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What the Beef Industry Means to the Western Lifestyle

The US cattle industry pulled in $64 billion dollars in 2021 and continues to be a major economic driver in many areas across the United States. But outside of the numbers, there is more. More soul, tenacity, and spirit than many businesses all bundled up into what you might think of as the Western lifestyle. 

The beef industry really comes down to two things: the business aspect and the lifestyle. What drives someone to buy a cattle ranch when historically it’s a tough life, whether you work and live on the ranch or hire a manager to run the business? What primal instinct are we looking to fulfill? Many businessmen and women have made their fortunes in another industry and then invested in a cattle ranch. They can often make the ranch profitable with their business expertise, but it takes lots of time and that initial investment to make it work. Then on the flip side, you have the families who have been ranching on the same ranch or have done this work for generations who don’t have a business background and survive year after year, decade after decade. They work nonstop, up with the sun, and often not done until it’s dark, day in and day out. After personally watching, witnessing, and participating in this great industry, there might be easier ways to make a living, but you won’t find a career that fills your heart and soul the way cattle ranching does.

Photo by Hazel Lights Photography

Cattle ranching and the western lifestyle have been a staple in the United States of America for literally centuries and in other countries, like our neighbors to the south, even longer. Often, ranches across the country became a thing simply out of a necessity to feed the growing population. The ranch I reside on was started because a wagon driver saw the need for beef at the mines for which he hauled lumber. So he found a spot in the mountains that was rough and rugged and turned out some cows. The jury is out on how long it took him to find those cows again, but he managed to do so, and that has continued in this same location for almost 150 years. There are many differences in how it’s done, but the same premise exists. Raise beef for families to nourish their bodies and enjoy. 

The same story arose across the country as the western lifestyle became a thing in the late 1800s. From that need arose a romance that has drawn people in since. This lifestyle is beautiful from the outside, but once someone has fought their way inside, it becomes one that is only suited for those who can see the beauty in the sharp rocks, busted fences, tragic endings, and constant upheaval of best-laid plans. That is to say, it’s still a beautiful way of life, but the beauty of hard work and appreciation for something so massive and outside of your own understanding makes it so. 

Photo by Hazel Lights Photography

While the US beef industry is more focused than it was at the beginning of its heyday, it’s still a teeming and vibrant one only made possible by the consumer of beef. The person who craves a good steak or a juicy hamburger and acts upon that urge is who keeps this industry and the lifestyle alive. According to statistics compiled by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association sourced from the United States Department of Agriculture, cattle are raised in every state in the USA, with almost 830,000 ranches and operations doing the work. Of all these operations in the beef industry, 96% are still family owned and operated. Without the consumer, all those families who have built their lives upon the back of a cow would be thrown to the wind and scattered like pollen on a spring day.

Photo by Hazel Lights Photography

The western lifestyle is more than just boots and a horse. It’s also more than the struggle and hardship. It’s even more than the cows. The Western lifestyle, much like many things in our current day, has evolved to include many people. It is a state of mind. It’s the love for our country and the sweet sting of a tear you feel as our National Anthem is sung at a rodeo. It’s the feeling of being completely alone, deep in the middle of nowhere, looking for a lost cow who took that fence meant to keep her in as just a suggestion. It’s the excitement of being invited to help gather cows at a friend’s ranch. It’s the smell of a juicy steak being grilled outside on a cool evening while you chat with friends and family. It’s a deep understanding that we are fortunate to have the freedom to do what we please, which so many around the world couldn’t even fathom. While some live and breathe the Western lifestyle, astride a horse daily or checking on their cattle, others embody it in different ways. However, if you connect to this industry and the lifestyle, know that by just enjoying and eating beef and attending your local rodeo, you are a part of it. Maybe even the most important part. 

Photo by Hazel Lights Photography

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Cowboy Lifestyle Magazine

This article was created for the Spring Issue of the Cowboy Lifestyle Magazine which was released in April 2023. You can catch this article and many more by checking out the full issue. For more information on Cowboy Lifestyle Magazine, visit the website here.

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With a life entrenched in the western lifestyle and agriculture, my goal is to share worthwhile, intriguing, and exciting stories of the rodeo world, ranchers and farmers, the outdoor lifestyle, and more. Currently, I reside on a working cattle ranch in the iconic Superstition Mountains in Arizona where I like to jump in and play cowgirl when I’m not sharing the stories of the cowboy lifestyle. Follow me on Instagram or TikTok!

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