A little over a week ago, President Biden loaded up Air Force One and several other jets with cabinet members, staffers, and quite a few other gas-guzzling vehicles to travel to Glasgow, Scotland for a two-day climate conference aimed at reducing global carbon dioxide emissions. At the conference, Biden made the point of targeting methane emissions, including emissions from livestock, which generally means "cow flatulence".
That brings up the question of how big of a problem is that? Specifically, how many cows are there producing methane emissions on Earth, and of those, how many are in the United States?
We dug up the numbers, which we've presented in the following chart!
There are over one billion cattle and calves on Earth. The nation with the largest number of cattle is India, with 305.5 million. Brazil is second with 252.7 million and China is third with 95.6 million. The U.S. ranks fourth in the world, with 93.6 million cattle and calves, as of 1 January 2021.
We then dug out the historic cattle inventory for the United States, which has annual data going back to 1867, and decade census data going back to 1840. Here's a chart showing the historic population of cattle and calves in the U.S. over that time.
The population of cattle and calves in the U.S. peaked at 132 million in 1975. Since then, the population has decreased by 29% to reach 2021's surveyed population of 93.6 million. The U.S. accounts for 9.3% of the world's population of cattle.
Cook, Rob. World Cattle Inventory by Country. Beef Market Central. [Online Article]. 5 November 2021.
U.S. Census Bureau. United States Census of Agriculture: 1954. Volume 2. Part 6. Table 1. Cattle - Number Shown by the Census on Specified dates of Enumeration in Relation to Cyclical Changes Indicated by Annual Estimates of January 1 Inventories by Agricultural Marketing Service, for the United States. [PDF Document]. 6 February 1954.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service. Livestock and Poultry: World Markets and Trade. Cattle Stocks - Top Countries Summary. [PDF Document]. 12 October 2021.
U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. Livestock Historic Data. [Online Database: Survey - Animals & Products - Livestock - Cattle - Inventory - Cattle, Incl Calves - Inventory - Total - National - US Total - 1867-2021 - Point in Time - First of Jan.]. Accessed 9 November 2021.