Beef Sirloin Kabobs with Roasted Red Pepper Dipping Sauce

Industry Stats

Get to the meat of Washington's beef industry with some facts, figures and quick information.

WAshington Beef Industry Information:

What is the economic impact of the Washington beef industry?

Although the beef industry is widely recognized as an important agricultural commodity, few studies exist evaluating its economic importance. The 2014 Economic Contribution Analysis of the Washington Beef Industry, research conducted by Dr. Shannon Nieburgs of Washington State University, quantifies the impact of beef production on the Washington state economy. Major study findings include:  

  • Washington cattle production inventories based on the most current USDA reports were 209,000 calves produced, 488,000 finished feedlot steers and heifers sent to slaughter, and 1,072,000 head of cattle slaughtered. 
  • USDA data on beef cow inventory shows that the U.S. herd peaked at 39.229 million head in 1982 and declined to 29.085 million head in 2014. This represents a 26% decline from peak to current for the U.S. beef herd. Comparatively Washington’s decline from its peak inventory in 1984 to current is 52%, approximately double the rate of decline of the U.S. herd level. 
  • For 2014 the direct total output for the cow-calf sector was $324.7 million dollars. For the feedlot sector it was $976.6 million dollars. For the packer sector is was $2,338 million dollars. The combined beef industry’s direct total output is $3.639 billion dollars. 
  • Direct cattle sales represent only part of the economic contribution of the beef industry. Input-output analysis was used to estimate the indirect and induced effects that result from the beef industries input purchases, labor and profits. The total economic contribution of the beef industry to Washington is $5.691 billion.  

An Important Ag Commodity

Washington's beef community supports other agricultural commodities such as potato and hay growers. Cattle feeders use byproducts from potato processing that would otherwise present a waste challenge. Lower value hay that is not suitable to horse and dairy feeding can be fed to beef cattle, providing a marketing outlet for local hay.

Access Dr. Nieburgs' Study 


Washington's beef community directly supplies about 4,300 local jobs. Because farms and ranches need supplies and services from local companies, and their owners and employees are all local, the total employment resulting from the industry is 13,933 jobs. The beef processing sector (slaughterhouses in Washington) directly employs the most people, with 2,800 jobs. The average labor income for beef processing is $44,500. The average income across all sectors is $76,000.

Easterday pen rider

Beef Community Jobs

Pen riders check cattle health each day at the feedyard on horseback. These employees monitor thousands of cattle each day. Inexperienced pen riders are matched up with an experienced rider, to be trained and gain experience reading the signs of sick and healthy cattle. Employee retention at the feedyard is a key to managing cattle health effectively and efficiently.

More Information on Labor & Employment 

How many ranches are there in Washington?

There are over 9,000 ranches in Washington. On average, these families have been operating their ranches for 47 year, some for over 100 years. Ranches in Washington are diverse in size and can be found in all 39 counties. Of the approximately 9,000 ranches and farms, about 6,000 have only ten head of cattle. Only 45 ranches have over 500 head, but represent about 63% of the beef cattle inventory. 

Washington’s beef cow inventory peaked in 1984 at 436,000 cows and has declined to 209,000 cows in 2014. Washington’s beef herd has declined at a much higher rate than the rest of the country. While the U.S. beef herd has declined by 26% since the 1980's, Washington's beef cattle herd has reduced by about half.

A Family Affair

While over 9,000 Washingtonians keep cattle, over half raise ten head or less. But big or small, it's a family tradition.

Meet your ranchers 

Are there Cattle feedyards in Washington?

There are 20-30 cattle feedyards in Washington. The dry, mild environment of southeastern Washington, and the close proximity to agricultural byproducts and crops make it a great location for cattle feeding. 

The number of cattle feedyards has decreased, while the size of the farms has increased to gain efficiency and economies of scale. The larger feedyards are located in close proximity to the two major beef slaughter facilities in Washington. Cattle do not have to be transported far from the feedyard to slaughter, which improves animal welfare and beef quality by limiting stress. 

Washington's cattle feeding sector ranks 14th in the nation in size, at about 210,000 head on feed any given year. This is substantially lower than the top 3 feeding states, that can feed over 2 million head at one time.

What Cattle Eat

In Washington, the benefit of being a diverse agricultural producer is obvious for cattle feeders. We grow it all from hay to apples, grapes to grains. And cattle upcycle those plants into high quality protein.

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Are there cattle slaughter facilities in Washington?

There are two significant beef slaughter facilities in Washington, Agri Beef's Washington Beef packing plant in Toppenish, WA and Tyson Foods Inc. packing plant in Wallula, WA. There are a few smaller facilities that slaughter cull cows (beef and dairy cows that have reached the end of breeding or milking productivity), and a few cooperative-founded mobile and fixed location slaughter facilities. 

Having packing plants in Washington provides opportunities to keep cattle, and dollars in our state from pasture to plate. The next closest plant on the west is located in Utah. 

CONTRIBUTING to the economy

Get more information about the economic impact of cattle slaughter in Washington. (picture courtesy of Agri Beef)

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