How Long Does It Take to Raise a Beef Cow?

Raising cattle for beef production is a complex process that can take over two years from birth to slaughter. The exact time frame depends on the animal’s diet and growth rate. This article provides an overview of the beef cattle production cycle and the factors that influence how long it takes to raise beef cows ready for harvest.

Beef Cattle Life Stages

Cattle go through various life stages as they mature from calves to finished cattle ready for processing into beef products. Here is a summary of the key phases:

Cow-Calf Stage

  • The process begins with a breeding herd of mother cows that give birth to calves annually.

  • Newborn calves weigh 60-100 pounds. They get nutrition from their mother’s milk and graze on pasture grasses.

  • Calves continue nursing until they are weaned at 6-10 months old when they weigh 450-700 pounds.

  • About 1/3 of female calves remain in the herd as replacement heifers to become mother cows.

Stocker/Backgrounder Stage

  • After weaning, young cattle continue grazing on pasture while taking supplemental feed to meet nutritional needs.

  • Farmers may sell cattle at auction markets during this growth phase.

Feedyard Stage

  • Mature cattle often go to feedyards for 4-6 months of specialized feeding before finishing.

  • Here they eat a balanced diet and gain weight rapidly. Feed includes hay, grain, and byproducts.

  • Cattle in feedyards have room to move around and constant care from farmers.

Beef Processing

  • Once cattle reach a finished weight of 1,200-1,400 lbs, they go to beef packing plants.

  • USDA inspectors oversee strict standards for safety, humane handling, and quality.

  • Beef is shipped to grocery stores, restaurants, and export markets.

Factors Affecting Time to Finish Cattle

Raising cattle on pasture alone takes the longest time. Here are key factors that impact how long it takes to finish beef cattle for harvest:

  • Diet – Cattle raised entirely on grass take 26-28 months to finish. Grain-finished cattle in feedyards take 14-18 months.

  • Breed – Some breeds like Angus mature quicker than others.

  • Gender – Steers grow faster than heifers.

  • Weight goals – Target finished weight affects total time to grow.

  • Weather – Colder climates slow pasture grass growth, extending time on feed.

  • Animal health – Disease and illness can delay growth.

Phases of Raising Beef Cattle

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the typical phases in a beef cow’s life cycle:

Cow-Calf Stage

The cow-calf stage starts the beef production cycle. Here are key points about this phase:

  • Mother cows give birth to one calf annually. Gestation is about 9 months.

  • Calves nurse on their mother’s milk after birth. This provides antibodies for immune protection.

  • In the first 2-3 months, calves graze on pasture alongside their mothers.

  • After 3 months, calves increasingly rely on grazing for nutrition versus milk.

  • Weaning typically occurs at 6-10 months of age.

This stage lasts about 6-10 months as calves grow until they are weaned off milk and transitioned to grazing and supplementary feed.

Stocker/Backgrounder Stage

After weaning, young cattle enter the stocker/backgrounder stage where they continue developing. Here are key points:

  • Calves graze on pasture or rangeland while taking supplemental feed with nutrients needed for growth.

  • Farmers provide mineral supplements, vaccines, and monitoring.

  • Water, fence, and shelter resources enable grazing cattle to thrive.

  • Stockers weigh 450-700 pounds at weaning. Backgrounding goes until cattle weigh 800-1000 pounds.

  • At 8-12 months old, some heifers join the mother cow herd for breeding. Others get sold along with steers.

This intermediate stage lasts 4-8 months for most beef cattle. It prepares them for the final feeding phase.

Feedyard Stage

The feedyard or feedlot phase specializes in efficient finishing of market-ready fed cattle. Here are key points about this stage:

  • Mature cattle enter feedyards at 12-18 months old weighing up to 1,000 pounds.

  • The goal is rapid weight gain on a balanced high-energy diet.

  • Feed includes grain, hay, silage, and byproducts like potato peels or sugar beet pulp.

  • Cattle have constant access to feed and clean water.

  • Pen space allows room for cattle to move around.

  • Farmers and specialists monitor cattle health and growth.

  • Growth promoting implants or supplements are sometimes used.

  • Feedyard time frame is typically 4-6 months for finishing.

This intensive feeding phase aims to add muscle and fat to cattle until they reach an ideal market weight.

Beef Processing

Once cattle achieve sufficient weight and finish, they are sent to beef packing plants for processing. Here are key points about this final phase:

  • Fed cattle reach 1,200-1,400 pounds at around 18-22 months old.

  • USDA inspectors enforce health, safety and humane standards during processing.

  • After passing inspection, cattle are humanely harvested and processed into beef products.

  • Carcasses are chilled, fabricated into cuts, then shipped to retailers and restaurants.

  • Brands help identify and track beef back to its source farm.

  • All parts of cattle are used, nothing goes to waste. Bones, organs, blood, and fat get turned into products.

This stage represents the endpoint after around 14-28 months of raising cattle for beef.


  • 14-18 Months for grain-finished cattle

  • 26-28 Months for grass-finished cattle

Key factors impacting timeframes include diet, breed, gender, target weight, location and animal health. Careful management by farmers ensures cattle have good welfare and high-quality beef is produced.

What I Learned Raising Beef Cattle on My Homestead (so far)


How long does it take to raise a cow for slaughter?

Choice. Slaughter steers, heifers, and cows 30 to 42 months of age possessing the minimum qualifications for Choice have a fat covering over the crops, back, loin, rump, and ribs that tends to be moderately thick. The brisket, flanks, and cod or udder show a marked fullness and the muscling is firm.

Can you raise a beef cow on 1 acre?

With a good system at top efficiency, and average production of three tons per acre, you’ll need 2.6 acres to meet the dry matter requirements of the 1,000-pound cow for a year. If you are continuously grazing, you will need more acres.

Is it worth it to raise your own beef?

Free access to trace mineral and high-magnesium blocks, water, and pasture all help to turn out fine beef, much leaner than “store-bought” and at a competitive cost. As one might expect, the first thing to consider when comparing home-raised versus store-bought meat is quality.

How much does it cost to raise 1 beef cow?

Generally, cows cost between $500 and $1,000 per year to keep. This includes their care and feed. Purchasing a cow and raising it will automatically become less expensive if you have extra land to grass-feed it. 2 to 5 acres of grassland are required per cow.

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