What is the average size of a Texas ranch?

Asked October 21, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT

I have been redirected to you from various sections of the Ag Commissions offices and GLO to a question I have which I am informed that you all would have the answer. What is the average acreage size of a Texas ranch… from small east Texas to large West Texas to humongous ones like the King Ranch, what is the average Texas ranch size? And to clarify, like I had to do with the state employees, I’m not talking about cotton farms or agricultural endeavors or hog farms, but actual RANCHES… cattle ranches… for everyone I know in Texas considers a ranch to be that which runs cattle, exception being around San Angelo with sheep. State employees who drive SUV’s, eat in upscale continental restaurants, and drink latte’s only made from exotic coffee beans don’t seem to have a clue… and act put upon for the nerve of me asking.

Thank you.

Ro Thompson

Texas farm management

4 Responses

There is no definitive answer to the ranch size question, but there are some data that may help ballpark the answer. The 2012 Ag Census data for Texas suggests there are a roughly 178,000 operations claiming a total of 90.3 million acres of permanent pasture in Texas. The simple answer: that’s about 507 acres per operation.

In reality, the answer is not so simple. There are also 5.8 million acres of pastured woodland and 2.8 million acres of grazed cropland and a specified number of operations that claim those types as well. Adding the total number of operations for all three land types would be double counting the people that own more than one type of land. Also complicating the data is the fact that some of that land is used for livestock other than cattle.

If you want to look at average number of head. The same 2012 Census indicates a Texas beef cow inventory of 4.33 million head on 134,000 operations or about 32 head per operation.

You can find the Texas Ag Census data here: http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_1_State_Level/Texas/

Well, thank you for your time. I know a lot of ranchers and not one of them has something as small as a little over 500 acres. No where near that little. Tiny is considered 1,000 and one can only run a VERY small number of cattle on that and I don't know anyone who runs an average of 32 head of cattle. I think you got those numbers right after the height of the historical drought when everyone had either lost their cattle or had sold their herds at auction at a great loss. 2012 was NOT an average year, but a historical-it's-never-been-this-bad in the 1600 years of tree ring observations made by the state. I think you also included the entire ag community, i.e. cotton farmers, chicken ranches, hog farms and everything else besides the cattle industry. This not what I asked for. But thank you for your time.

You are absolutely right; the data has many problems, which is why I suggested there is no definitive answer. Mainly, the data includes a very large number of small operations. So when you average a large number of small herds with a relatively small number of large herds, you get an average number (32) that doesn't mean much. The drought definitely had an impact on cattle inventory, but the same number from the 2007 Census data is still only about 40 head per operation.

If you want to leave out the smaller herds, check out Table 12 of the Census report I referenced earlier. It shows the beef cow inventory by herd size classes. It also shows the vast number of these small herds. 36% of the Texas cow inventory is in herds smaller than 50 head.
I also uploaded a table of a these same numbers where I added the head/farm column. Keep in mind the census terminology uses "farm", but these are operations that have beef cattle. They could indeed have other enterprises along with cattle, and you would expect that is more likely in the smaller herds.

I couldn't find any additional information on land use or acreage size.

I had previously found info in the Texas records that the majority of ranches in Texas ranged between small ranches of 2,000 acres to those of 20,000+ acres.... which is why I was trying to find the 'average'... which would be between 2,000 and 20,000 acres. Some ranches have more than 100,000 acres. You have to have at least a several sections of land to be able to feed a tiny herd of cattle. I know the average land acreage per animal use to be a minimum of 10 acres... that was before the drought.... and that was in the central hill country area where there is better grazing than the majority of the state. This is why I know your computations are not even remotely realistic, as you have ranching in Texas as under 400 acres. You can't live off a mere herd of 32 head of cattle... that's not a ranch... that's a dairy farm with 40 acres of pasture grasslands which the majority of Texas does not have.