USA beef production is characterized by a diversity of climates, environmental conditions, animal phenotypes, management systems, and a multiplicity of nutritional inputs. The USA beef herd consists of more than 80 breeds of cattle and crosses thereof, and the industry is divided into distinct, but ofttimes overlapping sectors, including seedstock production, cow-calf production, stocker/backgrounding, and feedlot. Exception for male dairy calves, production is predominantly pastoral-based, with young stock spending relatively brief portions of their life in feedlots. The beef industry is very technology driven, utilizing reproductive management strategies, genetic improvement technologies, exogenous growth promoting compounds, vaccines, antibiotics, and feed processing strategies, focusing on improvements in efficiency and cost of production. Young steers and heifers are grain-based diets fed for an average of 5 months, mostly in feedlots of 1,000 head capacity or more, and typically are slaughtered at 15 to 28 months of age to produce tender, well-marbled beef. Per capita beef consumption is nearly 26 kg annually, over half of which is consumed in the form of ground products. Beef exports, which are increasingly important, consist primarily of high value cuts and variety meats, depending on destination. In recent years, adverse climatic conditions (i.e., draught), a shrinking agricultural workforce, emergence of food-borne pathogens, concerns over development of antimicrobial resistance, animal welfare/well-being, environmental impact, consumer perceptions of healthfulness of beef, consumer perceptions of food animal production practices, and alternative uses of traditional feed grains have become increasingly important with respect to their impact on both beef production and demand for beef products. Similarly, changing consumer demographics and globalization of beef markets have dictated changes in the types of products demanded by consumers of USA beef, both domestically and abroad. The industry is highly adaptive, however, and responds quickly to evolving economic signals.
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