The cattle industry used to follow inefficient processes. Animals were moved around based on the location of pasture or grass at any given time. It wasn’t until the 1850s when the first feed yards began to appear in the United States, created by cottonseed oil mill operators to take advantage of the byproducts in their industry.
How we approached cattle as a society changed during the World War I years because there were significant drops in herd numbers. Farmers began to feed calves at an earlier age to preserve their investments. This process led to an outcome where the meat developed into higher-quality products.
Now beef cattle are raised in all 50 states and most countries around the world. It is an aging industry where the average rancher is over 57 years old, but 80% of the operations are still family-owned businesses.
Essential Cattle Industry Statistics
#1. Texas still raises the most cattle in the United States, with a total herd size of 13 million. Nebraska is second with a herd of 6.8 million. Kansas (6.35 million), Oklahoma (5.3 million), and California (5.15 million) round out the top 5. (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association)
#2. Texas also leads the United States in the annual calf crop, which was 4.75 million head in 2018. Oklahoma came in second in this category with 2.05 million. Missouri (1.94 million), South Dakota (1.9 million), and California (1.86 million) are also in the top 5 for this statistic. (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association)
#3. There are currently 30,320 feedlots operating in the United States to support the cattle industry. Over 85% of them are supporting a herd capacity of less than 1,000 head. (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association)
#4. The value of beef exports from the United States, a figure that includes variety meat, was $8.332 billion in 2018. That figure is $1.06 billion more than what the industry earned in 2017. (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association)
#5. Exports to South Korea surged by 30% in volume for the American cattle industry in 2018. This one sector accounted for $1.7 billion in value sent, representing a 43% increase in total dollars from the year before. (Progressive Cattle)
#6. Canadian exports to the United States of beef products jumped by 16% in 2018, allowing Canada to outpace the world for the second straight year in purchases made by Americans. (Progressive Cattle)
#7. The cattle herd in Oklahoma experienced a 23% increase in total numbers between 2014 to 2019, continuing the rebuilding process that began after the conclusion of an extended drought in 2011. (Progressive Cattle)
#8. There were only 6.7 million pounds of beef produced in the United States in 1920 from a national herd size of 70.4 million. In 2019, the herd size was 94.7 million, but the amount of beef produced by the cattle industry totaled 26.8 million pounds. (Progressive Cattle)
#9. Brazil ranks second in beef production behind the United States, providing about 16% of the total market. The European Union represents approximately 13% of the global industry, while China provides 10.4% of the products available for sale. (Progressive Cattle)
#10. Japan is the top purchaser of American beef products in the world today, purchasing over 330,000 metric tons per year. South Korea and Mexico are the only other countries to purchase over 200,000 metric tons from cattle industry processions in the United States each year. (Progressive Cattle)
#11. Over 32 million cattle and calves were processed in 2017 to help feed 326 million Americans. That represents 26.3 billion pounds of meat, which is second only to chicken (42.2 billion pounds) for what becomes available each year. (North American Meat Institute)
#12. People should consume about 5.7 ounces of meat each day as part of their healthy eating habits. A 3-ounce serving provides about 200 calories and significant amounts of key nutrients that everyone needs. (2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans)
#13. Employees that work in meatpacking or processing plants in the United States earn an average wage of $14.98 per hour with benefits. That’s $1.50 more than what poultry processors earn right now. (North American Meat Institute)
#14. The top 10 states in the American cattle industry are responsible for 73% of the sales that occur. Three states (Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska) represent 44% of the total industry. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#15. Despite American cattle herds reducing the numbers since 1979, the levels of beef production have risen during this time. Commercial beef has grown by 22% while the total inventory numbers have decreased by 15% at the same time. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#16. The exports of live cattle from the United States has fallen by 88% since 2000, especially due to trade barriers related to diseases like BSE. That’s why a majority of the imports that occur for the American industry come from either Canada or Mexico. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#17. Calf slaughter as a percentage of the total calf crop has declined in the United States from about 8% in the 1980s to less than 3% today. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#18. The total number of beef cattle in the United States stands at more than 31 million. This figure includes 6.4 million replacement heifers that the industry uses in case of production shortages. (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association)
#19. Americans will eat about 55 pounds of beef and related industry products annually, which means the average family of four purchases 220 pounds each year. The average price of Choice beef products from the industry was about $6 per pound in 2017. (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association)
#20. About one-fifth of all American agriculture sales are from cattle products or industry providers each year. The total figure in 2017 reached $76 billion, which represents a 25% increase since the 2007 census was taken by the U.S. government. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#21. Consumers are demanding fewer traditional cattle industry products, opting for grass-fed beef and organic options more often today. The total market share in urban areas for what is perceived to be a healthier product is up 6% since 2006. (Forbes)
#22. Grass-fed beef produced in the United States has 65% less fat content when compared to traditional industry selections. That means customers benefit from a 50% reduction in calories consumed with each serving. (Forbes)
#23. $13 billion in sales for cattle and calves originate out of Texas each year. Nebraska and Kansas are the only other states that routinely achieve at least $10 billion in annual revenues for the industry. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#24. About three-quarters of the calves birthed through cattle industry efforts are born between the months of January to June each year. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#25. Nebraska has the three largest cattle-producing counties in the United States even though Texas is the country’s largest industry contributor. Over 150,000 head are located in Cherry County. Holt and Custer Counties contribute another 96,000 and 95,000 head in their herds to the total numbers. (Progressive Cattle)
#26. Missouri has had more than a 26% increase in its cattle herd since 2013, giving the state the highest rate of growth in the country. Over 449,000 head were added to the state’s herd during that time. Only Oklahoma, with 437,000 more cattle, can claim a similar outcome. (Progressive Cattle)
#27. Over $4 billion gets added to the American economy each year because of cattle industry exports to Hong Kong, China, South Korea, and Taiwan. (Progressive Cattle)
#28. The combined salaries of the 482,000 workers directly employed in meatpacking or poultry packing and processing contribute $19 billion in wages to the American economy each year. When suppliers and distributors are included in that figure, the numbers climb to 6.2 million jobs and $864.2 billion in earnings annually. Those numbers represent about 6% of the annual GDP of the United States. (NBC News)
#29. Meat companies in the United States process about 1.7 billion pounds of beef more than what consumers eat in the country each year. Total beef consumption is approximately 24 billion pounds per year. (NBC News)
#30. Although more chicken meat goes through processing in the United States, Americans consume almost 20 pounds of red meat more than they do poultry products each year. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#31. Individuals who eat as little as a 1/4-pound of red meat daily raise their risk of developing colon cancer at some point in their life by 17%. (World Health Organization)
#32. Americans consume about 270 pounds of meat products per year, which ranks the United States as the second-largest consumer for the cattle industry. The only other country which has a higher per capita rate of meat consumption is Luxembourg. (UN Food and Agriculture Organization)
#33. Total meat exports from Brazil for the global cattle industry fell just short of €12 billion in 2016, which China the top destination for these products at €1.6 billion. The only other markets that achieved over €1 billion in receipts were Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia at €1.46 billion and €1.15 billion respectively. (AgriLand)
#34. The total number of meat exports moving between Brazil and China has more than tripled since 2014. (AgriLand)
#35. Over 209 million cattle are managed by the cattle industry in Brazil. Producers manage this herd on more than 167 million hectares of space. (AgriLand)
#36. Approximately 360,000 directly employment opportunities are available because of the activities found in the Brazilian cattle industry. This work represents 3% of the total export revenues for the country, along with 14% of the global beef output. (AgriLand)
#37. Michigan cattle producers provide one-third of the beef demand at the state level for consumers, playing a pivotal role in the provision of meat products for the dinner table. As of January 2019, the total herd count for the state topped 1.15 million. (Michigan Beef)
#38. Agricultural activities in Wisconsin contribute over $104 billion to the state’s economy each year. There are almost 65,000 active farms in the state covering 14.3 million acres. The average size of an operation is 221 acres in the state. (WI Department of Agriculture)
#39. There are 7,400 dairy farms operating in Wisconsin right now, which is more than any other state. That means the total herd count for the cattle industry is 1.28 million. (WI Department of Agriculture)
#40. Iowa’s beef industry receives support from over 28,000 cattle operations in the state. That figure includes over 6,000 feedlots. (Iowa State University)
#41. The total cash receipts for cattle and calves in Iowa reached $3.86 billion in 2016, representing 32% of all animal-based receives and 15% of agricultural-based ones. (Iowa State University)
#42. 4.1% of the cattle found in the United States are located on Iowa farms. Inventories rose by 16% from 2004 to 2008 and have remained steady since, reflecting a stable industry that dates to the 1990s. (Iowa State University)
#43. The Iowa beef industry generates 32,000 jobs each year, over $1.36 billion in labor income, and $6.3 billion in total output. (Iowa State University)
#44. Farms that have between 200 to 999 head represent 46% of the cattle industry in Iowa, with over 4,400 operations fitting into this category. Only 2% of the total herd come from farms with 1-20 head, even though there are over 7,000 operations that fit into that category. (Iowa State University)
#45. Over 350,000 head of cattle were marketed in Sioux County in 2012, making it one of the top cattle-feeding counties in the United States. It ranked #4 in operations and #14 in sales for that year. (Iowa State University)
Cattle Industry Trends and Analysis
As economies improve around the world, the demand for more beef products continues rising. American cattle suppliers will see some of the most significant gains in Asia and Africa as GDPs surge, creating a lucrative export market that will likely reach $10 billion by 2025.
Even if tariffs from the Trump Administration impact the cattle industry in future years, domestic growth for a variety of beef products will keep this sector strong. Expect steady growth of 3% at minimum annually unless an unexpected recession impacts the American economy.
The number of farmers might be decreasing, but capacity increases continue to help the cattle industry to keep growing. There will be a trend of moving toward corporate, mass-scale land use in the coming years as family farms keep decreasing, but there will also continue to be numerous opportunities for expansion that agricultural entrepreneurs could take advantage of in the days ahead.
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