Cattle are raised in the United States for two types of meat: beef (from older cattle) and veal (from calves).
The type of cattle a farm raises depends, in part, on the climate, but some of the most popular include Angus, Aberdeen, and Herefords. Most of these animals, regardless of breed, are registered and have an ear tag so that farmers can identify their ancestry for breeding purposes.
Before you begin to work on a cattle farm, it is important to understand some of the terminology surrounding the sex and age of cattle:
- Bulls: Males (usually referencing those that can reproduce)
- Steers: Bulls that have been castrated
- Cows: Females (usually referencing those that have had a calf)
- Heifers: Cows that have not yet reproduced
- Calf: Babies, both male and female
Most of the cattle raised for meat are steers, heifers, and calves, though many farms also have bulls and cows for breeding purposes. Calves are born every spring, so your work may include caring for these babies and potentially readying them to be slaughtered for veal. At some farms, calves are born year-round.
Cattle can either eat grain or grass (supplemented by grain in the winter). Mass commercial farms typically feed cattle grain, which is optimized to make the animals grow as large as possible as fast as possible. Your job in this case is to ensure that the cattle have enough food and water. They’re typically kept in pens according to age, and each pen has a specific number of animals in order to keep the farm organized. Smaller farms and farms that choose to grass-feed their animals instead use pastures, and your job will be to move the animals from field to field to ensure that the grass has time to grow back. These farms are sometimes called ranches, especially in the Midwest.
Many cattle farms also raise grain to provide food for their animals, which is cheaper than purchasing feed, so your job may also include work in the fields. Along with feeding, you’ll also typically be responsible for cleaning barns and stalls, as well as replanting grass in pastures when necessary. The animals must also be inspected for health and size, and if bulls are received or born on the farm, you may help with the castration process, since steers are easier to handle and desirable to keeping herds of bulls if breeders aren’t needed.
Pay starts on a cattle farm at minimum wage, but increases for workers who perform upper-level tasks and who work for a farm over time. Getting your degree in an agricultural-related field can help you qualify for higher-paying jobs, and management positions on larger farms.