All About Beef
This page is intended to provide answers to some commonly asked questions, and give you a foundation of knowledge about how cattle are raised in Washington.
If you don't find what you're looking for, use the link at the bottom of this page to submit your question.
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 thefeedlot 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 fromthe beef industries input purchases, labor and profits. The total economic contribution of the beef industry to Washington is $5.691 billion.
- Access the entire study here.
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.
Get more labor and employment information here.
Did You Know?
There are over 9,000 ranches in Washington. On average, these families have been operating their ranches for 47 years, 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.
Get more information on ranches and cattle numbers in Washington here.
There are 20-30 cattle feedyards in Washington. The dry, mild environment of southeastern Washington, and the close proximity to agricultural byproducts and crops (see above section, What do cattle eat at a feedyard?) 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.
Get more date on Washington feedyards here.
There are two significant beef slaughter facilities in Washington, Agri Beef Co. LLC's Washington Beef plant in Toppenish, WA and Tyson Foods Inc. in Wallula (near Tri-Cities). 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 in the west is located in Utah. Get more information about the economic impact of cattle slaughter in Washington, here.
Purchasing beef directly from a local farmer can be an awesome experience. But there are a few things to know as you consider this option:
- Beef that is sold by the package in a retail manner legally must be slaughtered at a USDA inspected plant. A USDA inspected plant has a USDA safety inspector on-site at all times when animals are being slaughtered.
- To purchase beef directly from a farmer that will not be slaughtered at a USDA inspected site, legally you must purchase a whole, or a share of a live animal, and coordinate slaughter and processing on-farm or at another facility that is licensed by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) Custom Exempt Program. Click the link to learn more about these rules and see the table below.
- Meat packages must be labeled "NOT FOR SALE" and must be consumed by the purchaser
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Where to Buy
Search for farmers and independent butcher shops near you! Choose your county to browse a list of local options for purchasing beef.
Go to the Local Beef Directory