TYLA ambassador discusses beef industry in Texas

As the No. 1 beef provider in the United States, Texas packs almost 4 million cows per year, making it the top beef-producing state. Ellis County has about 18,000 cows and calves, ranking 110th out of 254 counties in the state for beef production.

While Ellis County’s top agriculture is focused on crops, 27% of Ellis County’s agriculture operations is livestock and poultry, which includes beef cattle, Kaylee Nolen of Waxahachie said.

“I think we have a very good quality of beef here, but we have a lot more crops,” she said.

Nolen is a livestock ambassador with Texas Youth Livestock & Agriculture and is tasked with sharing information about the beef industry in Texas.

Part of Texas’ main profit comes from beef and cattle itself, Nolen said.

“During the pandemic, everybody was freaking out about the meat plants shutting down and people losing their jobs,” she said. “We were running out of beef in Texas, which not a lot of people knew about that, but we almost ran completely out of beef because nobody was there to process the cattle that went through. If that would have happened, we would have lost a lot of food, mainly to Texas and to a lot of the United States.”

There are two types of cattle operations – cow-calf and feeding stock operations – Nolen said.

A cow-calf operation is where ranchers take care of a herd of cattle, breeding them and eventually selling calves and cattle to feeding stock operations. A feeding stock operation keeps the cattle in a pen and feeds them until they hit their market point, which is a specific weight needed before cattle can be processed. Once the cattle hit the market point, they are sent to a meat packer plant, where they are processed and packaged before being sent to grocery stores.

What many people don’t realize, Nolen said, is that ranchers treat and care for the cattle like pets.

“We’re feeding them and taking care of them and making sure they have fresh water,” Nolen said. “There’s a lot of concentration that goes into it. They care so much more. If there’s a calf having a hard labor, they’d go out at four o’clock in the morning and stay out there the whole time just to keep it alive. Not just because that’s $800 that can go away, but because that’s how much they care for that animal.”

“The people that do all this have a really strong passion,” Nolen said. “That’s what I want to do because I have a really strong passion towards the meat industry – to protect it and save it.”

A common struggle ranchers face is an increase in feed prices, which are often connected to the weather, Nolen said. When the weather is bad, like a drought or excessive heat, crops do not grow well. The farmers then must sell their crops for higher than normal, so they can provide for their families. With a price increase on certain crops, the price of feed also increases.

“It all goes in like a turning Ferris wheel,” Nolen said. “One thing goes up, and the next thing’s going to go up, and then a bunch of things are going to go up.”

Nolen said the best way to support the beef industry in Texas is to buy beef from the grocery store or from local beef producers in Ellis County.