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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Counting Cattle by the Numbers


It's National Agriculture Day! I hope you have taken the chance to thank a farmer and rancher for working year round to produce the food that ends up on your plate! If not, you best get to it, and keep 'em in mind the other 364 days of the year.

There has been a lot of conversation on Social Media this week with random Ag-facts, Ag-knowledge, and Ag-trivia. (I have had my fair share of time to look over these conversations, seeing how I spent my entire Spring Break in the recliner after wisdom teeth extraction on Monday. Thankfully, the pain pills did their job in keeping me off my feet and resting). It is great to share this information with others to help share the great story we have to tell.

The image of the American Rancher has always been an iconic part of the American West. Unfortunately, that image is getting a little skewed with the image of “factory farms” that is being pushed by the media, animal rights groups, and others. I took the time to look at the 2007 Ag Census data to get a more accurate look at today’s rancher.

In the U.S. there is a total of 818,992 cattle operations with 74,406,565 head of cattle. That averages out to a little less than 91 head per cattle operation. There has been some criticism of cattle operations being factory farming, pushing cattle to be bigger, quicker, and crowding them in small pens where they stand in feces in front of a feed bunk all day. When you take a step back and look at the whole picture that is just not the case. In fact, 89% (728,992) of cattle operations are smaller than 100 head and account for 40% (29,858,211) of the cattle population.

The face of American cattle production is changing; that much is true. There are large production operations that feed cattle in concentrated situations, which is needed to increase beef production to meet the demands from a growing global population. However, the small producers are still needed. Here is a break down in the number of cattle operations and the number of cattle within that group. Percentages are a comparison to U.S. totals. (Source: USDA 2007 Ag Census)

Operations Size (No. Head)
No. Operations
% of US Total
No. Head
% of US Total
1-9
250,204
30.6
2,444,357
3.3
10-19
162,022
19.8
3,774,421
5.1
20-49
214,549
26.2
11,187,414
15.0
50-99
102,217
12.5
12,452,019
16.7
100-199
52,618
6.4
12,558,006
16.9
200-499
28,198
3.4
14,455,921
19.4
500-999
6,189
0.76
7,185,245
9.7
1,000-2,500
2,330
0.28
5,711,115
7.7
>2,500
665
0.08
4,638,067
6.0
U.S. Total
818,992
--
74,406,565
--
<100
728,992
89.0
29,858,211
40.0
<500
809,808
98.9
56,872,138
76.6

When seen through the numbers, cattle production is rather small minded. With 89% of operations with herds of less than 100, 98.9% of operations having herds of less than 500, and 76.4% of the nation’s cattle in operations of less than 500 head, the painted image of “factory farming” just does not come to mind.

Take a chance to share these numbers when telling someone about Cattle Production. What a GREAT story there is to tell!