In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) conducted the Small-scale U.S. 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 a livestock/animal species such as cattle, poultry, goats, sheep, swine, horses, aquaculture, or other farm animals raised for sale or home use. There are approximately 350,000 farms in the United States fit this definition. Data for the study were collected April 17 to May 18, 2011, from 8,123 of these farms distributed across all 50 States.

Operation characteristics: Nearly 9 of 10 operations had beef cattle and almost half had more than 1 type of livestock. About one-half of small-scale operations were residential/lifestyle farms in which the operator's primary occupation was off-farm. About one fourth were farming occupation farms; and about one-fourth 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% percent of all U.S. farm operations. A total of 9% of small-scale livestock operations had a female primary operator compared with 14% percent of all U.S. farm operations. A total of 4% percent of primary operators on small-scale livestock operations were of Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino origin compared with 2.5% of operators on all U.S. farm operations.

Marketing: An auction/sale barn was the most common channel used to market animals or products (88%). About one of four operations marketed animals or products directly to individuals or consumers. Access to slaughter facilities can be a challenge for small-scale operations that want to directly market meat and poultry products to consumers, since some regions of the United States do not have enough slaughter facilities to meet these needs.

The full report on characteristics of small-scale livestock operations can be viewed at:

Source: Steve Boyles, Ohio State University Extension Beef Specialist