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Cattlemen’s Corner: Diversity of beef operations

For the May 14, 2011 edition of Tri-State Livestock News.

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The Economic Research Service recently released a report titled, “The Diverse Structure and Organization of U.S. Beef Cow-Calf Farms.” In it, they used data from USDA’s 2008 Ag Resource Management Survey for U.S. beef cow-calf operations to examine the structure, costs and characteristics of beef cow-calf producers. Of the 2.2 million farms in the U.S., nearly 765,000 of them had a beef cow inventory in 2007. Of course that number has likely changed by now, but that still equates to about 35 percent of farms in the U.S. raising beef. Most of these farms were small, part-time operations, with roughly one-third of the farms having a beef cow inventory of less than 10 cows. More than half had fewer than 20 cows and nearly 80 percent had fewer than 50 cows. Here in South Dakota, half of the 31,500 farms raise beef cattle. Our annual inventory is roughly 3.8 million head of cattle and calves.

Overall, our industry is characterized by a large number of small farms. With these statistics, you would think the animal activists would quit talking about large “factory farms”! While many of these farms specialize in beef cattle production, households on these operations tend to generate more income from off-farm sources, such as wages and salaries or retirement income, than from the farm business itself.

While our industry boasts a large number of operations with fewer head of cattle, large farms account for most beef cow-calf production. Even on these larger operations, cow-calf production is still not the primary enterprise. Commercial farms with cow-calf enterprises are mostly diversified farm operations where cattle are a secondary enterprise that accounts for about a fourth of farm product value.

The study also found that roughly 60 percent of U.S. beef cow-calf operations sell calves at, or shortly after, weaning. Typically these are small farms and most are located in the Southeast and Southern Plains. More than a third of beef cow-calf operations retain ownership of their calves after weaning and continue backgrounding their calves from 30-90 days before selling. These farms are generally larger, have more cows, and are distributed throughout the U.S., with many in the Northern Plains and West regions.

While the demographics of cattle farms and ranches continue to change, the one thing that remains unchanged is our desire to work with the land and our animals day after day. Whether you own twenty or three hundred cow-calf pairs, we all want to produce safe, quality beef for our families and other beef consumers.

The Economic Research Service recently released a report titled, “The Diverse Structure and Organization of U.S. Beef Cow-Calf Farms.” In it, they used data from USDA’s 2008 Ag Resource Management Survey for U.S. beef cow-calf operations to examine the structure, costs and characteristics of beef cow-calf producers. Of the 2.2 million farms in the U.S., nearly 765,000 of them had a beef cow inventory in 2007. Of course that number has likely changed by now, but that still equates to about 35 percent of farms in the U.S. raising beef. Most of these farms were small, part-time operations, with roughly one-third of the farms having a beef cow inventory of less than 10 cows. More than half had fewer than 20 cows and nearly 80 percent had fewer than 50 cows. Here in South Dakota, half of the 31,500 farms raise beef cattle. Our annual inventory is roughly 3.8 million head of cattle and calves.

Overall, our industry is characterized by a large number of small farms. With these statistics, you would think the animal activists would quit talking about large “factory farms”! While many of these farms specialize in beef cattle production, households on these operations tend to generate more income from off-farm sources, such as wages and salaries or retirement income, than from the farm business itself.

While our industry boasts a large number of operations with fewer head of cattle, large farms account for most beef cow-calf production. Even on these larger operations, cow-calf production is still not the primary enterprise. Commercial farms with cow-calf enterprises are mostly diversified farm operations where cattle are a secondary enterprise that accounts for about a fourth of farm product value.

The study also found that roughly 60 percent of U.S. beef cow-calf operations sell calves at, or shortly after, weaning. Typically these are small farms and most are located in the Southeast and Southern Plains. More than a third of beef cow-calf operations retain ownership of their calves after weaning and continue backgrounding their calves from 30-90 days before selling. These farms are generally larger, have more cows, and are distributed throughout the U.S., with many in the Northern Plains and West regions.

While the demographics of cattle farms and ranches continue to change, the one thing that remains unchanged is our desire to work with the land and our animals day after day. Whether you own twenty or three hundred cow-calf pairs, we all want to produce safe, quality beef for our families and other beef consumers.


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