Abundant forage growth and proximity to row crop feed sources set the stage for successful cattle production in some Midwestern states, and people in the cattle industry in those states take pride in their success.
Dave Patterson, chancellor’s professor for the University of Missouri’s Division of Animal Sciences, says these states’ cattle producers benefit from proximity to feed, including by-products from ethanol plants such as distillers grains.
“I think that’s one of the big advantages of livestock production in the Midwest,” he says.
According to the USDA, in 2021 Missouri has the third-most beef cows in the nation, with 2.035 million, behind Texas and Oklahoma. Iowa is 13th in the U.S. with 890,000 beef cows. Illinois ranks 26th, with 356,000 beef cows.
Patterson says forage growth is a key to being able to raise a lot of cattle.
“A big part of it is the forage base, the tremendous forage base in the state,” he says. “On a normal year, there’s the anticipated annual rainfall to accommodate grazing.”
Even in drier years, Patterson says the availability of byproduct feeds helps provide more options.
Jim Humphrey, a University of Missouri livestock specialist who raises cattle in northwest Missouri, says Missouri’s climate can be helpful for raising cattle as well.
“Our climate, we don’t get extremely hot like the Southeast, and we don’t get extremely cold like the North,” he says.
He also says Missouri has a lot of variety in terrain, and cattle operations south of Interstate 70 can look different from those in the north, with rocky ground and rolling hills in the south.
But the consistent theme for successful cattle production areas is quality cattle producers.
“You have to be complimentary of the producers,” Humphrey says. “They do a great job.”
Patterson works with MU’s Show-Me Select Heifer Replacement program, and he says Missouri producers have worked to make progress on genetics, building up their herds.
“There’s been a lot of focus on genetic improvements in the state,” he says.
Of course, the state’s fescue grass can present toxicity issues during the hot summer months. But Patterson says producers can manage around this by having forage diversity in pastures and supplementing fescue with other feed sources when toxicity is high.
“The fescue is our biggest obstacle we have here, with the endophyte,” Humphrey says.
He says Missouri has a long history as a major cattle state.
“St. Joe and Kansas City were big beef cow towns,” he says.
The cities were home to big stockyards and still house some cattle breed association headquarters.
Teresa Steckler, Extension educator for the University of Illinois, says her state has some advantages as a cattle-producing state as well, including the state’s prowess at producing row crops.
“One of the biggest factors is the fact we’ve got a lot of cheap corn,” she says.
Similar to Missouri, Steckler says Illinois has some areas that are better suited to livestock production, including her southern Illinois area.
“We do have some hilly areas that do not make for good row crop ground, but they are good for livestock,” she says.
Steckler says one of the challenges for Illinois cattle producers is competition for land and land costs. When older producers get out of the business and families rent out land, it often gets converted to row crop production. Market fluctuations can also be a challenge.
Steckler says cattle producers take pride in their industry, regardless of which state they’re in.
“When they’re at the fair, they take pride when their granddaughter is out there showing, taking interest in (raising cattle),” she says.
She says cattle producers enjoy doing their part to make the U.S. the world’s top beef supplier.