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    Best Breeds of Cattle for Beef

    Authored by Katie Navarra

    If you’re ready to bring beef cattle to your farm, choosing a breed best suited for your operation is essential to maximize your investment. Jason Banta, Ph.D., PAS, a beef cattle specialist at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, suggests new producers look for breed crosses and breeds of cattle that are common in their area.

    “This would help producers identify cattle that fit the environment and would likely produce calves that would be desirable to local buyers,” he said.

    When choosing a beef cattle breed, you’ll want to consider your end goal, said Dan Buskirk, PhD, PAS, an associate professor/beef extension specialist at Michigan State University. Before buying, he suggests asking yourself:

    • Will cattle be sold as weaned calves, or yearlings, or finished cattle? 
    • Will cattle be fed forage or grains for finishing? 
    • Will breeds be used as straightbred or will breeds be used in a planned crossbreeding system to gain advantages of heterosis? Heterosis is when the offspring outperform from the expected average of the straightbred parents. 
    • How do breeds complement one another when cross breeding? 

    Common beef cattle breeds in the U.S.

    According to Banta, based on the number of registered animals in the United States, the Top 5 beef cattle breeds are Angus, Hereford, Red Angus, Simmental, and Charolais. 

    “However, the vast majority of cattle in the U.S. are not registered. Commercial cattle are generally crosses of the breeds listed above and a few others,” he said. “In hotter areas of the U.S., crosses with Brahman or Brahman-influenced cattle like Brangus, Beefmaster, and Santa Gertrudis would be common.”

    Relative breed differences for US breed breeds

       Breed   Birth Weight lbs.Weaning Weight, lbs.Yearling Weight, lbs.Mature Weight, lbs. Milk, lbs.                  Marbling    Ribeye area  Fat, in           Carcass weight, lbs.Lean-to-fat 
     RedAngus  *********************************
     Simmental    ***********************************

    8 best beef cattle breeds

    Angus cow

    Black and red Angus cattle are popular among beef producers because of their meat quality and marbling. Black Angus has the largest mature weight of any major beef breed and Red Angus weigh a little less, according to Banta. 

    The solid-colored cattle are fertile and prefer cooler, less humid temperatures and require shade. However, they tend to command higher prices at auction than other breeds. Only minor differences exist between Black and Red Angus. The most obvious being color--but Black Angus are slightly larger, and the Red Angus have stronger maternal instincts.


    The Hereford is easily identifiable by its distinctive white face and red coat combination and is known for good maternal instincts.

    “Herefords have a bit lower milk production and tend to have lower maintenance requirements,” Buskirk said. “The breed is known to be hardy, fitting well in low energy availability environments.”


    Simmental cattle are slightly larger than the Herford or the Angus breeds and mature quickly from calf to market. High fertility rates and minimum fat make them a popular choice. Buying any cattle breed from a reputable breeder can ensure you get a high-quality animal.


    The Charolais is easy to identify by its white coat and pink muzzle. The breed was developed in France and is well-suited to a range of climates. Their feed conversion rate is high, and they typically mature quickly making them an efficient breed for feedlots.

    “Charolais and Simmental are breeds that were developed from draft animals and therefore tend to have increased leanness and muscling,” Buskirk noted. 


    A pronounced hump where the neck meets the cow’s shoulder and neck signals a cow is a Brahman. The American Brahman was developed in the United States. The intermediate-sized breed is known for producing more milk than other beef cattle allowing calves to wean faster. In addition, efficiency, and heat tolerance make them a cost-effective investment.


    In the 1930s and 1940s, farmers began crossing Brahman and Angus cattle because Brahman cattle are known for being hardy, having excellent maternal instincts, and having strong disease resistance. Angus is prized for superior carcass quality, milk quality, and fertility. Crossing the two created the Brangus breed by using the outstanding qualities of both breeds. Registered Brangus cattle have 5/8 Angus and 3/8 Brahman lineage.


    Beefmaster cattle are 50% Brahman, 25% Hereford, and 25% Milking Shorthorn a breed developed by the Laster Ranch, then found in Texas. The goal of the three-breed cross was to create a breed with excellent fertility, milking ability, weight, conformation, hardiness, and disposition.

    Santa Gertrudis

    The famous King Ranch developed the Santa Gertrudis breed in the early 20th century from stock of about five-eighths Shorthorn and three-eighths Brahman lineage. The result—the Santa Gertrudis is one of the heaviest cattle breeds and is typically red with small white markings on the head.

    What about Wagyu beef?

    Japanese Wagyu beef has become popular at trendy, high-end restaurants and thus pays farmers a higher price. However, that is partly because it can cost more to raise than the breeds mentioned above.

    “It is important to recognize that although the Wagyu breed has superior marbling compared to most of our traditional U.S. breeds, their numbers have not allowed as much genetic progress in numerous other traits,” said Buskirk, “For example, Wagyu would be expected to grow more slowly and be lighter at harvest than most British (Angus, Red Angus, Hereford) and Continental (Charolais, Simmental) breeds. Therefore, one must have a clear marketing plan that rewards marbling (intramuscular fat) at a level that makes up for lack of pounds of product.”

    More cattle raising information

    Want to be a cattle farmer but don't know where to start? Check out these 9 tips for raising cows on your land.
    Raising dairy cattle has many benefits and joys. Find details on 7 breeds of cattle popular for dairy production.