Where does beef come from? Part 3 - A lesson in beef cattle breeds

Seven main breeds of cattle have come to be most commonly-used in the United States for beef production.

The production and consumption of beef has grown and remained constant in popularity. Michigan State University Extension recommends learning the seven main breeds of cattle have come to be most commonly-used in the United States for beef production:


The Angus breed is perhaps the most used, most well-known breed of beef cattle in the U.S. With origins in northeast Scotland, Angus, also known as Black Angus, is popular among Brits and Americans and was first imported to the United States in 1873. Upon their premiere in a cattle show in Kansas, many thought the Angus breed to be freakish because of their “naturally horn-less heads and solid black color,” according to the American Angus Association.


The Hereford breed, of Herefordshire, England, was previously the most popular variety of beef cattle until the 1960s, and remains quite popular today. The industry likes Herefords for their quick maturation rate and this breed in particular has been admired for its tenderness in meat and specifically their cuts of steak.


Originally from India, this breed has been subject to generations of malnutrition, insect infestations and disease. As a result, Braham are a quite adaptable and stable breed. This breed is generally light in color and is characterized by a large spinal hump just before their skull. Also unique to Braham cattle are large, floppy ears and horns.


Holstein cattle are a very old breed, originated from land that is now part of the Netherlands over 2000 years ago. The most recognizable coat for Holsteins is that of white with black patches. They were originally high-producing dairy cattle and have since been used for meat.


This breed was one of many to be allowed into the US in 1971 by revised import regulations. One of Germany’s oldest breeds, its youth are known for muscle growth and ability to sell at market, while the females are known for milking well, fertility and a calm temperament. Today, about 43,000 heads live in the U.S.


Limousin cattle originated in central France and were also allowed to import after the 1971 change in trade regulations. Breeders claimed they would do well in feed conversion, or the ability to turn feed into mass, and they also used to also brag about the variety’s ability to withstand cold temperatures. Limousin are known to be a nervous breed, with experts in the field working to improve their docility. According to the North American Limousin Foundation, around 70 percent of this breed is black in color, which could allow them to easily be confused with Black Angus.


Also first imported to the U.S. in 1971, the Simmental breed has exceptional production rates and productivity. Originating from Switzerland, this variety is typically used to increase the value of stocks through breed blending, and not necessarily raised as purebred beef cattle for production.

Other articles in this series:

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