There are four primary segments in cattle and beef production. The process begins with the cow/calf operators, traditional ranchers and farmers in the business of breeding cows and producing calves.
Once calves have been weaned at six to 10 months, they are frequently sold to a stocker operator. The stocker operator will put additional weight on the calves to bring them to 600 to 800 pounds before they go into feedlots at eight to 14 months. They are now referred to as feeder cattle. Feedlot operators buy feeder cattle and bring them to slaughter weight of 900 to 1,400 pounds. When the cattle reach slaughter weight at 12 to 22 months, they are sold to packers/processors such as Tyson Foods.
The beef industry is not vertically-integrated as is the poultry industry. It comprises more than one million individual farms or ranches. Each year cattle producers market approximately 35 million cattle. Currently in the United States, there are about 2,100 feedlots with one-time capacity of 1000 or more, and 64 major beef packing operations.