Virginia is home to growing beef cattle population
Virginia’s cattle population is currently 1.5 million, which is up about 30,000 head from 2016, according to the USDA.
With such a high inventory of the state’s cattle and calves, even the shortest drive outside of urban and suburban locations in Virginia is likely to take travelers past a pasture of beef cattle. They’re raised all over the state on about 23,000 farms, and are a major segment of Virginia agriculture.
“Virginia is an ideal location for cow-calf operations, because the climate and terrain are diverse,” explained Robert Mills, a Pittsylvania County cow-calf producer and a member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board of directors.
“In the eastern part of the state, row crops grow well,” Mills noted. “In the central to western parts of the state there are rolling hills where cool-season grasses such as fescue grow well. Those areas are not suitable for row-crop production, but they are attractive for cow-calf operations.”
Virginia’s beef cattle are literally turning grass and other plants into money. That’s because cattle have a digestive system that allows them to eat large amounts of grass, hay and other plant matter that humans and some other animals cannot digest. They also can eat corn stalks and other remnants of crop production that are left after harvest.
The state’s cattlemen produce quality forage grasses for grazing cattle, Mills noted, “and we do a great job of raising calves on grass; however, Virginia doesn’t have many feedlots for finishing cattle. The majority of feedlots are in the Northeast and Midwestern U.S.”
Virginia’s climate lends another advantage over cattle-producing areas in the U.S. that endure longer, more severe winters.
The climate “allows us to split calving between spring and fall. Grazing opportunities allow us to operate nearly year-round,” said Jason Carter, executive director of the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association and Virginia Beef Industry Council.
Virginia beef can compete with any other in the U.S. and abroad, Carter asserted, noting that Virginia has consistently been one of the top 20 cattle-producing states in the nation. “You can’t drive 15 minutes in Virginia without seeing fences with cattle behind them.”
Most beef cattle spend the majority of their lives in pastures eating grass and other forage plants before being moved to a feedlot for grain finishing.