Education and Training: Varies—see profile
Salary: Varies—see profile
Employment Outlook: Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
Livestock farmers raise animals for profit. The most important livestock are cattle, swine, sheep, and goats, raised for food, their hides, or their hair. A few livestock farmers raise horses, mules, or donkeys as draft animals—animals that pull loads or machinery. Livestock farmers may work on many acres—on farms, ranches, or rangeland—raising more than one type of animal. Large operations may employ several laborers or technicians. Most smaller farms are operated by families.
Livestock farmers breed and raise cattle—including bulls, cows, and steers, which are neutered bulls—for the meat and leather industries. Purebred cattle farmers breed registered cows and bulls. They work to improve strains of cattle so the best cattle is sold to the meat industry. Purebred farmers also sell their cattle to ranchers who wish to strengthen their own herds. Ranchers lease public rangeland, or grazing land, from the state or federal government to raise cattle. They allow herds of cattle to roam these large tracts of land where they graze on wild plants. During roundup the ranch hands drive the animals together and count the herd. They also select the animals to be sent to the meat market.
Livestock farmers with great amounts of land may also raise sheep for meat and wool. These grazing animals need large amounts of pasture. The sheep move from one pasture to another as they eat all the grass in one area. The sheep remain outdoors except when they are brought to sheds where farmers shear, or clip, their wool.
Goats are also grazing animals. Farmers lead the flock to pasture in the morning and return them to the corral at night where they are milked. They sell the goat milk to hospitals or other buyers and shear the hair to make mohair.
Farmers raise swine, also called pigs or hogs, mainly for meat. They feed them corn and other grains. Since these animals do not graze, farmers keep them in buildings that house ten to twenty or more swine. In good weather they keep the swine in an outdoor pen.
Some livestock farmers grow the hay and grain needed to feed their animals. All livestock may need supplemental feedings of minerals or other nutrients. Livestock must be protected against disease. The animals may be vaccinated or washed and then bathed in insecticide. Livestock farmers assist in the delivery of newborn animals. They brand the animals for the grade or type of animal or for ownership. Many livestock farmers specialize in developing finer breeds of their animals to increase the quantity or quality of milk, meat, or wool.
Education and Training Requirements
To be a successful livestock farmer, candidates need a good understanding of livestock production, business practices, and management techniques. Growing up or working on a farm is good preparation. Another way to obtain experience is to join a 4-H club (youth organizations administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative Extension System) or Future Farmers of America and help with projects that deal with livestock.
A college education is becoming more important. Both two-year and four-year colleges offer courses in agriculture. Students should also study animal husbandry and business subjects.
Getting the Job
To start a farm or ranch, prospective farmers must have or be able to borrow a great deal of money. Candidates may enter the field of livestock farming as a hired hand on a farm or ranch. They should attend a school for formal training and inquire at the placement office for openings for farm managers or workers.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Livestock farmers may wish to increase their acreage or add more animals to their operation. They may improve the quality of their livestock for increased profits. The trend toward fewer and larger herds is expected to continue. All livestock farmers must have sufficient funds to withstand problems caused by the weather and increasing operating costs. The financial risks are high, and not all farmers succeed. A decrease in the number of livestock farmers is expected through the year 2012.
Livestock farmers perform physically strenuous work. They are outdoors in all kinds of weather and care for their animals seven days a week. In addition, they are involved in crop production in order to provide feed for the animals. Ranchers ride horses and travel in jeeps and helicopters, working particularly long hours during roundup. Farmers must comply with state health and grazing regulations for their animals. Livestock farmers face economic uncertainty. However, they take pride in being their own bosses and they enjoy outdoor life.
Where to Go for More Information
National Cattlemen's Beef Association
9110 E. Nichols Ave., Ste. 300
Centennial, CO 80112
National FFA Organization
6060 FFA Dr.
Indianapolis, IN 46268-0960
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings vary depending on location, investment, and size of the farm. The annual income of farmers fluctuates from year to year depending on weather conditions and other factors that influence farm production. Farm income also varies depending on the size of the landholding and the type of operation. Large farms generally provide higher earnings than small farms. Most farmers usually have income from nonfarm sources. Self-employed farmers must provide their own benefits, such as insurance and retirement plans.