How Much Feed Does it Take To Produce a Pound of Beef? - Sustainable Dish (2022)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role of animal protein in the human diet and the environment; specifically, the meat from herbivores like beef, bison, lamb, and goat. Every time I turn around, a new documentary about global warming is telling me to stop eating beef. There are films, books and blogs citing how much water and grain it takes to produce a hamburger, plus they claim meat production is a source of methane and also happens to be really bad for us nutritionally. I’ve already addressed the water, carbon, methane and nutrition issue here, explaining that “typical” beef requires about 410 gallons of water to produce one pound, a similar amount to avocados, walnuts and sugar, plus beef production can actually help sequester carbon, is not necessarily a source of methane, and is a nutrient-dense food. Grass-fed is even better.

When looking at “feed” input to edible beef output, I’ve seen all sorts of numbers ranging up to 20 pounds of feed per pound of beef. Feed is not always the same word as “grain” and can sometimes refer to hay, corn stalks, and other non-concentrated, non-grain animal feed. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to refer to “feed” as the mix given to cattle at the feedlot.

(Video) Future of Food - Feeding the World in a Sustainable Way | Chiara Cecchini | TEDxKlagenfurt

Before you freak out, I want to make it clear that I’m not advocating we all eat feedlot cattle. I much prefer well managed grass-fed meat to feedlot beef, because the cattle are healthier animals, and it’s better for the soil and human health. What I do want to illustrate here is that beef is not the daemon it’s been made out to be.

I was curious to find out if these high feed conversion ratios attributed to beef were including the full weight of the finished cow, assuming the cow ate grain for it’s entire life, which could really inflate the number. Because it’s expensive to buy feed, a “typical” cow lives the first 12-18 months on pasture, eating grass and other forage, not grain. Pastureland is not suitable for cropping, so the cows are not competing with humans for possible land that could be used to grow vegetables. And, we can’t eat grass or hay. Also, as I describe here, when cows are properly managed, they can actually improve soil quality and help sequester carbon.

When the cattle reach about 600 – 900 pounds they are then transferred to a feedlot (unless they are grass-finished, in which case they spend their entire life on pasture.) The diet the cattle eat at a feedlot is between 70 – 90 percent grain, the other 10 – 30% of cattle feed comes from industrial byproducts like the grain leftover from distilleries, which doesn’t compete with humans for food. At the feedlot, cows gain an average of one pound per six pounds of feed they consume. Market weight is approximately 1,200 – 1,400 pounds at an age of 18 – 22 months.

What a lot of people who are looking to exaggerate numbers like to do is calculate the 6 pounds of grain for the ENTIRE weight of the animal. This makes it look like cattle eat grain their whole life; that the entire 1200 – 1400 pounds has come from grain. Remember that cattle get to the feedlot at 600 – 900 pounds, which means you cannot calculate the prior weight into the grain equation. We’re really looking at an average of about 600 pounds that the cow is gaining at the feedlot. If you then multiply this 600 pounds by six pounds of grain, you get 3600 pounds of grain to produce an animal of 1200 pounds. This ratio of feed to beef is 3:1. Other studies have found the feed conversion ratio for beef even lower, closer to 2.5.

But that’s not the end of the story…

The edible portion of the cow is different than the weight of the live animal. After the animal is slaughtered, the head and organs are removed to produce the carcass. A 1200 pound cow produces a 750 pound carcass. Now, you could argue that the entire cow is required to produce the meat, but these other pieces are actually used in other industries. The hide becomes leather, the bones, fat, intestines are all processed into other items like soap, pet food, fertilizer, and even used to produce pharmaceuticals. I believe that it’s “unfair” to calculate beef byproducts (non-edible meat) into the equation. Once you eliminate the 150 pounds of fat trim and 110 pounds of bone for a 720 pound carcass, you’re left with about 490 pounds of edible beef; cuts like steaks, roasts, short ribs, and ground beef.

(Video) Producing Enough Sustainable Food

[Tweet “Q: How much feed does it take to produce a pound of beef? A: Depends on how you calculate it!”]

If you stop to think about it, a 2.5 or 3:1 ratio of grain to flesh is pretty amazing. We humans are much better off eating one pound of beef compared to what the cows are eating. Feed for cattle includes corn, wheat, soybean hulls, cottonseed meal, corn and soy oils. That looks a lot like the ingredients on many of the highly processed boxes of junk food flooding our grocery store shelves. One pound of beef, which is the most digestible protein, the most bioavailable source of iron, and a fantastic source of B12 (iron and B12 deficiencies are among the leading nutrition issues around the world) is clearly nutritionally superior to this cattle feed.

Chickens and pigs have been promoted as more efficient converters of grain to meat than cows at a 2.5 and 3.5 ratio, respectively. However I want to point out that industrial feed is the only chickens and pigs eat in a “typical model,” meaning in a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). These animals do not spend the first part of their lives on ranches. They’re born indoors and will always stay indoors, under fluorescent lights, in cages. From a humane handling perspective, cattle have it much better off than chickens and pigs. In fact, all poultry is exempt from humane slaughter laws. And if you’re looking to do the “least harm,” meaning kill the least number of animals to support your health, a cow can certainly feed many more people than a chicken or a pig. And, as I mentioned earlier, “typical” feedlot beef spends most of their lives on pasture, and even when they do go to a feedlot, they are able to walk around freely, in the sun. Also, while cattle are accused of “taking up” more land than chickens and pigs, pasture land is not usable as crop land. If you’re looking for the most bioavailable source of protein, that doesn’t compete with humans for food and can actually help sequester carbon, consider eating more pasture-based herbivores like cattle, bison, goats, and sheep.

Because this topic can’t fully be covered by one blog post, you can read more about meat in the following posts:

(Video) Step by Step Guide to Easier Meals (Podcast 007: Energizing Habits)

The water, carbon, methane and nutrition in beef

Why it’s necessary to eat animals (how come we can’t just let them improve the land and live out a “natural” life?)

How it’s actually impossible to be vegan

Red meat and cancer – will it ever stop?

(Video) Unsettled Science with Returning Guest Nina Teicholz on Boundless Body Radio!

The ethics and impact of eating meat

And stay tuned for more posts exploring similar issues.

(Video) The diet that helps fight climate change

FAQs

How much food does it take to produce a pound of beef? ›

In reality, it takes 2.5 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef we eat in the United States. For the first six to eight months of a calf 's life it is primarily consuming mother's milk with a nibble of grass and hay to stimulate their rumen development. An average calf is 600 pounds before it begins to eat grain.

How much resources does it take to produce beef? ›

It takes 2,500 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil and the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline to produce one pound of feedlot beef.

How much resources does it take to produce meat? ›

According to the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, it takes up to 10 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of meat, and in the United States alone, 56 million acres of land are used to grow feed for animals, while only 4 million acres are producing plants for humans to eat.

How much water does it take to produce a pound of beef? ›

Do you know what food has the largest global water footprint? Beef. It takes approximately 1,847 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef — that's enough water to fill 39 bathtubs all the way to the top.

How efficient is beef production? ›

Cattle are very efficient at converting grazing resources into beef. While on grass, it can take from 7 to 25 pounds of forage grazed to produce 1 pound of beef.

What is the most efficient meat to raise? ›

Beef cattle are generally the most profitable and easiest livestock to raise for profit. Beef cattle simply require good pasture, supplemental hay during the winter, fresh water, vaccinations and plenty of room to roam.

How much beef can an acre of land produce? ›

What is the genetic yield potential of forages and vegetative crops, rather than reproductive crops such as corn and tomatoes?

How much can a cow produce per day? ›

How much milk does a cow produce? The average cow produces about 19,825 pounds of milk each year. That's 2,305 gallons of milk a year or about 8 gallons of milk every day of her milking period. That's enough for 128 people to have a glass of milk every day!

How much profit does a beef cow produce? ›

A bred cow would bring $1,300 to $1,500 per cow. Profitability varies significantly among individual producers, but Olson said the general picture is that per-head average profit should be from $175 to $200 per cow; the majority of producers aren't making enough money.

How much meat per day is sustainable? ›

The authors say that red meat can still be on a globally sustainable menu but in drastically reduced quantities. The diet allows for roughly 1 tablespoon of red meat per day. That's the equivalent of one decent-sized hamburger a week, or one steak a month. Dairy is not off the table, either.

How much meat consumption is sustainable? ›

If no human-edible crops were fed to livestock, van Zanten and her colleagues calculated, the world could only produce enough meat and dairy for everyone to eat around 20 grams of animal protein per day, enough for a three-ounce piece of meat or cheese (about the size of a deck of cards) each day.

How much corn does it take to produce a pound of beef? ›

These numbers indicate that it takes 6.0 lbs of corn (dry matter) to create a lb of beef on the hoof (21 x 0.85 / 3.0). When the 1150-lb animal is slaughtered, it yields a carcass weighing about 715 lbs, of which 75% or 540 lbs can be used for ground beef.

How much oil does it take to produce a pound of beef? ›

Overall, it takes three-quarters of a gallon of oil to produce a pound of beef.

How much energy does it take to produce a pound of beef? ›

In fact, it takes approximately 107,482 Btu to produce a single pound of beef. Most animal-based products require more energy to produce, although beef is the most inefficient. It takes about 42,992 Btu to produce a pound of pork and 15,013 Btu to produce a pound of chicken.

How much water does it take to make plant based meat? ›

Although statistics vary, it is safe to say that it takes at least three times the amount of water to feed a meat eater compared with that used to feed a vegan. For example, it takes 15,500 litres of water to produce 1 kg beef, contrasted with 180 litres for 1 kg tomatoes and 250 litres for 1 kg potatoes.

How many cows per acre is sustainable? ›

You may have heard a rule-of-thumb is that it takes 1.5 to 2 acres to feed a cow calf pair for 12 months. That means we should be able to have 10 to 13 cows. Let's see how this rule-of-thumb holds up. It looks like our rule-of-thumb held up pretty good, 11 cows on 20 acres, is 1.8 acres per cow.

Why is beef production not sustainable? ›

With the global population expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050 and income levels rising, demand for beef is increasing and will only grow. Yet beef production requires a lot of land, water and energy, and generates considerable waste.

What is sustainable beef production? ›

Sustainable beef production emphasizes alternative health practices to keep animals healthy and costs low. Preventative methods are used to reduce pest, parasite, and stress problems. A livestock component diversifies a grain farm, while manure and forages can reduce input costs and soil erosion in cropping systems.

Is it cheaper to raise your own meat or buy? ›

Price-While the cost of feed can be a lot up front, the cost of natural grass fed beef is much cheaper to raise than to buy in the store.

What is the cheapest farm animal to raise? ›

Chickens are generally a low-cost farm animal; the feed is cheap, and they love to eat all of your scraps. It only takes a few minutes per day to take care of chickens.

How many cows can you put on 10 acres? ›

On average, you can have around 0.4 to 0.8 head of cattle per acre if you want to ensure the grazing at the proper rate. Keep in mind that one head of cattle (or one Animal Unit) often refers to the cow and calf pair.

How many cows can 100 acres support? ›

The general rule of thumb is 1:1. That means one cow per one acre of pasture. Keep in mind that is a minimum requirement. A cow/calf pair will typically require closer to two acres.

Is 5 acres enough for 2 cows? ›

Many livestock specialists and research institutes state different numbers of cows per 5 acres. The livestock specialist Andy McCorkill said that 2 cows are sufficient to graze on 5 acres.

Is 1 acre enough for a cow? ›

Cows require a considerable amount of space when compared to other livestock. “You want at least an acre per cow,” Robbins said. “If they're going to have a baby, you want two acres for a cow-calf pair. That's the minimum amount of land.”

Do cow farmers make a lot of money? ›

Cattle ranchers earn almost twice as much as the average American worker, but their jobs are also physically strenuous. Income and profit fluctuates from year to year due to shifting overhead costs, government subsidies and public policies regulating the beef industry.

How many cows are needed to make a profit? ›

As a rough guide, farmers can expect to make a full-time income from a dairy herd of about 60-80 cows, and a beef herd of at least 150 cows.

How much does a 1000 lb cow eat a day? ›

Cows will voluntarily consume about 2 percent of their body weight or 24 pounds per day. The 24 pounds is based on 100 percent dry matter. Grass hays often will be 7 percent to 10 percent moisture.

How much is a 800 lb steer worth? ›

Tonsor projects 2020 steer calf prices to average $173 to $181. He sees 700- to 800-pound steers averaging $149 to $155 per cwt. Fed steers are forecast to average $117 to $121 in 2020. Those prices are similar to 2018, when 3% more pounds of beef were marketed than in 2017.

How much money does a single cow make? ›

Still, on average, large farms show the most profit per cow at about $275 per cow. Farms with less than 200 cows have profits of about $160 per cow. Herds with 200 to 500 cows are seeing profits of just $84 per cow.

What cattle breed brings the most money? ›

What breed of cattle is most profitable? Angus: This is the most popular breed of beef cattle. Their meat quality is excellent and they provide 50 percent of their weight in the meat.

What is the most sustainable meat to eat? ›

In a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), researchers found chicken is the most sustainable choice out of all the different types of meat. When shopping, look for organic, grass-fed, and pasture-raised labels.

Can eating meat ever be sustainable? ›

It's possible to eat meat and be environmentally and socially conscious, but it means trying not to buy meat that is mass-produced. Last year, we carried out research that examined the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted by the biggest global meat and dairy companies.

Will eating less meat save the planet? ›

By eating less beef, we can start to decrease that demand. You do not have to become a vegan to do this. According to one recent study, if every person in the U.S. cut their meat consumption by 25 percent, it would reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 1 percent.

Is meat more sustainable than fish? ›

Bottom line: in general, seafood tends to be on the lower end of the carbon scale, on par with more carbon-friendly types of meat such as chicken.

What is the carbon footprint of a meat eater? ›

Food's Carbon Footprint: Eat vegetarian

Shrink That Footprint's chart shows that a meat lover has the highest carbon footprint at 3.3 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. A vegan diet has the lowest carbon footprint at just 1.5 tons CO2e (Carbon Dioxide Equivalent).

Is meat production really bad for the environment? ›

There are three big environmental issues with the production of meat - feed sourcing, manure processing, and climate change. Raising meat takes vast quantities of feed. Millions of acres have been plowed over for large, monoculture crop fields dedicated to feeding livestock.

What is the best feed to finish a steer? ›

10-15 lbs. per day of corn, oats or barley fed to grazing cattle is a good finishing ration. This fed to a 900-1000 pound steer for 3-4 months should will you a nicely finished animal. If you do not have access to pasture or if you are finishing during the winter, you might increase the amount of grain to 15-18 lbs.

How much meat will a 1000 pound steer yield? ›

In summary, a steer weighing 1,000 pounds on the hoof will average around 430 pounds of retail cuts (steaks, roasts, ground beef, stew beef, etc.).

How much corn does it take to finish a beef? ›

Corn production requirements

Depending on the size and weight of the cattle, the amount of forage available for growing lighter calves, access to low-priced byproducts and other factors, 50 to 80 bushels are typically required to finish one steer.

How much energy does it take to produce a pound of beef? ›

In fact, it takes approximately 107,482 Btu to produce a single pound of beef. Most animal-based products require more energy to produce, although beef is the most inefficient. It takes about 42,992 Btu to produce a pound of pork and 15,013 Btu to produce a pound of chicken.

How much food would it take to gain a pound? ›

"1 pound contains 3,500 calories. Logically, eating an extra 3,500 calories, or 500 more calories each day for a week, will lead to a 1-pound weight gain," Live Strong reports.

How much food does it take to gain a pound? ›

An increase of at least 500 to 1000 calories each day will promote a one to two pound weight gain per week. It takes an extra 3500 calories to gain one pound of body weight.

How much corn does it take to produce a pound of beef? ›

These numbers indicate that it takes 6.0 lbs of corn (dry matter) to create a lb of beef on the hoof (21 x 0.85 / 3.0). When the 1150-lb animal is slaughtered, it yields a carcass weighing about 715 lbs, of which 75% or 540 lbs can be used for ground beef.

How much oil does it take to produce a pound of beef? ›

Overall, it takes three-quarters of a gallon of oil to produce a pound of beef.

How much meat will a 1000 pound steer yield? ›

In summary, a steer weighing 1,000 pounds on the hoof will average around 430 pounds of retail cuts (steaks, roasts, ground beef, stew beef, etc.).

How much oil does it take to make a pound of meat? ›

Only 1 or 2 tablespoons of oil is required per pound of ingredients. Different ingredients must be added to the pan at the appropriate times to ensure that all the ingredients are cooked to the proper doneness.

Can you gain a pound in 1 meal? ›

Many people complain that they gain weight around the holidays, but you'll be happy to know that you can't really gain weight from a single meal or day of overeating.

Is it possible to gain 1 pound in a day? ›

Fitness experts, dieticians, and nutritionists, and research would tell you that one cannot gain weight overnight, because to gain one pound of fat, you would have to eat an excess of about 3500 calories in a single day (after subtracting the requisite calories required to run regular bodily functions, read about “ ...

Can you gain a pound from one meal? ›

Keep in mind that it's virtually impossible to gain weight after one large meal. If you get on the scale and see your number go up, it's simply because your blood volume level has increased due to the large quantity of food that you've eaten.

How long does it take to gain 1 pound? ›

Healthy weight gain of 1-2 pounds per week can be expected when reasonably increasing energy intake. It takes an excess of about 2,000 to 2,500 calories per week to support the gain of a pound of lean muscle and about 3,500 calories per week to gain a pound of fat.

Is it hard to gain 1 pound? ›

Calories Needed to Gain 1 Pound

It takes an added 3,500 calories to gain a pound. To gain weight at a safe rate of around 0.5 to 1 pound each week, you'll need to eat an extra 1,750 to 3,500 calories weekly, which corresponds to an extra 250 to 500 calories a day.

Can you gain 5 pounds in a day? ›

In reality, this weight gain is temporary and nothing to worry about. It's impossible to gain five pounds of fat in a day – to do this, you'd have to eat over 20,000 calories in 24 hours. When your scale shows a higher number, it's usually water weight.

What is the best feed to finish a steer? ›

10-15 lbs. per day of corn, oats or barley fed to grazing cattle is a good finishing ration. This fed to a 900-1000 pound steer for 3-4 months should will you a nicely finished animal. If you do not have access to pasture or if you are finishing during the winter, you might increase the amount of grain to 15-18 lbs.

How much corn does it take to finish a beef? ›

Corn production requirements

Depending on the size and weight of the cattle, the amount of forage available for growing lighter calves, access to low-priced byproducts and other factors, 50 to 80 bushels are typically required to finish one steer.

How much meat does a 1200 lb cow yield? ›

A 1200-pound beef animal will yield a hot carcass weight of approximately 750 pounds. Once cooled, the carcass weight will be approximately 730 pounds. When de-boned and trimmed, there will be approximately 500 pounds of trimmed and de- boned meat for wrapping and freezing.

Videos

1. The secret lab making the most sustainable food in the world | Just Might Work by Freethink
(Freethink)
2. Making Pemmican - The Ultimate Survival Food
(2 Guys & A Cooler)
3. The Corporatization of Food
(PowerfulJRE)
4. The Hidden Costs of Hamburgers
(Reveal)
5. Why companies are mass-producing edible insects
(Verge Science)
6. Eating Only Raw Meat (Carnivore Diet)? A Doctor Reacts! #shorts #carnivore
(Doctor Youn)

Top Articles

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Rueben Jacobs

Last Updated: 11/22/2022

Views: 5539

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (77 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Rueben Jacobs

Birthday: 1999-03-14

Address: 951 Caterina Walk, Schambergerside, CA 67667-0896

Phone: +6881806848632

Job: Internal Education Planner

Hobby: Candle making, Cabaret, Poi, Gambling, Rock climbing, Wood carving, Computer programming

Introduction: My name is Rueben Jacobs, I am a cooperative, beautiful, kind, comfortable, glamorous, open, magnificent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.