The small numbers of the cattle industry end there, Lowe reports: "In simple terms, the business is bottle-shaped — large at the bottom and narrowing to the neck, where just four companies control the majority of the market." Thus, even though there are many small cattle farms, they have the least amount of control over their industry.
The process generally works like this: Small producers raise calves until they're weaned and weigh about 600 pounds, they they sell them to a "backgrounder," a larger operation that buys calves in groups, transitions them to feeding and fattens them up. They gain about 800 pounds there, get immunizations and prepare for the feedlot, where they will be penned and fed three times a day in a "finishing" process. Here's where the industry bottlenecks. The Department of Agriculture reports that the top 25 feedlots control 47 percent of the market.
And her's where it really gets narrow: Most cattle are sold to just four companies: Tyson Foods, Cargill, National Beef Packaging Co. and JBS. These four deliver 82 percent of the beef on the market. Many ranchers fear the industry will soon be completely controlled by a handful of companies, and statistics tend to support this claim. In the last 20 years, the number of ranchers raising cattle has dropped more then 20 percent, according to the USDA. (Read more)