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History of Cattle Production in North Dakota

 


 

Cattle Breeds

 

The first cattle brought to North Dakota were mixed “native” cattle used for draft, meat, and milk. The range-tough Texas Longhorn, a Spanish breed, was introduced into the western part of the state in the 1880s. Improved breeds like the Shorthorn, originally from England, were also introduced at this time. Cattle of this breed were large, strong, docile oxen, and good milkers. The Hereford, originally a triple-purpose breed from England, was later bred for beef production. The Angus was also an early introduction, selected for beef quality. These breeds were added to the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station herd in the early years.


Cattle breeds used only for beef production became even more common by the 1950s. At the time, the preferred breeds were stocky, fat, and early maturing. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the demand for leaner meat led to the introduction of breeds with less fat and a higher dressing percentage. Today, the most common breeds in North Dakota are Angus, Hereford, Simmental, Charolais, Gelbvieh, Limousin, and Saler. Other breeds raised in the state include BueLingo, Chiangus, Galloway, Longhorn, Maine Anjou, Polled Hereford, Red Angus, Red Poll, Shorthorn, South Devon, Tarentaise, and Wagyu.


Unlike beef breeds, the breeds chosen for the dairy industry have changed little over the years. Native and Jersey cows made up the first dairy herd at the Experiment Station, with Holstein-Friesian cattle being bred at New Salem. Today, the majority of dairy cattle throughout the country are Holstein. Although cow numbers have dropped, milk production per cow has increased nearly six-fold since the 1900s due to improved nutrition, genetics, and management.


Research

 

The North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station began early in the state’s history. The first director, H.E. Stockbridge, said in the first annual report in 1891 that the Station had a mandate to be “strictly agricultural…and of definite practical results of value to the intelligent farmers of North Dakota.” The Station encouraged diversification from the beginning, i.e., the addition of livestock, especially sheep and dairy cows, to every farming operation. “Mixed” farming was promoted because it would benefit the soil, utilize forages and by-products, and stabilize the farm economy. This recommendation by the Station directors and John Sheppard, long-time faculty member at the Station and a “champion” of livestock, was slow to be adopted, however, and wheat remained “king” in the eastern part of the state.


The Dairy Department of the Agricultural Experiment Station began in 1894 with work on cow rations, the proper handling of milk, and the nutritional content of native hay and tame grasses. A sub-station in Edgeley was started in 1902 to study the production of forage and grain for livestock. The Station proposed the establishment of a “grass trial station” in the western part of the state to address the problem of overgrazing, and the Dickinson Sub-Station soon opened by 1905. In 1910, the Hettinger Sub-Station began dairy research. Twenty-four demonstration farms across the state were also in operation by this time. Crop rotation, hay production, and manure application to cropland were tested on these small farms.


Livestock research became the primary interest of the Dickinson Station in 1945. This included breeding, feeding, management, disease control, and forage and feed production. The Hettinger Station switched its emphasis from dairy to sheep production in the 1940s. By the 1960s, beef cattle producers were promoting the idea of beef research at the Carrington Station and a new grassland management station at Streeter. These goals were met by 1981. In conjunction with the Animal Science Department at NDSU and federal agencies such as the USDA, cattle production continues to be a major area of research for the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station and the “sub-stations” now known as Research Extension Centers.

 

Impact on the Economy


Cattle are raised in every county of North Dakota. The regional distribution of livestock is shown in Table 2. As of 2007, the state ranked 16th nationwide in overall cattle numbers, and 13th in calf crop. In 2007, livestock production brought in 17.2% of the state’s total agricultural sales. Cattle and calves produced 14.1%, and dairy products produced 1.3% of the total. In dollar amounts, this represents $935,448,000. The cattle industry has played an important role in North Dakota’s history and development, and will continue to be a productive part of North Dakota’s future.

 

Table 2. Livestock numbers in North Dakota by region in 2008.

Region

All

Cattle

Beef Cows

Milk Cows

Hogs and Pigs

Sheep and Lambs

Northwest

  150,000

  84,000

      *

   8,000

  3,500

North-central

  180,000

  95,000

 2,500

   1,500

  5,000

Northeast

    80,000

  41,000

 1,200

 68,000

  4,000

West-central

  265,000

130,000

 2,800

   3,500

  9,500

Central

  200,000

103,000

 2,400

   4,500

12,500

East-central

    80,000

  42,000

       *

   8,000

  8,000

Southwest

  260,000

128,000

 3,000

 16,500

22,500

South-central

  315,000

167,000

 8,700

   3,000

13,000

Southeast

  280,000

132,000

 6,300

 69,000

17,000

Combined districts

   

1,100*

   

State Total

1,810,000

922,000

28,000

182,000

95,000

From: The National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA, 2009.

http://www.nass.usda.gov/Data_and_Statistics/Quick_Stats/

 


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