Despite America’s devastating drought, nearly half of respondents to a Drovers/CattleNetwork online reader survey say they expect to expand their cattle herd over the next three years. The survey, conducted in September among producers through our e-mail database, revealed that our online audience is optimistic about beef’s future, and many are utilizing technology to help manage their business.

Respondents were screened to confirm that they derive at least a portion of their income from cow-calf, stocker or feedyard operations. Forty-eight percent of respondents indicated they expect their operation to grow over the next three years, while 33 percent said they expect the size of their operation to remain the same. Only 12 percent said they expect their operation to decrease and 8 percent said they did not know.

Respondents were asked to rate nine issues that are important to their cattle operation business. “Animal well-being” ranked as the most important issue by all industry segments, followed closely by “herd health/animal health” and “improved efficiency and profitability.” Listed fourth in the ranking was “improved animal productivity,” followed by “nutrition/supplementation” and “assuring beef quality and safety.” The final three issues on the list in order of importance as ranked by our respondents were: “genetics/reproductive management,” “consumer demand and perception” and “access to production technologies.”

Respondents were also asked to rank eight factors as to their importance to the success of their cattle business. “Financial management” was ranked first, followed by “market accessibility” and “legal/liability/regulatory issues.” The final five factors listed in order of importance to respondents were: “government/policy issues and regulations,” “markets/risk-management data indicators,” “industry consolidation,” “employee/labor strategies” and “global/world perspectives.”

Ninety-one percent of respondents to our survey say they own a computer, and 90 percent of those say they access beef-specific Internet sites regularly. Cell phone ownership was highest among stocker operators at 79 percent, followed by cow-calf operators at 77 percent and feedyard operators at 76 percent. However, smartphone use was highest among feedyard operators at 43 percent, followed by stocker operators at 39 percent and cow-calf producers at 38 percent. Roughly 40 percent of all respondents who say they own a smart phone indicated they utilize the device to access the Internet.

Across all industry segments responding, the median number of acres in their operations is 692. Nearly one-quarter (22 percent) of respondents are over 65 years of age. However, 15 percent of respondents fell in the 36-54 age range, 23 percent are 46-55 years of age and 28 percent are in the 56-65 age range.

Respondents indicated a relatively high level of education. Thirty-one percent said they have completed an undergraduate college degree, with another 38 percent saying they have taken postgraduate courses or have completed a post-graduate degree. Nineteen percent of respondents said they have attended some college, while 11 percent said their highest level of education was a high school diploma.

Our survey indicated that while Internet and e-newsletters are a popular way to access beef-industry news and information, 90 percent of respondents still prefer to receive printed magazines and newspapers via mail. Additionally, at least 70 percent of beef operators obtain business information from dealers/retailers and company sales brochures/technical manuals.