For some years now, I’ve had the feeling that the major newspapers in the United States do a terrible job on agricultural reporting. It’s not surprsing because the reporters are from cities and writing for cities.  Still, the distance between what is written and the realities of farm life can be jarring. When the present drought across much of the country was beginning to cause concern about rising commodity prices, one major newspaper ran a story on a small farm in New England returning to ploughs pulled by oxen.  A story with lots of appeal, of course, but not exactly the major news.

So I’m putting up two comments by knowledgable readers, on how unprofitable beef cattle typically were in England, one on the interconnections of beef and dairy in Australia and the US (and more detail on sex-selective breeding).

I also notice that the lead story in the current Texas Monthly is on the demise of the Texas rancher.  I read on the first few lines, to the effect that it had always been difficult to make a living ranching and that its long history in Texas might be coming to an end.

From Tom Thatcher

Prices for “finished” beef cattle of any breed are higher in the UK than they have ever been: it’s actually worth rearing beef cattle. The old saying, “Never marry a grazier’s daughter” (= no money) may for the first time, in my life anyway, be unwise advice. Foot and mouth, BSE and other decimators have left the European beef herd short on numbers and supply and demand are in action.

From Adam Balic

In Australia the norm would have been to cross dairy cows with a Beef bull and sell on the resulting calves or raise them for beef. Hereford’s were popular as a bull and basically you get a black calf with a white face. This is where a lot of beef comes from, from dairy crosses. Basically the male calves were waste and so were most of the females, even if pure dairy.

In the US for beef to qualify as “Angus” the animal it comes from has to have 50% Angus genetics and be 51% black.

If you consider that if you cross a Angus Bull to a black and white Holstein-Friesian cow, the basically nearly all the calves will be a able to produce “Angus” beef. So from a waste product (dairy calves) you get a cash product. A lot of “Angus” beef people are eating is 50% dairy.


This has changed now as there is sexed sperm sorting technology, so you can choose the sex of the offspring. If you want beef then choose males, if you want to build up the dairy herd then choose females.

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