At a Glance: Alberta’s Beef Cattle Industry

The undisputed capital of Canada’s cattle industry, Alberta beef is renowned throughout the country and beyond. Agriculture has been a lynchpin of the prairie province’s growth and development over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries. To this day, it remains a major economic, cultural and culinary force, employing thousands and feeding exponentially more.

Even within the agricultural community, though, it can be difficult for those outside of Canada to understand the important role the Alberta beef cattle industry plays in the Canadian imagination. Here’s what you need to know about ranching in the province.


The roots of Alberta’s beef cattle industry date back to 1876, when the first herds of cattle were driven into the province (then part of Canada’s Northwest Territories) by John Ware — a former slave originally from South Carolina who would go on to attain near-mythic status for his horse-riding abilities. Alberta proved particularly suitable for ranching, thanks to its flat terrain and moderate climate. The completion of the cross-country Canadian Pacific Railroad helped the industry flourish, leading to a major boom in the years between 1887-1900.

The other major development in the history of Alberta’s beef cattle industry is the introduction of the feedlot in the mid-1950s. This later would become the predominant method of beef cattle production in Alberta, with more than 150 facilities of 1000 cattle or more currently operating in the province.

Fast Facts

Today, Alberta:

  • Is the largest cattle-producing province in Canada, responsible for 41% of the country’s total output, or 4.9 million of the 11 million head of cattle produced each year.
  • Is home to more than 20,000 beef farms of varying sizes, ranging from small family operations to high-volume production facilities.
  • Produces approximately 664,000 tons of beef each year, more than 85% of the total produced in Western Canada.
  • Generates $3.2 billion annually in cash receipts from beef cattle production, or 33% of the total farm production income in the province.
  • Consumes 15% of the total beef produced in the province. The remainder is sold domestically (50%), to the United States (28%) and to other countries (7%). Primary international markets for Alberta beef include China, Mexico and Japan.

All told, Alberta’s beef cattle industry contributes more than $12.7 billion to the Canadian economy. The industry has an economic multiplier effect of 4:1, meaning that every dollar spent in it generates $4 of new income.

More interesting statistics about the beef cattle industry in Alberta can be found at the following links:

Alberta’s Beef Cattle Industry Runs on Arrowquip Equipment

All across Alberta, cattle handling equipment by Arrowquip is helping farmers meet their goals by improving animal welfare, reducing veterinary bills and minimizing the risk of illness and injury. With a network of authorized distributors servicing each of the province’s main agricultural areas, we are available to provide convenient sales and service for some of the Alberta beef cattle industry’s major operators. To find a representative near you, visit our Locations page or call our toll-free number today.