Cows Count, in More Ways than One

My Generation

Hogs, dairy and beef cattle numbers may be down, but their value isn't.

Published on: January 29, 2013

I came across this quote the other day via Facebook. A disclaimer: I don't know Jacob Gorman, nor have I interviewed him. His quote was shared fourth-hand via a friend of a friend of a friend. And from what I understand, Jacob is from Alabama, has an agricultural degree, works outside the industry now, and makes ridiculously astute observations.

Here goes:

"It's funny how people cut down trees, bulldoze the land, pour concrete and asphalt over it, build a bunch of skyscrapers and then sit in the neighborhood coffee shop and talk about how beef cattle are bad for the environment." - Jacob Gorman

That's right, Jacob. You, go.

Beef cattle are a big deal. So is the entire livestock industry, including hogs and dairy cattle. In Illinois, the Illinois Livestock Development Group says the production sector alone contributes $3.5 billion to the Illinois economy, plus 25,000 jobs. Add in meat and dairy processing and you're looking at $27 billion - up from $21 billion in 2004. That's 5% of the state's economy, and 99,000 jobs.

Interestingly, while the total numbers of animals in the state has declined dramatically in the past 30 years, the value of the products sold has shown modest growth over the past decade. That's good news, especially in places like my home county. When I was a kid, everyone in Edwards County had hogs (or so it seemed, to this cattle girl). In fact, my hometown celebrated "Pork Day USA" every summer, and still does, even though there are just two hog operations left in the county. So perhaps, though numbers are down, value is up.

Regardless, for a state like Illinois that's known so prominently for its corn and soybeans and less for its livestock, it's a good reminder that those animals are driving a big part of this agricultural train.