Changing Livestock Operation Sizes


In my last post, I took a first look at the 2017 Census of Ag data by examining the average farm size in Montana.  In this post, I’ll take a look at the changes in herd sizes for Cattle and Sheep operations in Montana.  First let’s take a look at the beef cattle industry.

A total of 11,400 Montana ranches reported owning a 2,518,571 beef cattle in 2017.  The number of ranches declined by 445 (3.8%) and the number cattle declined by 115,160 (4.4%) since 2012.  Beef cattle numbers in Montana peaked in the 1970s at over 3.3 million head.   In the past two decades Montana cattle inventories have fluctuated but remained fairly consistent at about 2.5 million head.

Beef cattle operation size has also been changing.  In 2017, over 6,400 ranches (56.6% of all ranches) reported having a cattle inventory of less than 100 head.  This was down by about 500 operations from 2012.  These operations own 7.4% of Montana’s beef cattle.  About 4,500 ranches (39.5% of all ranches) reported cattle inventory between 100 and 999 head.  This was an increase of about 150 operations from 2012.  These operations own 57% of Montana’s beef cattle, up from 53% in 2012. Only 440 operations reported owning more than 1,000 head.  This is a decrease of about 60 operations since 2012.  These large operations own 35% of Montana’s beef cattle, down from 39% in 2012.

Cattle operations with less than 100 animals and operations with more than 1,000 animals have been declining in both number of operations and in the total number of animals raised in on these operations.  Mid-sized operations have expanded in both number and inventory. 

Now let’s take a look at the changes for Montana’s sheep producers.  A total of 1,383 Montana operations reported owning 218,544 sheep in 2017.  The number of operations owning sheep increased by 3.4% (45 operations) but the total inventory declined by 18,102 since 2012.  Sheep inventories have been relatively stable in Montana since 2011 after decades of substantial declines.  Montana had over 4 million sheep in the early 1940s. 

The size of sheep operations has also changed since 2012.  Sheep operations reporting less than 100 head of sheep increased by nearly 100 operations to a total of 1,038.  These small operations collectively own 25,938 head or 12% of Montana’s sheep inventory (which is up from 11% in 2012).  Operations with inventory between 100 and 999 head of sheep declined to 303 (from 352) operations since 2012.  These midsized operations collectively own 93,742 sheep (down from 105,434 in 2012).  This represents 43% of Montana’s sheep inventory.  Sheep operations with over 1,000 head numbered 42 in both 2017 and 2012 however their collective inventory declined from 105,234 to 98,864.

Sheep operations with less than 100 head expanded in number of operations but collectively managed a nearly identical number of sheep.  Mid-sized operations declined in number and in total inventory.  The number of large operations remained constant but their total inventory declined by over 6,000 head. 


About Author

Joel Schumacher, an extension economics associate specialist in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics at Montana State University. Much of his research has focused on understanding the economics and public policy implications of small and community scale alternative energy projects. Joel also researches and provides extension training in retirement planning, saving and investing. Helping Montanans stay up to date on the ever changing laws and regulations affecting consumer issues is an interesting and challenging area.

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