Beef Cattle Breeds In North America: Complete Guide For Beginners

Popular cattle breeds in North America include Red and Black Angus, Hereford, Simmental, and Charolais. While there are as many as 70 different cattle breeds available in North America, fewer than 20 pure breeds of beef cattle exist.

Choosing a starter beef cattle breed can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Whittling your choices down can be achieved through a fairly simple process of elimination.

This guide contains a handy reference table that includes the most popular beef cattle breeds in North America today, along with important statistical factors including carcass weight and cost to help you choose the right cattle breed.

Cattle Purpose

The first thing to figure out is what you plan to do with your cattle. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you looking to raise beef solely for market?
  • Do you intend to be a breeder of purebred or registered stock and sell calves or semen?
  • Do you intend to produce crossbred animals that combine two or more purebred cattle with the intention of producing vigorous offspring for sale or market?
  • Are you wanting cattle for personal use on your homestead?

Once you know the purpose of your herd, you can begin to look into the qualities and characteristics of different breeds and select one that is perfect for its intended purpose.

Breed Selection

Every cattle breed has traits and characteristics that separate them from other breeds.

Beef cattle breeds are most often divided into two distinct categories; maternal and terminal. Maternal breeds are usually smaller and are excellent for raising strong, healthy calves while terminal breeds are larger and typically used solely for beef production.

A third category (composite) exists as well and combines the best genetic qualities of both maternal and terminal breeds for a specific market-related purpose.

Deciding whether you want a terminal, maternal, or composite breed will greatly narrow your choices, and will largely be determined based on the intended purpose of your cattle.

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PurposeBest choice
Meat productionTerminal or composite
Breeding stock or feedersMaternal or composite

While considering the type of breed that will work best for you, it is important to consider long-term sustainability. You’ll also need to consider upfront costs including herd cost, labor, feed, land, and type of management system before weighing that against potential profits.

Profitability

According to legendary cattle rancher Tom Lasater, there are six essential categories to consider that directly correspond to profitability in beef cattle:

  1. Hardiness – ability to thrive in different climates, pest and disease resistance
  2. Milk Production – mothering ability, production of rich, plentiful milk makes calves gain weight easier
  3. Conformation – speaks to marbling and carcass quality shown through physical attributes
  4. Weight – growth rate, high weaning weight, and feed conversion
  5. Fertility – high fertility of cows, producing a large calf each year, breeding vigor in bulls
  6. Disposition – calm, docile temperaments make cattle raising much easier

The beef cattle industry largely agrees that these six genetic factors are pivotal points upon which you should base your decision, and should be used as a guide when selecting the breed you want and when purchasing individual cattle from within the breed.

Of course, there are other things to consider when selecting a breed such as polled (hornless) vs. horned breeds. Horned breeds often need to have their horns removed for safety purposes, which adds to time and costs, whereas naturally polled breeds are without this barrier.

As a beginner, it is a good idea to learn from the success and mistakes made by others who have gone before you. To that end, it makes sense to choose from among the most popular beef cattle breeds, and ones that are locally available.

The following table provides key information on the most popular breeds in North America, including time to slaughter, carcass weight, and price range.

Popular Beef Cattle Breeds in North America

BreedTime to
Slaughter
Average
Carcass
Weight
Typical Cost
Black Angus2 years550lbs$900 – $2200
Hereford2 years821lbs$2,200 – $2,600
Shorthorn9 to 14 months736lbs$1,500 – $1,700
Charolais2 years850lbs$2,600 – $3,300
Simmental2 years700lbs$1,900 – $2,700
Brahman2 years741lbs$2,100 – $2,300
Limousin2 years617lbs$3,700 – $5,000
Dexter22 to 24 months429lbs$1,500 – $2,000
Chianina19 to 20 months1025lbs$2,500 – $4,000
Maine Anjou2.5 years837lbs$1,900 – $3,100
Piedmontese20 months652lbs$2000 to $5000
Brangus14 to 18 months650lbs$3,200 – $6,000
Zebu3.5 to 4 years500lbs$1,000 – $1600
Santa Gertrudis2 years588lbs$7,600 – $9500
Beefmaster12 to 18 months632lbs$2,900 – $3500
Gelbvieh2 years944lbs$1,500 – $2500
Texas Longhorn1 to 2 years639lbs$2200 – $5300
Belted Galloway18 – 24 months485lbs$800 – $1200
Murray Grey1 year700lbs$2300 – $3900
Red Angus2 years575lbs$900 – $2200

Consumer and Farmer Trends

There are several factors that speak to current trends within the beef cattle industry and could impact your cattle farm in future years.

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The Annual Cattle Inventory Report by the USDA is one of the leading reports that forecast annual trends. It measures cattle inventory both by class and calf crop, and while cattle costs are higher than the prior year by 17.5 percent, the amount of inventory is down close to 2 percent year over year.

Inflation and input costs are much higher in 2022 than in 2021, and drought conditions have reduced quality pasture, forcing many grass herds to be supplemented or switched entirely to grain.

The industry has responded by reducing the slaughter of steers by close to 4 percent, and increasing the slaughter of cows which is up 7 percent higher than the prior year. This reduces herd sizes and will result in less calf inventory in 2023.

Consumer demand has been in decline in 2022, a result of less supply and high inflation which have caused beef prices to rise, making consumers less likely to splurge on red meat.

USDA

Data from the USDA also shows that foreign imports of beef have increased 29 percent year over year with the strengthening of the dollar, making it more cost-effective to import, as this reduces the rising costs of beef in an under-supplied market.

Interestingly, exports of U.S. beef have increased nearly 6 percent from last year, with top buyers being South Korea, China, and Japan.

The rising cost of feed is on farmers’ minds as well, making profitability difficult to achieve. Corn costs have risen over 30 percent and hay is 45 percent higher than last year.

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This is not to say that profitability is impossible to achieve, as beef prices continue to climb, and exports continue at a record pace. The immediate outlook is tenuous but it is anticipated that the beef industry will continue to expand once more when drought conditions have abated, and inflation is brought under control.

Getting Started with Beef Cattle

Now that you have an idea of the types of beef cattle that exist, and what the current market trends are, it is important to consider how comfortable you are with raising cattle.

It may be best if you’re a beginner to start with a docile, easy-to-handle breed. Many cattle today have been bred specifically for temperament, which is greatly beneficial for novice owners and will set you up for success with fewer input costs.

If you are looking primarily to purchase a family cow for your homestead, you will likely want a dual-purpose breed that is capable of producing both meat and milk. There are several breeds that you can use for milk production initially and cull later for meat including Brahman, Dexter and Simmental.

FAQs

What Kind of Cattle is Best for Beef?

There are many breeds of cattle that are wonderful for beef production. The answer will depend upon a myriad of factors from the qualities of the beef, your available space, to cost and accessibility.

Beef breeds from around the world offer different types of meat. Wagyu from Japan is world famous for its marbling and fat, while Angus cattle are known for tender, lean cuts.

One important factor to consider is whether you want beef from a breed that is bos indicus, bos taurus, or a cross between the two. These two types of cattle have different physical attributes, as they come from different regions of the world, and offer different qualities to the meat they produce.

Bos Taurus are European breeds that come from England, France, Germany, Italy, and the Highlands of Scotland. Angus, Hereford, and Charolais are examples of breeds that come from these regions and are known for lean, tender meat.

Bos Indicus are breeds that come from the Asian continent such as Zebu or Brahman. These hardy breeds have more subcutaneous fat and a distinctive flavor.

Of course, many people wish to have the best of both and prefer composite breeds such as Brangus and Beefmaster, which have tender, juicy meat with distinctive tastes.

The answer truly comes down to your personal preferences.

What is the Difference Between Beef Cattle and Dairy Cattle?

Beef cattle are typically used for beef production, whether through the slaughter and sale of meat or by producing calves that will ultimately be used for that purpose.

Dairy cattle are used for milk production. Dairy breeds such as Holstein and Friesian provide incredible milk output that can be used to make milk and milk products such as cheese for human consumption.

Christina Pichler

A longtime resident of Southern California, Christina spent her childhood summers on a farm, raising and caring for cows owned by her grandparents, which prompted a lifelong love of cows, and other farm animals. Christina is passionate about writing, having written hundreds of articles for well-known websites, and uses her English degree in service of her love for animal welfare, most recently taking on a writing position at Cow Care Taker in 2022.

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