Huge meat companies have steadily driven down the prices farmers receive for the livestock they raise, forcing farms to “get big or get out.” Small farms have been replaced by factory farms that pollute nearby air and water, undermine rural economies, and reduce the quality of life for neighbors.
Food & Water Watch compiled the data on the largest livestock farms from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Census of Agriculture – a five-year survey of America’s farms – from 1997, 2002 and 2007. The Census of Agriculture collects and reports data on livestock operations for every county and state in the United States, including the number of operations (farms) and the number of livestock. The USDA also reports the distribution of the number of livestock on different sized farms by state and by county. For this map, Food & Water Watch only analyzed the number of livestock on the largest categories of operations for beef cattle, dairy cows, hogs, broilers (chicken) and layers (eggs). The Census of Agriculture is available online at: http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/
Food & Water Watch analyzed the county-level data for the USDA’s largest categories of farms based on the number of livestock – either the inventory of livestock on an operation or, in the case of broiler chickens, the annual number of birds sold. The livestock operations that were analyzed for the map and report have at least:
|Beef cattle||500 or more beef cattle “on feed” (see below)|
|Dairy cows||500 or more dairy cows|
|Hogs||1,000 or more hogs|
|Broiler chickens (broilers)||Annual sales of 500,000 or more broiler chickens (see below)|
|Egg-laying hens (layers)||100,000 or more egg-laying hens|
“All Livestock” Calculation
Food & Water Watch compared the total number of livestock across different animal types – comparing chickens to cattle and hogs – by using the USDA definition of a “livestock unit,” which measures different kinds of livestock animals on the same scale based on their weight. A livestock unit is a comparison of 1,000 pounds of live weight based on the type of animal. One beef cattle is the equivalent of approximately two thirds of a dairy cow, eight hogs or four hundred chickens.i The average livestock units per farm were calculated by dividing the total livestock units by the number of livestock operations. (This may slightly underestimate the size of livestock operations because some farms may raise more than one type of livestock, although it has become significantly less common for farms to have diversified livestock production.) Because the USDA did not report beef cattle on feed prior to 2002 (see below), the “all livestock” measurement covers only 2002 and 2007.
The map displays the number of livestock on the largest operations in every county, by type of livestock, which is displayed on the density color scheme. The map displays five levels of livestock density, which reflect the 2007 distribution of the number of livestock by type and by county broken into four equal parts (quartiles). These levels are applied to the prior years, which show how livestock operations grew in size over the studied decade.
|Density||Map Color||All Livestock
|Dairy Cows||Beef Cattle
|Hogs||Broiler Chickens Sold||Egg-Laying Hens|
|Extreme||Dark Red||More than 13,200||More than 4,200||More than 17,400||More than 48,500||More than
|Severe||Red||5,200-13,200||2,100-4,200||7,300-17,400||19,000-48,500||1 million – 2.75 million||750,000-1.25 million|
|Moderate||Light Orange||Fewer than 2,000||Fewer than 1,200||Fewer than 2,175||Fewer than 9,500||Fewer than 350,000||Fewer than 500,000|
The average size of operations was calculated by dividing the number of livestock on the largest operations by the number of the operations. The USDA Census of Agriculture does not disclose these figures if the number of operations in any one county is very low (about one or two operations), because doing so would effectively disclose private or proprietary information about a specific farm. For counties where the number of operations is reported but the number of livestock is not disclosed, Food & Water Watch calculated an average size of the county operations based on state figures.
In most cases, Food & Water Watch calculated a residual average within each state by subtracting the reported county livestock numbers from the state livestock total numbers (for each type of animal) and dividing the remainder by the number of farms with undisclosed livestock numbers. (State livestock total – reported county livestock numbers within that state/number of operations with undisclosed livestock numbers.) This provides a close average for the livestock on operations that do not disclose the number of animals.
In a few cases, the USDA does not disclose the size of any operations in the state (if there are too few or if the few that do exist are dispersed among many counties). For states with small numbers of livestock and when operational size was not disclosed, Food & Water Watch used the threshold figure for the largest types of operations (500 for beef cattle and dairy and 1,000 for hogs) for these counties. Poultry operation sizes were not disclosed for any county, and these averages are calculated by dividing the total number of broilers or layers by the total number of farms (see below). For states that were among the top ten livestock producers in any animal type that did not disclose the size of any operations in the state, Food & Water Watch calculated a residual average based on operational size classifications by subtracting the largest possible number of livestock on smaller farms from the state total, and dividing the residual figure by the number of the largest category of farms.
Slaughterhouses and Processing Plants
The map also shows the county location of the slaughter facilities and poultry processing plants for the top four beef, pork, and poultry processing companies in the United States. The top four companies and their locations were taken from industry sources (Cattle Buyers Weekly, the National Pork Board and Watt PoultryUSA).ii The displayed location on the map reflects only the county where the facilities are located; it does not reflect the exact geographic location of the facility. In counties where there is more than one slaughter or processing facility, the map display represents an even distribution of facilities. Again, this does not reflect the exact location of the plants.
Cattle on Feed
Until 2002, USDA did not separately report the number of beef cattle operations that finish cattle on feed, which distinguishes feedlots from younger cattle on cow-calf, backgrounder and stocker operations that pasture their cattle or those that are entirely grass-fed and do not spend any time on a feedlot. The inventory of “cattle on feed,” was a new item in the 2002 Census, and refers to cattle being fattened on feedlots with grain prior to slaughter. The map and analysis does not display data for 1997 for cattle on feed, and, as a consequence, cannot report total animal units for 1997 because there is no comparable information.
Broilers and Layers
The USDA’s Census of Agriculture does not report the number of chickens by county but it does report state totals for broilers and layers. For broiler and layer operations, Food & Water Watch divided the total number of birds in each state by the number of operations and attributed the state average to every operation in the state. This necessarily is a less precise average than for some other livestock average size figures but it does reflect the average in that state. For broiler operations, USDA does not report the number of birds on the farm by size class; it only reports the annual sales of broiler operations by size class. The largest category of broiler operations sold at least 500,000 broiler chickens. To determine the average size of these operations, Food & Water Watch divided the total state number of broilers sold on the largest operations by 5.5 (the number of flocks of broilers sold annually by typical operations), which generates the statewide broiler inventory. The statewide broiler inventory was divided by the number of broiler operations to calculate the average broiler inventory.
- Gollehon, Noel et al. U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. “Confined animal production and manure nutrients.” AIB-771. June 2001 at 8. [back]
- National Pork Board. “Pork: Quick Facts.” 2009 at 92; Kay, Steve. “Top Four U.S. Beef Packers’ Plants.” Cattle Buyers Weekly. Updated July 26, 2010; “Watt Poultry Who’s Who 2007-2008.” Watt Poultry USA. 2007 at 188 and 162-164. [back]