In the US, most of the largest beef-producing states are found in the great plains region, with a few notable exceptions in the Midwest and Florida.
In order from most to least, the largest beef-producing states are Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Montana, Kentucky, North Dakota, Florida, and Arkansas.
The US is the largest beef producer in the entire world, which is hardly surprising when you consider it’s the fourth largest country in the entire world. The US has vast tracts of land suitable for large-scale ranching and farming, but the land isn’t evenly distributed across the country, and some states have climates or geography that makes ranching difficult.
In this article, we’ll be exploring the states that top the leader board of beef producers and finding out what makes them great places to raise beef cattle. We’ll also look at the facts and figures to see just how far ahead Texas is when it comes to ranching and how the US compares to other countries.
Top 11 Beef-producing States in the US:
Let’s look at how all the states rank, then we’ll look at each one individually.
US Top 11 States Beef Cattle Inventory 2021:
|Rank||State||Beef Head of Cattle|
Source: NASS Cattle Survey
1: Texas (6.7 Million Cattle)
Texas is the largest state in the US by land area. Although large parts of the Southern border region and West Texas are too arid for livestock, the north and east of the state are more temperate, and the vast plains mean cattle can roam free and graze year-round.
In 2021 there were 6,685,000 beef cattle in Texas, which is more than 15% of the entire US beef stock.
2: Oklahoma (2.2 Million Cattle)
Oklahoma is covered in the west by the great plains region, and although the eat of the state is covered by the Ozark mountains, the central region is covered by the Osage Plains, which are perfect for livestock ranching.
In 2021 there were 2,189,000 beef cattle in Oklahoma.
3: Missouri (2 Million Cattle)
The entire northern half of Missouri falls within the Northern Plains region in the US, which is cheap and readily available land that is ideal for cattle ranching.
Despite its relatively low population, Missouri punches above its weight in cattle production with 2,035,000 beef cattle in 2021.
4: Nebraska (1.9 Million Cattle)
Nebraska is the stereotypical midwestern state. Plains stretch as far as the eye can see, with the Great Plains in the North and the Dissected Till Plains in the East.
Agriculture plays a major role in the economy of Nebraska with figures from the North American Meat Institute showing the meat industry brings in over Nine Billion Dollars annually.
Read More: How Many Acres To Raise a Cow?
As of 2021, Nebraska has 1,900,000 beef cattle.
5: South Dakota (1.8 Million Cattle)
Although some parts of South Dakota are completely unsuitable for any type of livestock, (the Badlands National Park is in South Dakota) there are pockets of land along the edge of the Black Hills that are humid enough for pasture land.
South Dakota is home to the Blair Brothers Cattle Ranch, covering an area of over 40,000 acres it’s the eighth largest cattle ranch in the US.
South Dakota has 1,799,000 head of beef cattle as of 2021.
6: Kansas (1.5 Million Cattle)
Kansas is sometimes known as “The Wheat State”, due to its vast plains of crop land, but Kansas is not limited to arable agriculture.
Kansas has 1.477 Million beef cattle, making it the sixth largest beef producing state in the US, despite only being the 15th largest by land area.
Kansas is right in the middle of the US geographically, so it’s an excellent place to raise cattle since shipping costs are minimized to both the east and west coast population centers.
Shipping is a major expense in the meat industry, with transport costs for cattle averaging $1.35 per mile.
Read More: Costs Involved with Raising Cattle
Montana’s economy is heavily reliant on primary industries like agriculture and forestry.
The climate of Montana is perfectly suited to European cattle breeds including Angus, Hereford, and Limousin. In recent years, some producers in Montana have also started raising Japanese Wagyu cattle breeds.
As of 2021, Montana has 1,419,000 beef cattle, which means there are 1.5 beef cows for every Montana resident!
8: Kentucky (983,000 Cattle)
The entire eastern half of Kentucky is covered by the Appalachian Mountains, while the east is covered by the great plains.
You may have heard of Kentucky Bluegrass, a popular species of grass that originated in Kentucky that’s often planted in pastures to feed cattle.
Read More: Best Type of Grass To Feed Cows
Kentucky is still a rural state, but with several large population centers. While this is bad news for arable agriculture, which generally requires large tracts of undeveloped land for maximum efficiency, it’s great news for cattle ranchers who can make use of the abundance of cheap terrain for beef pastures.
In total, Kentucky has 983,000 beef cattle, making it the eighth largest beef producing state in the US.
9: North Dakota (975,000 Cattle)
North Dakota is one of the most heavily farmed states in the US, with over 90% of North Dakota’s available land being used for farms and ranches.
North Dakota has 975,000 beef cattle in total, spread across North Dakota’s 40 million acres of farmland.
10: Florida (929,000 Cattle)
Not typically thought of as a farming state, Florida is deceptively reliant on agriculture. The warm, temperate climate and generally flat land makes Florida the perfect place to farm crops and raise cattle.
According to the 2021 Feeding the Economy Report, over 1.4 million people are directly employed in the agriculture industry in Florida, and agriculture contributes $131 billion to the economy each year.
As of 2021, Florida has 929,000 beef cattle.
11: Arkansas (925,000 Cattle)
Arkansas may only be #11 in terms of beef production, but it’s also the #1 poultry producing state, and the #1 diamond producing state!
Arkansas has humid summers and mild winters which is perfect for beef ranching since the cattle can stay out grazing year-round without getting cold.
Arkansas has a total of 925,000 beef cattle.
To sum up, the largest beef-producing state in the US is Texas, followed by Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota.
Most of the most productive beef states are found in the central plains region of the US, with a few notable exceptions like Florida.
In the midwest, ranching and agriculture make up a huge portion of the local economy, with over 90% of the land in some states being used for farming and ranching.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.