Introduction 1 of 6

inspecting beef carcasses
Inspecting beef carcasses.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG4290-1110

By 1925, beef production had been greatly reformed. Enforcement of new laws reduced ranchers’ illegal use of public land. Stockyards and packing houses began to follow health guidelines and had somewhat improved working conditions for their workers.

Union Stockyards
"Union Stockyards, Showing Exchange Building, Omaha, Neb."
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG3348-6-218
In 1926, a new and magnificent Livestock Exchange Building towered over the South Omaha stockyards. It reflected the strength that the livestock industry, and cattle in particular, had enjoyed for nearly a quarter century and it promoted optimism for the future.

Gasoline-powered tractor
Gasoline-powered tractor.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG3358-83

Everywhere you looked, life was being modernized. Mechanization was revolutionizing agriculture all across Nebraska. The introduction of gasoline-powered engines made some of the most radical changes. With a tractor, a farmer could raise more corn and deliver it more efficiently. This contributed to the growth of feedlots around the state.

Mag Me! Select the magnifying glass
for an extreme close-up.
As engines grew larger and roads improved, trucks slowly began to compete with the railroads as the way to ship livestock to South Omaha. In South Omaha, the stockyards continued to grow, eventually covering over 200 acres. Cars, trucks, and light tractors coupled with a growing system of roads and highways helped ranchers improve the amount of hay that they could produce. Farmers could manage more acres, and with a vibrant cattle market, feeders paid good money for corn.
moving a hay stack on Peterson Brothers Ranch, 1949
Advertisement excerpt: Moving a hay stack with a D-8 Caterpillar on the Peterson Brothers Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska, 1949.
Courtesy The Nebraska Cattleman

Cattle on a Roller Coaster

auctioning farm equipment near Hastings
Auctioning Farm Equipment on the Zimmerman Farm near Hastings, Nebraska, March 1940.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG4289-1

Then, in late 1929, everything caved in. Prices for livestock and grain dropped to unheard of lows. And the rains stopped. Banks collapsed, and mortgages that farmers had taken out to increase their acres came due. Nebraska agriculture was in turmoil.

electric lines and poles on a farm in the 1930s
Electricity added to rural areas in the 1930s.
Courtesy Farm Security Administration, Library of Congress, LC-USF34-059557-D Mitchell_8c16374r

Aid from the federal government improved things, such as rural electrification and highway construction. World War II created both a demand for beef and technologies that would allow the cattle industry to grow.

After the War, diesel technology added more muscle to tractors, and with larger trucks, ranchers could further reduce dependency on the railroads. Antibiotics, fertilizers, and herbicides improved corn production and led to larger and larger feeding operations.

Find out more about how beef went "modern" in this period in the video, Mechanization on Ranches.
From the 2008 NET Television production, Beef State

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Tri-County Project

1900-1924 Reforming Beef
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Follow THE STORY OF BEEF through the decades.
Beef Moves
to Nebraska
High Falutin’
Beef Goes Modern
NE Beef
Goes Global