In recent years, the number of livestock farms has declined and production has shifted to larger, more specialized farms. These structural changes have been accompanied by a movement towards cost-saving technologies and production practices. Changes in livestock production have had important implications for economic efficiency, final product prices, water and air pollution, food security and rural development. ERS research uses information from the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) to describe and document changes in the production practices of pigs, dairy, cows, calves and broilers.
ERS research also explores how government policies and evolving economic conditions influence livestock production practices, agricultural productivity, and environmental outcomes. The agricultural sector is facing a challenge. By 2030, the number of people in the global middle class is expected to increase to five billion, and by 2050, 10 billion people will live on our planet. Farmers must supply more milk, meat, fish and eggs than ever before, and use fewer resources.
For example, a study on livestock feed evaluated the impact of different fats on methane production. Tallow, sunflower oil, and whole sunflower seeds were added to the diet of Angus heifers. The results revealed that each animal produced about 14% less methane when diets contained tallow or sunflower oil and 33% less methane when diets contained sunflower seeds. It offers an effective way for some farms to reduce emissions.
The number of livestock and poultry farms in the United States has declined, but the density of animals on those farms has increased substantially.