Who We Are


Backgrounding? Cow-calf operation? We know there are terms used in beef production that are simply unfamiliar or even unusual. We hope this glossary will help explain some of the complex terms you may hear from time to time.


Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS): An agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that oversees marketing agreements and orders, administers research and promotion programs, and purchase commodities for federal food programs.

Antibiotic: A drug used to treat infections caused by bacteria and other micro-organisms.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS): USDA agency providing leadership in ensuring the health and care of animals and plants. APHIS is responsible for port inspection and the detection and eradication of unwanted organisms from the United States and administers the Animal Welfare Act.

Artificial insemination (AI): Reproductive technology used by producers to take advantage of the highest quality cattle genetics. It is performed by placing semen into the female reproductive tract.

Auction market: A live animal market at which an auctioneer sells cattle to the highest bidder.


Backgrounding: Program for raising calves from the time they are weaned until they are sent to the feedlot for finishing.

Beef: Meat from cattle other than calves. Meat from calves is called veal.

Beef belt: The general area of the central United States (North Dakota to Texas) where commercial beef production, slaughter, and processing are concentrated.

Beef Checkoff: Program funded by beef producers to conduct beef promotion, research and education activities. One dollar per head of cattle is collected each time an animal is sold.

Beef producer: An individual who raises cattle to produce beef.

Beef Quality Assurance (BQA): Proven system of science-based management practices that help improve the quality and safety of beef. The BQA program provides educational programs for beef producers.

Beef Industry Food Safety Council (BIFSCo): Industry group bringing together experts from all segments of the beef production chain to develop industry-wide, science-based strategies to eliminate the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 and other foodborne pathogens in beef.

Bovine: A ruminant mammal belonging to the genus Bos. The biological subfamily Bovinae includes cattle, bison, water buffalo and yak.

Boxed beef: Cuts of beef packed in boxes for shipping from packing plant to retailers. Beef carcasses are cut into primal (round, loins, ribs and chuck) and subprimal cuts that are boxed for further processing into cuts available at the grocery store and in restaurants.

Branded beef: A beef product specifically labeled and differentiated from commodity items by its brand name. Certified Angus Beef ® is an example.

Breakeven price: Sale price needed to recover the cost of production.

Breed: Cattle of common origin and having characteristics that distinguish them from other groups within the same species.

Breeder: The owner of the dam (mother) of a calf at the time she was mated or bred to produce offspring.

British breeds: Breeds of cattle, such as Angus, Hereford and Shorthorn, originating in Great Britain and first brought to the United States in the late 1700s. Compared to Continental breeds, British breeds are generally smaller in size, reach mature size at an earlier age, have less growth potential, excel in fertility and calving ease, attain higher quality grades and yield carcasses with a lower percentage of saleable product.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE): Frequently called “mad cow” disease, BSE is a degenerative neurological disease affecting the central nervous system (CNS) in cattle. BSE affects older cattle, typically more than 30 months of age. The vast majority of the cattle going to market in the United States are younger than 24 months old.

Bull: Bovine male, also called a sire. The term usually denotes animals of breeding age.

Bullock: Young bull, typically less than 20 months of age.

Byproduct: Also referred to as the drop, the byproduct is comprised of the non-meat items, such as the hide, cheek meat, liver, and tripe (intestine), derived from a slaughter steer. There are 23 byproduct items.


Calf: Young male or female bovine animal less than 1 year of age.

Calve or calving: Giving birth to a calf.

Case-ready: Pre-packaged beef cuts received by retailers not requiring further processing before being put in the retail meat case.

Cash market price: Price that results when cattle go to market.

Certified organic beef: Beef certified by USDA as being from cattle raised according to National Organic Program (NOP) standards, which require that cattle be fed 100-percent organic feed and are not given hormones or antibiotics for any reason. Sick animals cannot be denied treatment but those receiving antibiotics are not eligible for inclusion in the NOP.

Chemical decontamination: One of a series of interventions employed at meat packing plants to eliminate potential bacteria. The process involves applying chemical decontaminates such as organic acids or sodium chloride.

Chuck: Wholesale cut (shoulder) of the beef carcass.

Clean Water Act: Environmental Protection Agency’s set of laws passed in 1972 to regulate water pollution in the United States. This was the first-ever federal regulation of water pollution, which gave the EPA the right to set standards and enforce them. The goal of this act was to completely stop the discharge of pollutants into U.S. water and make all bodies of water in the United States suitable for fishing and swimming.

Colostrum: First milk given by a female following delivery of a calf. High in antibodies that protect the calf from harmful microorganisms.

Conjugated linoleic acid: A polyunsaturated fatty acid found in beef and dairy products that health professionals believe has cancer-fighting properties.

Continental breeds: Continental European breeds also are commonly referred to as “exotic” breeds and include Charolais, Chianina, Gelbvieh, Limousin, Maine Anjou, Salers and Simmental. Most of these breeds are new to the U.S., introduced in the late 1960s and early 1970s primarily to improve the growth rate and leanness of existing breeds.

Cow: Sexually mature female bovine animal that has produced a calf.

Cow-calf operation: Production operation that maintains a breeding herd and produces weaned calves. Also the production site where cattle spend the majority of their lives.

Crossbreeding: Mating animals from different breeds. Utilized to take advantage of hybrid vigor (heterosis) and breed complimentary.

Cud: Portion of feed that cattle regurgitate for further chewing.

Cull: To eliminate one or more animals from the breeding herd or stock.

Custom feeding: Cattle feeding operation providing facilities, labor, feed and care as a service. Custom feeders often do not own cattle on their operations.

CWT: Abbreviation for the term per hundredweight (100 lb).


Dry (cow): Refers to a non-lactating female.


Ear tag: Method of identification by which a numbered, lettered and/or colored tag is placed in the ear.

E. coli O157:H7: A strain of the bacterium Escherichia coli that produces a virulent toxin and causes human illness.

Embryo transfer: Transfer of fertilized egg(s) from a donor female to one or more recipient females.

Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP): NCBA program which annually recognizes seven regional beef producers exhibiting outstanding commitment to protecting the environment and improving fish and wildlife habitats while operating profitable cattle operations.

European breed: Breed originating in European countries other than England (these are called British breeds); a larger dual-purpose breed such as Charolais, Simmental and Limousin; also called continental or exotic breed in the United States.


Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Responsible for protecting public health by assuring the safety, efficacy and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, the food supply, cosmetics and products that emit radiation.

Fed cattle: Steers and heifers that have been fed a high-energy ration, usually for 4 to 6 months in a feedlot.

Feeder: Either: 1) cattle that need further feeding prior to slaughter; or 2) a producer who feeds cattle.

Feedlot: Cattle operation in which the animals are fed grain and other concentrates for usually 90-120 days. Feedlots range in size from fewer than 100-head capacity to thousands.

Finished cattle: Fed cattle that have completed their time in the feedlot and are now ready for slaughter.

Forage: Grazed or harvested herbaceous plants that are consumed/eaten by cattle.

Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS): USDA agency with the mission of protecting consumers by ensuring that meat, poultry and egg products are safe, wholesome and accurately labeled. FSIS also monitors the use of drugs in livestock by routinely sampling for residues in food animals.

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD): Highly contagious disease among cattle, sheep, goats, deer and other cloven-hooved ruminant animals. It does not affect humans or food safety.

Futures market: Electronic market through which buyers and sellers trade contracts on commodities or raw materials. Futures contracts are available for a variety of delivery months. However, delivery of actual products seldom occurs. Futures markets are used as a risk management tool or as a speculative venture.


Grade and yield: Grade designates the quality of the beef (Prime, Choice, Select) and yield designates the percentage of meat that a carcass will produce. The grade and yield determine the price a producer/feeder will be paid for the animal.

Grain-fed beef: Grain-fed cattle spend most of their lives eating grass in pastures, then generally move to a feedlot where they eat a high-energy grain diet for four to six months. The most widely produced kind of beef.

Grass-finished beef: Designation of beef produced from cattle raised on pasture their whole life.

Growth promotant: Hormones typically administered through a small pellet implanted under the skin on the back of an animal’s ear to help cattle grow more efficiently and produce more lean muscle and less fat. Pellets release tiny amounts of hormone and safely dissolve as treatment is completed.


Harvest: The process of turning cattle into beef, generally occurring at a packing or processing plant.

Heifer: Young female bovine cow prior to the time that she has produced her first calf.

Heiferrette: Heifer that has calved once and is then fed for slaughter, its calf has usually died or been weaned at an early age.

Herd: Group of cattle (usually cows) that are in a similar management program.

Hide: The skin from a single head of cattle.

High-temperature/ steam vacuuming: An intervention used in packing plants to eliminate potential bacteria such as E. coli O158:H7.


Integration: Bringing together two or more segments of beef productions and processing under one centrally organized unit.

Intermuscular fat: Fat located between muscle systems. Also called seam fat.

Intramuscular fat: Fat within the muscle. Also called marbling.


Kosher meat: Meat from cloven hoofed animals such as cattle and hogs that have been slaughtered according to Jewish practices.


Livestock auction market: A live animal market at which an auctioneer sells cattle to the highest bidder.

Legume: Any plant type within the family Leguminosae, such as pea, bean, alfalfa and clover.

Loin: The portion of the beef carcass from which T-bone, porterhouse tenderloin and sirloin steaks are derived. See beef cut chart at

Long yearling: Animal between 19 months and 2 years of age.


Marbling: Flecks of intramuscular fat distributed in muscle tissue. Marbling is evaluated by examination of the ribeye area between the twelfth and thirteenth ribs.

Maverick: Unbranded animal, usually on the range.

Meat: Muscle tissue of the animal carcass used for food.

Middle meats: Rib and loin of a beef carcass. These primals generally yield the highest-priced beef cuts.


Natural beef: Designation for a kind of beef. The term may be used in labeling if “the product does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, or chemical preservative or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient;” and “the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed.” The government’s definition of natural does not relate to the way animals are raised or what they are fed.

Nutrient density: Amount of essential nutrients relative to the number of calories in a given amount of food.


Packing plant: Facility in which cattle are slaughtered and processed.

Pathogen: A biological agent that causes disease or illness in its host.

Pasture rotation: Rotation of animals from one pasture to another so that some pasture areas have no livestock grazing on them during certain periods of time.

Purebred: Animal eligible for registry with a recognized breed association.

Purveyor: Firm that purchases beef (usually from a packer), then performs some fabrication before selling the beef to another firm.


Quality grades: Grades such as Prime, Choice and Select that group slaughter cattle and carcasses into value- and palatability-based categories. Grades are determined primarily by marbling and age of animal.


Ration: Feed provided to an animal during a single 24-hour period.

Retail cuts: Cuts of beef in sizes that are purchased by the consumer.

Rib: The part of the carcass from which ribeye steaks, ribeye roasts, rib roasts and back ribs are derived. See cut chart at

Roughage: Feed that is high in fiber, low in digestible nutrients and low in energy (e.g., hay, straw, silage and pasture).

Rumen: A compartment of the ruminant stomach that is a large fermentation pouch where bacteria and protozoa break down fibrous plant material swallowed by the animal.

Ruminant: Mammal whose stomach has four parts — rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum. Cattle, sheep, goats, deer and elk are ruminants. Ruminant animals are cud chewers.


Short yearling: Animal is more than one year of age but less than 18 months of age.

Silage: Forage, corn fodder or sorghum preserved by fermentation that produces acids similar to the acids used to make pickled foods for people.

Sire: Male parent.

Steer: Bovine male castrated prior to puberty.

Stocker: Weaned cattle that are fed high-roughage diets (including grazing) before going into the feedlot.

Stunning: A process used in packing plants to instantly render cattle insensible to ensure they do not feel pain at slaughter.


Veal: Meat from young cattle. Veal typically comes from dairy bull calves.


Withdrawal period: Specified time period between when an animal is treated with an antibiotic and when it can go to a meat packing plant.

Weaning (wean): Separating young animals from their dams.


Yearling: An animal that is one year old, or not yet two years old.

Yield: Percentage of meat recovered from an animal.