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Home: Beef: Beef Production in Virginia

Virginia has a total of 675,000 to 750,000 beef cows on 23,000 farms. Most of these are found in the Piedmont and Mountain (also called Ridge and Valley) regions.

There are 3 phases in the production of beef cattle.

1. Beef Cow produces a Calf
(Cow-Calf Producer)

Beef cows have a calf each year, beginning when they are 2 years old. Calves drink milk (nurse) that the cow produces. At 6 to 10 months of age the calf is weaned (separated from its mother), at which point it weighs from 400 to 600 pounds. Cow-calf operations use pasture and hay to feed their cows. Little or no grain is fed. Cows live outside year around, using trees as shelter when needed. They also grow very heavy haircoats to protect them from winter weather.

2. Weaned Calf Grows
(Stocker or Backgrounding Operation)

Most weaned calves stay in Virginia through this next phase. The cow-calf producer often sells his calves, and they are bought by a stocker or backgrounding operator. This producer uses feeds produced on his farm to grow cattle. Some producers use mostly pasture, letting cattle harvest the grass directly. Others use feeds they have harvested, combined with grains, and feed these to the cattle in barns or lots. Cattle fed this way usually gain from 1 to 2 pounds each day. They are sold at the end of this phase weighing 700 to 900 pounds at an age of 10 to 14 months. Because these cattle are around 1 year old they are called yearlings. Virginia has a large number of producers who run stocker or backgrounding operations.

3. Feedlot Finishing of Cattle

Feedlots are facilities that place cattle in pens or lots and bring all the feed they eat to them. This feed is high in grain content, which makes the cattle gain weight very quickly. Many animals gain over 4 pounds per day in the feedlot. Because feedlots are found where large amounts of grain (especially corn) are grown, Virginia does not have many feedlots. Yearlings from the stocker operations are sold to feedlots in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas. They are transported in 18-wheel tractor-trailers specially designed to haul cattle. Cattle usually are in the feedlot for 100 to 150 days. They are ready for sale weighing from 1050 to 1350 pounds. At this weight cattle are from 15 to 24 months old. Steaks, roasts, and ground beef are then obtained from this animal. So are important byproducts that are discussed in another section of the beef cattle module.

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