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Census of Agriculture Cattle Insights

By Matthew Diersen
The “2017 Census of Agriculture” is a valuable source for insights related to cattle operations at the state level. There were 13,928 operations across South Dakota with cattle in 2017, and the total inventory was 3,988,183 head. The long-run shift toward fewer yet larger operations mirrors the national situation. The number of operations fell from 2012, while the inventory increased.
Operation Size
A shift in operations by size of the cow herd reflects the consolidation trend. The total number of farms with beef cows in 2017 fell to 12,613 from the 13,327 in 2012. The number of farms by number of beef cows reveals a shift around 100 cows (Figure 1). In 2012, it was most common for a farm to have 20 to 49 beef cows. In 2017, it was most common for a farm to have 200 to 499 beef cows. The number of farms with fewer than 100 head declined while those with 100 or more increased or stayed the same across categories.
Figure 1. South Dakota farms by number of beef cows.
Sales Volume
The sales pattern is similar to the inventory pattern in South Dakota. There were 13,362 operations that sold 2,752,025 head of cattle and calves in 2017. The total sales volume was $3.2 billion, up from $3.0 billion in 2012. In a breakdown by concentration of sales, 1,055 farms accounted for half of the cattle and calves sales volume in 2017. Note that feedlots with relatively large sales volumes (and large purchase volumes of feeder cattle) would be included in this tally.
Pasture and Rangeland
Despite an increase in total cattle inventory, the amount of pasture decreased from the 2012 Census. In 2017, 17,349 operations reported a total of 22.0 million acres of land in permanent pasture or rangeland, a decline of over 0.5 million acres from 2012. There were sharp declines in pasture in Fall River, Ziebach, Meade, Spink and Gregory Counties with a large increase in Pennington County. There was a small decline in the number of operations, to 4,449 in 2017, that practiced rotational or management-intensive grazing. The related acres are not reported.
Cattle on Feed
The Census gives a breakdown of inventory and sales using different head categories than in “Cattle on Feed” reports. The total on feed in 2017 was 541,201 head in South Dakota, up from 2012. There were 1,308 feedlots, down from 2012. Feedlots have become larger, similar to beef cow operations. The head breakdown reveals the number of farms in 2017 with fewer than 200 head of cattle on feed stayed the same or declined while those with 200 or more head increased (Figure 2). In 2017, 1,522 farms reported selling 672,138 head of finished cattle. A total of 47 farms custom fed 64,325 head for slaughter in 2017, both declining from 2012.
Figure 2. South Dakota farms by number of cattle on feed.