The flesh of bovines has been eaten by hunters from prehistoric times; some of the
earliest known cave paintings such as those of Lascaux show aurochs in hunting scenes.
Domestication of cattle occurred around 8000 BC, providing ready access to beef, milk
and leather. Most cattle originated in the Old World with the exception of bison hybrids.
Examples include the Wagyu from Japan, Ankole-Watusi from Egypt, and longhorn Zebu
from the Indian subcontinent.
Cattle were widely used across the Old World for draft animals (oxen), milk production, or
specifically for meat production, depending on local needs and resources. With
mechanization of farming, some breeds were specifically bred to increase meat yield, like
Chianina and Charolais or improve texture like the Murray Grey, Angus or Wagyu. Some
breeds (dual-purpose) have been selected for meat and milk production, like Brown Swiss
Here are some chronological facts about cattle in the Americas.
1493 Christopher Columbus introduces cattle to the Western Hemisphere on his second
voyage to the New World.
1519 Hernando Cortez brings first cattle to North American continent, setting up ranches
in Mexico. Often the cattle roamed wild and later came to the United States by way of
Texas and California. Around the same time, a cattle industry is also emerging in Florida.
1620 An estimated 500-head herd of cattle were established in Virginia and by 1639 there
were over 30,000.
1625 Cattle from England and northern Europe begin arriving in New York.
1779 First cattle trail in North America, from San Antonio, Texas to the Louisiana Territory.
1805 First recorded Northern cattle drive from Circleville, Ohio. Western farmers seek
livestock markets in populous East.
1852 Railroads reach Chicago from East, adding to the westward spread of livestock
raising and feeding. Five different railroads establish their own stockyards there.
1862 President Abraham Lincoln creates the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to
administer agricultural programs. It is called the “people’s department” because farmers
make up more than half of the population.
1865 Union Stockyards in Chicago become hub of livestock industry.
1867 Kansas Pacific Railroad reaches Abilene, Kansas, establishing a gateway for Texas
trail herds to reach eastern consumer markets. Cattle drives begin. First shipment of cattle
from Abilene to Chicago.
1875 Chilled beef is transported from New York to Europe in refrigerated ships, followed
by a frozen shipment to England the following year.
1878 Meat packer Gustavus Swift perfects the refrigerated railcar, greatly expanding the
market for perishable products.
1880 Western cattle boom begins.
1883 First national gathering of cattlemen called by U.S. Commissioner of Agriculture,
George Loring. A permanent organization, The National Cattle Growers Association, is
established at a second meeting in 1884.
1884 Along with the establishment of the Bureau of Animal Industry, the Animal and Plant
Inspection Service is established as part of USDA.
1886 Worst ever recorded winter for cattle producers, putting many western producers out
1904 First livestock auction market opened in Union, Iowa. By 1952, there are 2,500
1904 A reporter for the New York Tribune writes from the St. Louis World’s Fair of a new
sandwich called a hamburger. Fletcher Davis is credited with inventing the hamburger,
which consisted of fried ground beef patties served with hot mustard and sliced onions on
1906 U.S. Food and Drug Administration established to ensure wholesome and truthfully
labeled foods; first Food Administrator, Herbert C. Hoover, appointed in 1917.
1906 Upton Sinclair writes “The Jungle”; leads to Meat Inspection Act.
1911 First motor truck delivery of livestock reaches Indianapolis. Prior to that, all livestock
were transported via railroad.
1926 USDA introduces beef grading standards so packing plants can better meet
customer needs for different beef qualities.
1934 Taylor Grazing Act passed to regulate the use of public lands for grazing of cattle
and sheep and prevent overgrazing, by leasing public lands to ranchers.
1941 War time price controls are placed on beef; a large “black market” emerges.
1945 “Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle” is published providing cattle producers with a
guide for feeding cattle.
1953 “Great Cattle Bust” begins, brought on by drought, grasshoppers and fire.
Continues until 1957.
1958 Humane Slaughter Act passed to govern livestock handling procedures in meat
1960 Transportation shifts from rail to truck; slaughter operations built near feedyards and
moved from centralized city stockyards.
1964 Meat Import Act passed; formula limits imports to 6.7 percent of domestic production.
1967 Boxed beef is introduced providing more conveniently sized cuts for retailers and
1968 Cattle-Fax is established to provide cattle and beef industry statistics and market
and economic analysis.
1978 The Humane Slaughter Act of 1978 dictates strict animal handling and slaughter
practices which are closely monitored by government inspectors.
1985 Farm Bill creates Beef Promotion and Research Act establishing the Beef Checkoff
Program and enabling cattle producers to create, finance and carry out a coordinated
program of research, industry and consumer information and promotion. Beef checkoff
collections of $1 per head begin.
1987 Beef Quality Assurance program officially started to help beef producers meet
customer expectations for safety and quality.
1987 American Heart Association endorses beef as a healthy food.
1987 Cattle first sold via satellite in “video auctions.”
1994 USDA mandates safe food handling instructions on labels of fresh and frozen meat
and poultry items packaged in retail supermarkets.
1994 Beef industry Blue Ribbon Task Force reports on ways to eliminate E. coli O157:H7
1996 Beef Quality Assurance Advisory Board develops first structured animal care
guidelines known as the “Producer Code of Cattle Care.”
1996 National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) is formed from a merger of the
National Cattlemen’s Association and the Beef Industry Council of the National Live Stock
and Meat Board.
1997 Beef producers join with government and other industry groups to fund launch of the
Partnership for Food Safety Education and the consumer program, Fight BAC!
1997 Beef Industry Food Safety Council (BIFSCo) formed to develop industry-wide,
science-based strategies for addressing E. coli.
1998 Meat packing facilities implement Food and Drug Administration Hazard Analysis
and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system aimed at preventing hazards that could cause
foodborne illness. The HACCP principles apply science-based means of assuring food
safety from harvest to consumption.
2000 Muscle-profiling study findings presented to industry to help find new, convenient
ways of preparing the 39 muscles from the chuck and the round detailed in study.
2001 Flat Iron Steak introduced after research on undervalued cuts of beef finds new
ways to cut the steaks from the chuck.
2002 USDA national standards for organically grown agriculture products implemented.
2002 Task force organized to develop a plan of work for creating a national animal
2003 Bovine genome sequencing project initiated. Researchers announce first phase of
sequencing work complete in 2004.
2003 Industry leaders approve expanded version of “Guidelines for the Care and
Handling of Cattle.”
2005 USDA announces E. coli O157:H7 prevalence dropped by more than 80 percent in
2005 Nutrient database shows 29 cuts of beef meet government guidelines for lean beef.