Adding to the challenge of seedstock production is the simple fact that demand is always limited by the size of the commercial cowherd.

In 2006, there were 33.25 million beef cows that calved, according to the National Agriculture Statistics Service (that year is chosen for context with the breed numbers that follow). If you figure a bull for every 25 cows – excluding those bred artificially – there was a need for about 1.33 million bulls. If you figure a fourth of that requirement needs to be replaced each year, about 332,500 bulls needed to be marketed that year.

In round numbers, 17 of the most populous beef breeds registered 765,038 bulls and females in 2007, according to the National Pedigreed Livestock Council. (That’s the most recent year in which all of the seven most-used breeds reported registration numbers. The movement of some breed associations to whole-herd reporting has made year-to-year comparisons more tenuous.)

Of those registrations, 86% came from seven breeds, which speaks to the ongoing breed consolidation that began at least 15 years ago.

Ritchie proved prescient more than a decade ago when he predicted: “Very few of the 50-plus beef cattle breeds in the U.S. will disappear, but they will likely sort into three groups:

  • 10 breeds, or perhaps less, that will provide the genetic make-up of the bulk of the commercial cattle population;
  • a few breeds having unique attributes that will be involved in niche markets;
  • recreational breeds that will provide pleasure and entertainment to hobby breeders via shows, field days, etc.”

Keep in mind, these numbers cannot account for unregistered seedstock. That includes commercial producers who find a cracking good calf to sell to the neighbors, as well as large entities currently crafting a model of seedstock production and marketing that mirrors that of the swine industry.

“Seedstock producers must produce genetics specific to commercial cattlemen’s needs, while meeting the specific requirements of the feeder, packer and retailer,” Prosser says. “This is not to be construed that every seedstock producer must produce cattle that will fix each and every commercial cattleman’s problem. Rather, it means that responsible seedstock producers must forge relationships with commercial customers to identify opportunities and assist in finding solutions.”