In recent years, the number of livestock operations has fallen
and production has shifted to larger and more specialized
operations. These structural changes have been accompanied by a
movement towards cost-saving production technologies and practices.
The changes in livestock production have had important implications
for economic efficiency, final product prices, water and air
pollution, food safety, and rural development. ERS collects
detailed information using Agricultural
Resource Management Survey (ARMS) data to describe and document
changes in hog, dairy, cow-calf, and broiler production practices.
ERS research provides insight into some of the causes and
consequences of these changes.
For example, ERS research examined links between the types of
practices used in the hog sector and structural change (see The Changing Economics of
U.S. Hog Production, ERR-52, December 2007). A related
study focused on broiler operations, and describes the industry's
organization, poultry housing features, and production practices,
including the use of antibiotics in feed (see The Economic Organization
of U.S. Broiler Production, EIB-38, June 2008). Together,
these studies, and others, document the evolution of livestock
production as operators respond to changes in technologies,
regulations and economic conditions.
Technological Innovation in Hog Production
Economic competition and the incentive to maximize profits drive
structural change and technological innovation in the hog industry.
If larger operations are more profitable than smaller ones,
competitive pressures may be expected to result in a larger average
farm size in the long run. Similarly, operations that are first to
adopt a cost-saving technology are more likely to survive and grow.
Technological innovation in hog production includes such advances
as improved genetics, nutrition, housing and handling equipment,
veterinary and medical services, and management that improves the
performance of hogs and the efficiency of the operation and/or
reduces production risk.
Market hogs are produced on either farrow-to-finish or feeder
pig-to-finish operations. Farrow-to-finish operations are those on
which pigs are farrowed (birthed) and raised to slaughter weight
(225-300 pounds). On feeder pig-to-finish operations, feeder
pigs (30-80 pounds) are obtained from outside the operation, either
purchased or placed under contract, and then raised to slaughter
weight. The 2004 ARMS collected information about use of artificial
insemination, all-in/all-out management (which commingles pigs of a
similar age and weight and keeps them together as they move through
each production phase), and other technologies, including terminal
crossbreeding programs, commercial seed stock obtained from
high-quality breeding animals, and phase feeding, which varies feed
to match animal diets with changing nutritional
The data reveal a strong relationship between the use of these
practices and the size of an operation. Artificial insemination was
used on only 4 percent of the smallest farrow-to-finish operations
in 2004 but on 92 percent of the largest. As farrow-to-finish
operations and feeder-pig-finish operations increased in size, use
of all-in/all-out finishing increased from 14 to 83 percent of
farms and from 66 to 72 percent of farms, respectively. Because
large, specialized hog operations can spread fixed costs over more
production and more easily take advantage of resulting productivity
gains, they are better able to invest in current hog-production
|Production practice use by size and type of
hog producer, 2004
||Size of operation1
||Fewer than 500 head
||5,000 head or more
||Percent of farms
| Artificial insemination
| Terminal crossbreeding
| Commercial seed stock
| Phase feeding
| All-in/all-out finishing
| Phase feeding
| All-in/all-out finishing
1/ Size of operation is the maximum number of hog and pigs on
the operation at any time during 2004.
Source: USDA, ERS using data from the 2004 Agricultural Resource
Antibiotic Use by Poultry Operations
Antibiotics are widely used in modern livestock and poultry
production to treat sick animals, but they are also administered in
subtherapeutic doses to protect animals against disease and to
promote growth. While the routine use of subtherapeutic antibiotics
(STAs) can increase productivity, health officials, physicians, and
veterinarians are concerned that extensive use is reducing the
efficacy of antibiotics in treating human and animal diseases.
Widespread use of human and animal antibiotics can encourage the
growth of drug-resistant pathogens. In agriculture, increased
resistance to animal antibiotics can lead to more severe outbreaks
of livestock disease. Resistant bacteria may cause disease
directly, or they may pass genetic material associated with
resistance on to other bacteria. In such cases, the widespread use
of antibiotics, including STAs in animals, could help promote the
development of drug-resistant bacteria that could pass from animals
to humans, thus posing a danger to human health. In response to
rising concerns, the European Union has banned STAs, and several
major U.S. retailers and processors have moved to limit their use
by input suppliers.
ERS research summarizing the use of STAs in broiler chicken
production draws on data from a large-scale survey of broiler
producers (USDA's 2006 Agricultural Resource Management Survey).
STA use was not ubiquitous--42 percent of producers, representing
44 percent of production, did not use STAs in production in 2006
(this decision is actually made by the integrator that contracts
with the farm).
Producers that did not use STAs relied instead on a portfolio of
other practices to prevent disease and promote growth in broilers.
About 75 percent of these producers had formal Hazard Analysis and
Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans, a systematic approach to
identify and prevent food safety hazards. In comparison, only 43
percent of the farms that used STAs had an HACCP plan in place.
Producers that did not use STAs relied on different feeding
routines than STA users, and their facilities were characterized by
more rigorous sanitation practices, improved ventilation for
poultry housing, and more extensive testing for pathogens.