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Animal Science: Today and Tomorrow

December 19, 2012

Dr. Tom Troxel                                                                                 

Dr. Michael L. Looper


Characteristics of Small-scale US Livestock Operations

In 2011, the USDA, National Animal Health Monitoring System conducted the Small-scale US Livestock Operations study. The study focused on livestock operations with annual sales from $10,000 to $499,999 in which the predominant agricultural enterprise was livestock/animal species such as cattle, poultry, goats, sheep, swine, horses, aquaculture, or other farm animals raised for sale or home use. Under that definition, that would include many livestock farms in Arkansas. Here’s what they had to say.


  • Across the country, 87% of the operations had beef cattle and 47% had more than 1 type of livestock. In the Southern region (included Arkansas), 44% of the operations had more than 1 type of livestock.
  • 45% were residential/lifestyle farms in which the operator’s primary occupation was off-farm. About 27% were farming occupation farms and 27% were retirement farms.
  • The primary operator was at least 65 years old on 37% of small-scale livestock operations and at least 65 years old on 30% on all US farm operations.
  • A total of 9% of small-scale livestock operations had a female primary operator compared with 14% of all US farm operations.
  • A total 4.1% of primary operators on small-scale livestock operations were of Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino origin compared with 3% of operators on all US farms operations.


Reasons for Farming

Although income is an important reason for farming, many operators on small-scale operations also consider other reasons, such as enjoyment of the farming or ranching lifestyle, to be equally or more important.


  • Lifestyle, maintain the farm for the next generation, and family tradition/heritage were very important reasons for farming on 64, 61, and 61% of small-scale operations, respectively.
  • Source of income was very important to 41% of operations, and producing products for personal consumption was very important to 35% of operations.
  • Tax benefits and “other” reasons were very important to 33 and 7% of operations. The most common “other” reasons for farming were personal enjoyment, exercise/physical activity, pride in acting as stewards of the land and producing food for people.


Future Plans

Overall, operators (89%) expected to continue farming for the next 5 years. For operators that expected to continue farming for the next 5 years, the top three factors rated very necessary for continuing to farm were improved farm product prices, stable cost of farm expenses and greater stability of prices for farm produces. Other factors rated much lower were low interest rates on debt, access to operating loans, and ability to find off farm employment.



An auction/sale barn was the most common channel used by small-scale operations to market animal or products (88%). About 25% of the operations marketed animals or products directly to individuals or consumers.


Factors Affecting Planned Farm Exits

About 9 to 10% of the small-scale operations go out of business in the US each year. According to the Economic Research Service, farms are less likely to exit farming as farm sales increase, and that beef cattle operations are less likely to exit than cash-grain farms or hog farms.


  • Of operations in which the operator was 65 years of age or older, 18% are expected to leave farming in the next 5 years, compared with only 5% of operations in which the operator was less than 45 years old.
  • Operators who had higher levels of formal education were less likely to leave farming than operators with less education.
  • Operators that used a veterinarian or had a household member who earned income from an off-farm job were less likely to leave farming in the next 5 years.
  • Only 4% of operations that raised four or more livestock species had operators that expected to leave farming in the next 5 years, compared with 14% of operations that raised only one livestock species.


Training and Information for Small-scale Operators

Study participants were asked to identify their preferred methods of receiving training or additional information regarding the management of their operations and the proper care of their livestock.


  • Local extension office or written publication were the delivery channels preferred by the highest percentage of operations overall (56 and 46%, respectively)
  • The internet, expert presentations, and livestock associations/clubs were preferred methods for training or additional information for 30%, 25% and 22% of operations, respectively


Access to a Veterinarian

  • Overall, 82% of operations had a veterinarian that worked with their type of livestock available within 29 miles of the operation
  • For 0.9% of operations, no veterinarian was available or the nearest veterinarian was 300 or more miles away from the operation
  • In the South, 55% of the operations had used a veterinarian for their livestock or poultry during the previous 12 months.
  • Producers who did not use a veterinarian were asked why. Only 12% did not use a veterinarian because it was too expensive. About 66% did not use a veterinarian because there was “no disease or other need for a veterinarian” and 44% did not use a veterinarian because the operator provided the animals’ health care needs.


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