Agriculture is a massive US industry that generates hundreds of billions of dollars for the economy each year. Livestock is a major player in the agriculture industry on both a domestic and global scale.
In the most basic form, the livestock industry supports the livelihood of over one billion people globally. Additionally, animals and animal products bring in billions of dollars each year. In 2022, animal food sources contributed $258.5 billion to the U.S., according to the United States Department of Agriculture. That same year, cattle and calves were the most profitable animal, accounting for $86.1 billion, according to the USDA.
Most farms in the United States are family-owned and operated and many are several hundred acres in size.
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Livestock producers play an enormous role in U.S. agriculture and the country’s economy. Family farms make up 98% of all farms in the U.S. and provide 88% of all production, according to the USDA.
When weighing which farm animals are most profitable, numerous factors are considered. For example, the acreage and land a farmer has available will determine how much agricultural contribution he or she can provide. Though cattle has the potential to be extremely profitable, a cattle farmer will need plenty of land to raise the animal.
“The more, the merrier,” said Taylor Rhodes, owner of Frank’s Produce and Greenhouses in Elkridge, Maryland, to Fox News Digital. Rhodes owns and works on her farm with her siblings and other family members. She has a long background working with both agriculture and livestock, participated in 4H and studied Agriculture, Business and Animal Science at West Virginia University.
Rhodes says that the less land you have, the more you’ll be supplementing foods for your livestock. Her farm is close to 50 acres of pasture for the nearly 40 cows she owns.
“We implement a rotational grazing system. We section off fields, put the cows in one field, switch them to the next field, let the old pasture rest, the grass grow and fertilize.”
Some livestock animals are more profitable for both farmers and the U.S. than others.
Chickens are often the starting point for a beginner farm, since they do not need a lot of space to be raised. While chickens can be sold for both their meat and eggs, the eggs are considered the true moneymaker, as they are constantly produced. Raising chickens organically can also bump up the price tag on your products.
For a totally inexperienced or amateur farmer, three to five chickens is a good jumping off point. Once you have a sense of economic terms like production, costs, maintenance, tending, etc. for raising chickens, you can gradually increase your chicken count.
In terms of egg production, while it depends on the breed, typically, you’ll get around five to seven eggs per week from a single hen.
Raising cattle can be profitable for seasoned farmers. On average, you’ll need about one to two acres of land for just a single cow to be properly raised, though.
“Cows require the most maintenance,” said Rhodes. “They’re kind of a risk because they cost a lot of money, a lot of money to keep them fed, to keep up with calving season.” Beyond that, the cost of the actual cattle, gates, hayseeds, shoots, traps, livestock trailers and more can quickly add up for farmers, especially beginners.
Additionally, the gestation period for a cow is nine months which means a cow will only have one calf per year.
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“It takes three weeks at the butcher to dry age the meat,” said Rhodes. “You get all the meat you can: organs, bones, liver, ox tail.”
Rhodes sells her meat frozen as it’s less of a headache and lasts for many more days than meat sold in an open air market.
Many farmers with land available to raise cows sell animal by-products including beef, milk, butter and cheese.
Cows need to be milked between two and three times per day. They produce six to seven gallons of milk daily.
“We milk at 3 a.m. and 3 p.m.,” said Derek Patrick, Owner and operator of Maple Dell Farm in Howard County, Maryland to Fox News Digital. He studied Dairy Herd Management at the University of Madison-Wisconsin. He is part of the third generation of his family to milk cows and the sixth generation to farm. “It takes us about 2.5-3 hours each time to milk.”
Patrick and his family own and operate the farm together. He works alongside his entire family from his mom and dad, to his sister, aunts, uncles and occasionally his wife.
“We milk and then clean everything down with a high-pressure hose before the rest of our chores,” Patrick said. “Cleanliness is part of our daily routine at the farm because we’re producing a product that is consumed by the public.”
Pigs are pregnant for significantly less time than cows. Their gestation period is three months, three weeks and three days.
“The same pig can have 2.5 litters per year, so up to 17 piglets” Rhodes said. “The rate of gain is so much higher.”
Pigs can produce 200–300 pounds of meat in a year and also, have a quick turnaround from gestation period to sales. Though beef is marked up more than pork, there is much more that goes into raising cattle than pigs.
Raising goats requires at least 20-square feet of space for each goat in a barn, and around 200 to 250 square feet of outdoor space per goat.
Goats can be very profitable to farmers for many reasons. Goat milk is a popular alternative to cow’s milk. Goats need to be milked once or twice per day, and can produce around 2 gallons of milk daily.
Another reason they are popular is because goats can actually be rented out in order to remove brush, meaning that you can get paid for your goat to eat.
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While not very popular in the U.S. at this point, eating goat meat is very common in other countries.
Bees provide outstanding economic and agricultural benefits to a farm. Their main benefit is that they are pollinators. In addition, you can also sell their sweet honey.
To avoid stings, buy protective clothing to wear when you are dealing with bees.