Then and Now

Then and Now

Cattle Transportation


With the development of better highways and the Interstate System, cattle could be transported by truck.


cattle on ship

Cattle today are sometimes flown to their destinations or travel by ship. Source: UDASK


Livestock Ship

Source: ESDAW


Cattle Sales


livestock barn

Cattle today are sold in a variety of ways. Cattle are sold in Livestock Market Barns.

Cattle are sold privately on the ranch. During these sales, the buyer works directly with the rancher to purchase the cattle.

Cattle are sold using video sales where cattle are videotaped on the ranch and sold without ever leaving the ranch. Delivery is set at a later date. Internet auctions work as a cross between video sales and live market barns and are growing in popularity.

Photograph Source:



Machinery technology improves every year. Now operators can work in air conditioned comfort inside a cab putting up hay at a speed their predecessors never dreamed possible.

swathing hay



cutting hay


Cattle Breeds


There are over 250 recognized breeds of cattle in the world today and of that over 60 breeds available in the United States.

However, a relatively small number of breeds (less than 20) constitute the majority of the genetics utilized in the U.S. for commercial beef production.

These breeds include the Angus, Hereford, Gelbvieh, Limousin, and the Simmental.

Feeding Cattle


Today’s cattle have a varied diet based on where they live and what is available to the rancher. A diet for cattle may include: Hay; Silage - crop that has been preserved in a moist, succulent condition by partial fermentation, Grass, Corn, Milo, Barley, Oats, and Soybeans.

Cattle are also being fed the leftovers from human food manufacturing including canola meal (the corn leftovers from making canola oil), distiller’s grains (grain leftovers from making whisky and even ethanol), sweet corn cannery waste, and apple pomace (leftovers from making apple cider).

Some ranchers are capturing a niche market by finishing cattle on an all grass diet.

Meat Packing and Processing


Trucks, highways, and the trend of finishing (or fattening) cattle in feedlots decentralized packing plants. The meat packers and processors were forced to move to where the feed lots were, which are located near the feed sources. Today, refrigerated trucks carry beef products over interstate highways to supermarkets.

refrigerated truck

This landmark invention ushered in the era of frozen foods, large supermarkets and the restaurant industry, as we know it today.

Source: Thermo King Corporation

Cattle Diseases and Treatments


There are numerous diseases that worry American ranchers today, including cattle tick fever.

Working Ranch Magazine, Tick Fever

Today’s ranchers use preventative strategies by vaccinating cattle to prevent disease. Scientific breakthroughs help crack diseases that have plagued ranchers for centuries and eradicate the disease or control it with vaccinations.

Cattle Identification


Cattle are still branded with a hot iron brand. Freeze branding is another way some producers identify their cattle. Irons are cooled and a number or brand is applied.

Cattle are often ear tagged for individual identification, but this is not permanent identification as ear tags can and do fall out.


tagged cow

ear tag

Some ranchers use EID (Electronic Identification) tags. EID tags are small “button-like” tags that are placed in the ear. Each EID tag has a unique 15-digit number printed on it, and the number can also be read by scanning the tag with an EID reader.

Source: /1/4/140965_1.jpg

Ranch Ownership


Cattle operations have long been considered family traditions, handed down from generation to generation.

Most farms and ranches in the United States, including cattle ranches, are family owned and operated. Even the largest farms tend to be family farms. More than 97 percent of beef cattle farms and ranches are classified as family farms.

Although cattle farms and ranches are spread across the United States, nearly a third of cattle operations are located in the Plains states.

Cole and Samantha Evans Wyatt

Cole and Samantha Evans Wyatt are young ranchers living near Whitney, Nebraska. Like many ranch families, they work as a team. Recently they went into the custom haying business as a sideline to ranching.

Genetic Selection


Today Expected Progeny Differences or EPDs are a valuable tool to aid purebred and commercial producers in the selection of potential breeding stock.

EPDs are numbers that predict future performance of an animal relative to the actual performance of progeny listed in a database. By studying these numbers, a rancher can select traits of breeding animals to improve his herd.



Today, some ranchers use a calf table to catch and restrain the calf.

calf table

This branding is at the TN Ranching Company in Utah. Here, the traditional branding and roping of calves is replaced by the more convenient calf table where calves are brought through the chute, branded, and vaccinated.


Some ranchers use a propane-fired branding heater, rather than an open fire. Some even use electric branding irons

Brand Book Page


Tate Jensen using electric brand


Tate Jensen of the TN Ranch using an electric brand. Source:

propane branding heater

Propane branding heater with two branding irons in the fire. Source: