Beef Industry Facts and Overview
The beef industry globally has seen an increase in size over the past ten years due to the growth of the global economy. A key contributor to the growth of the global beef market is the growing wealth of people in developing countries – as people become wealthier, their diets include more premium products, including beef.
The beef industry in Australia
The Australian beef industry began with the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. The original herd of two bulls and around six cows were purchased in South Africa as the ships made their way to Australia from London. From these humble beginnings, the Australian beef industry is now one of the largest in the world in terms of beef cattle farming. The beef export market in Australia represents a significant part of the beef industry and Australian exports generally.
Key Australian beef industry information
- There 27 million cattle in Australia
- Each year the industry injects over $16 billion into the nation’s economy
- The industry employs over 172,000 people
- Cattle are produced in each state and territory in Australia
- Brahman (Northern Australia) and Poll Hereford (Southern Australia) are the most popular breeds in Australia, although there are over 40 breeds of cattle in Australia
Different feeding regimes for cattle
Feeding regimes and types of feed differ around the world, based on local geographic and market conditions.
Raising cattle for beef systems in Europe and the United States are quite different to those in Australia. Australian beef is predominantly grass fed beef, and grain feeding is undertaken for a short period. In the northern hemisphere, colder climates mean that cattle require housing and intensive feeding so grain feeding tends to be longer than in Australia.
In Europe cattle often graze heavily fertilised and improved pasture and then move to feedlots where they are typically fed concentrated pellets derived from sugar beet, barley, food and by-products such as brewers’ grain and silage or hay, which are commonly available in Europe.
In the USA almost all market cattle are sent to feedlots for longer periods of time, typically 150 days. Whilst there, they eat a diet based on soy and corn, grains commonly grown in the USA. USA feedlots are much larger than those in Australia, typically housing between 70,000 and 200,000 head of cattle at a time, compared to the average of 1,600 in Australian feedlots.
In Australia cattle that are grain fed spend on average 60 days on grain for domestic consumption and up to 400 days for specialty niche markets such as Japanese wagyu.
Australian organic beef
In Australia most cattle are grass fed and a larger percentage of those are grazed on extensive rangelands with little or no use of fertilisers or pesticides. To be recognised as organic beef, the product has to undergo organic certification, which many producers chose not to do for time and cost reasons.
There is a growing movement of consumers wanting to buy organic meat direct from farmers and from online meat retailers particularly in inner city areas. As well as organic beef there are also some Australian beef producers that have developed branded products such as Enviromeat or Gippsland beef, which are underpinned by environmental management systems. If you are thinking of venturing into raising cattle for beef, it is never a better time than now to start cattle raising.