America’s beef cow-calf business seems straightforward enough – wean the highest percentage of calves possible per cow exposed, wean the most pounds possible per cow exposed, and do so for the least cost possible. Exploiting value-added opportunities is part of the formula as well, but the above has been the basic business model for at least five decades.

It’s the business reference in the model where reality becomes less straightforward.

Depending on the size of your abacus and whether you’re using your toes, beef cows, which are the lifeblood of the cattle and beef industries, fuel an annual economic impact of at least $1 trillion.

Cattle and calf sales were worth about $61.2 billion in 2007, according to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture. Those receipts represented about 20% of the total market value of agricultural products in the U.S. that year, making it the leading commodity.

According to the American Meat Institute (AMI), meat and poultry industry sales in 2009 were $154.8 billion. “In all, companies involved in meat production, along with their suppliers, distributors, retailers and ancillary industries, employ 6.2 million people in the U.S. with jobs that total $200 billion in wages,” according to AMI’s “U.S. Meat Industry at a Glance” report.

“Through direct taxes paid, these companies and their employees provide $81.2 billion in revenues to federal, state and local governments. The consumption of meat and poultry generates $2.4 billion in state sales taxes. The meat and poultry industry’s economic ripple effect generates $864.2 billion annually to the U.S. economy, or roughly 6% of the entire GDP,” the report says.

Okay, so lumping it together is cowboy math, but the point is beef cows are responsible for a pile of money and make a huge annual national economic impact, no matter how you figure.