There are about 20-30 feedyards in Washington. A feedyard is defined as a farm where cattle are fed a ration of forage and high energy feeds to grow into marketable beef cattle. Generally, all beef cattle are raised on a ranch where newborn calves grow with their mothers on milk and pasture until they are weaned and grains are introduced into the diet at a backgrounding yard or feedyard. See the full description of the Beef Lifecycle for how beef is raised from pasture to plate.
A 2014 study estimated there were 210,000 head of cattle on feed in Washington, ranking the state 14th largest in the nation, while trailing the top three cattle feeding states which have over two million head of cattle on feed at any one time. (Source: WSU, 2015)
Overall, beef production in Washington contributes $5.691 billion to Washington's economy. Cattle feedyards represent $1.5 billion of that value. Beef is ranked the sixth most valuable agricultural commodity in the state, behind hay and potatoes - which the cattle feeding sector supports through purchasing lower quality hay and feeding potato processing byproducts. There are several ways cattle feeders contribute to the local economy:
- About 55% of cattle in Washington feedyards come from farms and ranches in Washington.
- Roughly 45% of feedyard operating purchases (equipment, feed, etc.) are sourced locally within 30 miles of the farms, 49% of purchases from within Washington, and only 6% Out-of-State.
- Feedyards directly employ 435 people and support 2,972 jobs in related industries and the local (often rural) service and retail sectors.
Cattle feedyards are one of the most regulated industries in the the U.S. Feedyards are regulated on the state, federal, and local levels. New cattle feedyards go through extensive state and local permitting to be built. All feedyards must comply with environmental (air and water) quality standards set by multiple agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington Department of Ecology, Washington Department of Health, and others. Agencies monitor feedyards and respond to complaints.
Individual cattle feeders and the WCFA work with state and federal agencies to continuously improve how cattle feeding impacts the environment, based on sound research, science and emerging technology. Read about how the WCFA and state agencies worked together to develop best management practices for controlling seasonal dust to prevent adverse air quality impacts.
There are two major beef processing plants in eastern Washington, close to where most cattle feedyards are located, and several small plants exist around the state. These large plants represent the opportunity for cattle feeders to market their cattle locally, which is a key to the viability of feeding cattle in Washington. The closest major cattle processing plant is located in Utah.
Having local beef cattle processing plants means less time spent on a truck for cattle, and for the consumer, the option to buy beef from cattle that have been raised and processed here in Washington. Like cattle feeders, beef processors are continuously improving how they operate based on new research and technologies. The result is beef that is safer, more humanely handled, and better for the environment than ever before.