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Livestock

Missouri has a long history of livestock production, with cattle being the predominant species today. Roughly two million calves are produced each year in Missouri, reflecting the fact that many soils in the state are better suited to pasture use than row crop production. Most calves are sold to buyers out of state, but some are kept to replace heifers culled from herds and a modest number are kept as bulls. Dairy cows are much less common than beef cows in Missouri, but the 2007 Agriculture Census still reported about 2,000 Missouri farms with dairy cows. Some dairies have added value by direct marketing of milk or other dairy products.

The poultry and swine industries have undergone dramatic changes since the days when a few pigs and chickens could be found on many Missouri farms. Over time, the trend has been for much larger swine and poultry options on many fewer farms. Poultry production in particular has become part of a vertically integrated system where a large company may own the chickens and specify the feeding system while the farmer provides the buildings and labor. However, there are a growing number of individuals raising chicken and turkeys on a small scale for local sales. Pastured poultry, where the birds are kept in portable cages outside that can be dragged around, instead of raised in a large building, are becoming more popular with a certain segment of consumers. Missouri still has many types of swine operations, including a small number of farmers who pasture their swine instead of using a confinement building. The economic success with any small livestock operation is dependent on a good marketing plan in addition to good animal husbandry.

Sheep and goats are relatively well-adapted to Missouri conditions. About 79,000 sheep were on Missouri farms in January 2010, raised for both meat and wool. Goat numbers have been increasing, especially in southwest Missouri, with 96,449 goats reported in Missouri during the 2007 Agriculture Census. Most of these goats are being raised for meat production, but there is a growing dairy goat industry in Missouri, with some goat dairies producing artisan cheese as well. Fencing and predator protection are typically bigger issues with these small livestock breeds as compared to cattle.

Missouri has an active equine industry with nearly 150,000 horses and mules in the state. Of course, most are kept as pleasure animals, but draft horses are still used on some small farms in the state. Minor livestock breeds include alpacas, rabbits, buffalo, deer, elk, and various bird species. Some Missouri farmers raise fish in aquaculture operations or may produce honey from bee hives as part of their operation.

Before starting out with a completely new breed of animal on your farm, it would be wise not only to read some of the resources linked below, but also visit some farms that raise these animals to get an understanding of the production and marketing issues faced by producers of that livestock species. Selecting an appropriate breed can also have a major impact on your potential success with raising and marketing the livestock. Some small acreage farmers raise heritage (heirloom) breeds of animals, which may be lower in productivity but easier to keep and have unique market niches. A starting point for information on some of these less common breeds can be found at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy website. For information on a wide range of modern livestock breeds, see Oklahoma State University’s livestock breeds website.

If you are new to raising a particular type of livestock, consider contacting or joining a livestock or breed association. For major livestock species there are both state and national associations. In the case of more minor species or breeds, the associations are more likely to just be national but in some cases may have a local or regional chapter that can help you find other producers working with the species or breed you are interested in. You can easily find these groups through the use of a search engine such as Google (for example “Missouri Cattlemen’s Association” or “Angus association”). Other good resource links are listed below.

External resources

Sheep and goats

MU Extension sources

External resources

Poultry

MU Extension sources

External resources

Swine

MU Extension sources

External resources

Beef cattle

MU Extension sources

Dairy

MU Extension sources

External resources

Other topics

MU Extension sources

External resources