Herefords, typically, have short, which horns, but a polled strain has emerged in North America and the United Kingdom.
- Region: Worldwide.
- Living conditions: The hallmark of the breed is its ability to produce a high yield of beef from eating native grasses. The hardy breed flourishes in a wide range of climates on almost every continent, today.
- Calves: Herefords are known for their longevity. Many females produce calves beyond the age of 15 years.
- Health and temperament: While Hereford cattle are considered a hardy breed because of their adaptability to various environments and ability to graze easily, they are known for a few health issues. Some common health risks include eye cancer, vaginal prolapse, dwarfism and higher risk for sun damage due to the light pigmentation of their udders.
Hereford cattle originally came to the United States in 1817, when Henry Clay brought a bull and two females to Kentucky. However, the first breeding herd was established in 1840 by William H. Sotham and Erastus Corning in Albany, New York.
Herefords were developed to produce a high yield of beef, while maximizing efficiency of production. These characteristics have made Herefords one of the most popular breeds of cattle worldwide with more than 5 million spread across over 50 countries.
- Color: Light wheat to darker golden red. There are also black varieties.
- Markings: None.
- Size: Large. Males range in size from 2,200 to 2,500 pounds. Females weigh between 1,500 and 1,600 pounds.
- Horns: The Limousine is known for lighter horns, which curve forward. However, many are dehorned as calves. Additionally, polled varieties have been developed.
- Region: Widespread throughout the United States, and present in about 70 countries worldwide.
- Living conditions: Limousins adapt easily to different climates and environments.
- Calves: A major reason Limousins have become popular is because of their ease of calving.
- Health and temperament: Once known for poor temperament, Limousine cattle have improved disposition over the years. They are also known for being heavily muscled and lean.
The Limousine breed got a late start in the United States when compared to others. The first bulls imported permanently into the United States arrived in the fall of 1971.
Limousins are selected for their higher dressing percentages and yield, high feed conversion efficiency and their ability to produce lean, tender beef.
- Color: Red, white, roan.
- Markings: Red and white (at least 30 percent red or white and 70 percent the opposite), red with white marks (a red body with some white marks on the underline, sides and one or more legs or face), roan (an intermingling of red and white hair over the entire body), also found in solid reds and whites.
- Size: Medium. Bulls weigh about 2,200 pounds and cows weigh 1,700 pounds.
- Horns: Yes, but can also be polled.
- Region: Found throughout the United States.
- Living conditions: Hardy and adaptable to various environments.
- Calves: Shorthorns are known for increased calving ease and fertility.
- Health and temperament: Shorthorns are known for their longevity, feeding efficiency and durability. They are also known for their docile temperament. One major drawback, caused by a recessive gene is tibial hemimelia (TH), which causes severe deformities in newborn calves.
Although Shorthorns were introduced in the United States in 1783, they weren’t separated into Milking Shorthorn and Beef Shorthorn breeds until the latter half of the 2th century.
Shorthorns produce high-quality beef with good marbling.
- Color: Traditionally, red and white. However, are commonly solid black and red colors in the United States today.
- Markings: Traditionally, a majority red with white markings on their face, crest, dewlap, underline, tails and sometimes spotted backs. Presently, solid colored.
- Size: Large. Cows range in size from 1,500 to 2,000 pounds and bulls weight around 2,900 pounds.
- Horns: They can be horned or polled.
- Region: The American Simmental Association registers about 80,000 cattle annually throughout the United States.
- Living conditions: Easily adaptable to different climates and production structures.
- Calves: Simmentals are known for calving ease and good mothering traits. They have short intervals between calving, high fertility rates and the ability to reproduce long-term.
- Health and temperament: Simmentals are heavily muscled, fine-lined, well conformed and docile. They are also known for high fertility, longevity, early maturity, good growth rates and efficient feeding. They are also easy to handle and make good grazers.
Simmental semen was introduced to the United States in 1967, followed by the first Simmental bull in 1971.
Simmentals all over the world produce high beef yields. The heavy muscling, length and overall size and weight of the animal are combined to produce high-quality carcasses of solid red meat with a minimum of waste fat.
- How to determine if cattle are bulls, steers, cows or heifers
- How to identify common breeds of dairy cattle
- Oklahoma State University
- American Angus Association
- American International Charolais Association
- American Gelbvieh Association
- American Hereford Association
- North American Limousin Foundation
- American Shorthorn Association
- American Simmental Association
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