Small-scale U.S. Livestock Operations 2011 represents the results of the first national survey of the health, marketing, management and biosecurity practices of livestock operations with annual sales of ag products from $10,000 to $499,999. See the report here.

Conducted by USDA’s National Animal Health Monitoring System, the report contains information collected from 8,123 small-scale livestock operations in all 50 states. A subset of that report covers small-scale cow-calf operations – those with fewer than 100 beef cows. According to the 2007 Ag Census, farms with fewer than 100 beef cows account for 90.4% of all farms with beef cows and 45.9% of all U.S. beef cows.

The research found that the majority of small-scale cow-calf operations relied at least partially on off-farm income to support the household. Producers on operations with fewer than 50 beef cows devoted an average of 28.9% of their total work time to the cow-calf operation, while operations with 50-99 beef cows devoted an average of 47.3% of their work time to the operation.

Almost 8 of 10 operations with fewer than 50 beef cows (78%) operated their cow-calf operation as a supplemental source of household income; 5.3% operated as the primary source of household income; and 16.7% operated for some other reason, such as pleasure. Among operations with 50-99 beef cows, 68.3% operated their cow-calf operation as a supplemental source of household income; 24.1% operated as the primary source of household income; and 7.6% operated for some other reason, such as pleasure.

Over 60% of small-scale cow-calf operations used production practices to target conventional marketing channels for calves produced (60.5% and 68.7% of operations with 1-49 and 50-99 beef cows, respectively).

About 7 of 10 of the operations that functioned as the primary source of household income (72.7%) targeted conventional marketing channels compared with about 5 of 10 of the operations that functioned for reasons other than income (55.8%). A very small percentage of operations used specific production practices to target certified organic marketing channels (1.2% and 0.2% of operations with 1-49 and 50-99 beef cows, respectively). The percentage of operations that targeted conventional and certified organic marketing channels did not differ substantially by herd size.

Use of some marketing practices for calves differed between small-scale cow-calf operations and larger operations. Operations with fewer than 100 beef cows were less likely to use specific production practices to target breed-influenced programs and age-and-source verification programs than operations with 100 or more beef cows. Small-scale operations were also less likely to utilize forward pricing of calves than larger cow-calf operations. Just 2.3% of operations with 1-49 beef cows and 3.1% with 50-99 beef cows marketed calves using forward pricing.

Utilization of reproductive technologies, such as estrus synchronization, palpation for pregnancy, ultrasound and semen evaluation, generally increased with herd size. The two most common reproductive technologies used across all cow-calf operations were semen evaluation and palpation for pregnancy. Palpation for pregnancy was used by about 1 of 10 operations with 1-49 beef cows (10.8%) and about 1 of 4 operations with 50-99 beef cows (25.8%). For operations eschewing a particular reproductive technology, the most common reason cited was labor/time.

Producers were asked to consider whether certain diseases had a significant economic impact on their operations in 2007. Of operations with 1-49 beef cows, 58.8% strongly agreed or agreed that external parasites had a significant economic impact on their operation, while 49.6% strongly agreed or agreed that internal parasites had a significant economic impact.

Over half of operations with 50-99 beef cows strongly agreed or agreed that open/late calvers, external parasites, and internal parasites had a significant economic impact (73.9%, 65.2% and 57.1% of operations, respectively). A lower percentage of operations with 1-49 beef cows than operations with 50 or more beef cows strongly agreed or agreed that calf scours, pneumonia/ shipping fever, or open/late calvers had a significant economic impact.

About 6 of 10 operations with 1-49 beef cows (59.4%) vaccinated any cattle or calves in 2007 compared with about 9 of 10 operations with 50-99 beef cows (86.6%). A lower percentage of operations with 1-49 beef cows vaccinated calves against respiratory disease from birth to sale compared with operations with 50 or more beef cows.