The Top 6 States That Produce the Most Beef and Cattle

© iStock.com/RAUL RODRIGUEZ

Written by Joyce Nash

Published: January 27, 2024

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The United States is the world’s leading producer of beef. In 2023, cattle production accounted for nearly 17% of the country’s total value of agricultural commodities. But which states have the most cattle? Keep reading to discover the top six states that produce the most beef and cattle.

6. Kansas – 1.3 million

Picturesque Kansas landscape around Lindsborg from the top of Coronado Heights

Kansas contains over 45 million acres of farmland.

©Haastrup/Shutterstock.com

Ranchers in Kansas raise 1.32 million head of beef cattle that graze on over 15 million acres of pastures. Beef production is the largest agricultural sector in Kansas, employing over 34,000 people and resulting in over $6 billion of economic output. In addition, Kansas is a leading state for cattle processing, ranking second in the nation in 2021.

5. South Dakota – 1.6 million

American Bison in South Dakota

South Dakota is a leading producer of bison as well as beef cattle.

©Tim Malek/Shutterstock.com

While South Dakota’s dairy farms and crop growers are only found in specific regions, beef cattle are raised on farms throughout the state. There are approximately 1.61 million head of beef cattle in South Dakota, representing 5.3% of the country’s beef cow inventory.

South Dakota’s economy is largely driven by agriculture, with beef production adding more than $1 billion to the state’s economy each year. In addition to beef production, poultry farms and hog units play an important role in the state’s agriculture sector.

4. Nebraska – 1.7 million

cows in snow field in nebraska

Nearly half of Nebraska’s farms include poultry or livestock operations.

©melissamn/Shutterstock.com

With 1.7 million head of beef cattle, Nebraska is easily among the states that produce the most beef. In addition to the cows that are raised in Nebraska, the state sees an influx of around five million beef cattle each year to be finished and packaged for sale.

Among U.S. beef-producing counties, the top three are located in Nebraska. Cherry County, located in northern Nebraska, is home to 166,000 beef cows, more than any other county in the nation. Farms and ranches cover 91% of Nebraska’s land area. The state is also notable for its corn production, 40% of which goes to feed the state’s livestock.

3. Missouri – 1.9 million

Hawk on a hay bale in Boone County, Missouri during sunset

Missouri is a leader in cattle production thanks in part to its ideal climate and prairies.

©Wirestock/iStock via Getty Images

The country’s third-largest beef-producing state is Missouri, which has around 1.9 million head of beef cattle. The cattle industry provides over 40,000 jobs in the state and adds more than $1.6 billion to the state’s economy. 

Thanks to its rich soil, expansive pastures, and ideal climate, ranchers in Missouri grow several prime breeds of cattle, including Hereford, Shorthorn, and Charolais. With the addition of a specialized export facility in St. Louis, farmers in the state have been able to export cattle as well as certified embryos.

2. Oklahoma – 1.9 million

Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s rolling hills and lush grasslands are ideal for raising cattle.

©RaksyBH/Shutterstock.com

With more cattle than people, Oklahoma ranks second in the nation for states that produce the most beef cattle. There are around two million beef cattle across the state, raised on farms that are overwhelmingly owned by families and individuals.

Oklahoma’s modern cattle industry can trace its roots to the early 1800s, when members of the Five Tribes – the Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole – were forcibly relocated from the southeastern states to the area around Oklahoma. The Five Tribes brought herds of livestock with them, which thrived on the open, grassy plains. 

Since the 1900s, ranchers have focused on improving cattle breeds for health and sustainability. In 1949, the United States Department of Agriculture recognized a new breed of cow that originated in Oklahoma. A farmer developed the Brangus breed, which is a cross between an Angus cow and a Brahman cow.

1. Texas – 12 million

The Texas Longhorn is a breed of cattle that descends from the first cows the Spanish brought to the area in the early 1700s.

©iStock.com/RAUL RODRIGUEZ

In the U.S., Texas is the leading producer of beef with nearly 12 million head of cattle, including four million beef cattle. In Texas, cattle represent over half of the state’s agricultural commodities with a value that exceeds $12 billion. 

Cattle driving was brought to the area nearly 300 years ago by Spanish colonists, and their influence is evident in many of the tools and phrases used in the cattle industry today. The state’s cattle industry saw tremendous growth following the Civil War, during a period called the “Texas cattle drive era.” From 1865-1868, around 10 million Texas Longhorn cows were slaughtered to be sold in markets along the East Coast.

Today, cattle ranching remains an important part of the economy and culture in Texas. At the Forth Worth Stockyards, cowhands put on a daily reenactment of a historical cattle drive with a herd of Texas Longhorns, and across the state, football fans cheer on the Longhorns at the University of Texas in Austin.

Summary of States That Produce the Most Beef

RankStateNo. of Cows
#1Texas12 million
#2Oklahoma1.9 million
#3Missouri1.9 million
#4Nebraska1.7 million
#5South Dakota1.6 million
#6Kansas1.3 million


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About the Author

Joyce Nash is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering travel and geography. She has almost a decade of writing experience. Her background ranges from journalism to farm animal rescues and spans the East Coast to the West. She is based in North Carolina, and in her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time with her husband and two cats.

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