July cattle inventory lowest on record

Carol Ryan Dumas

Capital Press

The decrease in overall number of cattle and calves in the U.S. on July 1 is no surprise to the industry. But the decrease in beef replacement heifers is, considering other USDA numbers showing signs of herd rebuilding.

At 95 million head, USDA’s mid-year inventory of all cattle and calves in the U.S. on July 1 is down 3 percent from July 1, 2012, and the lowest since the USDA survey began in 1973.

Because of the federal budget sequestration, USDA didn’t survey or report numbers for July 1, 2013, but the overall inventory and a slight increase in dairy cattle is no surprise, said Derrell Peel, livestock marketing specialist with Oklahoma State University.

What does come as a bit of a surprise is a decrease in beef replacement heifers. At 4.1 million, that number is down 2 percent, despite signs of more heifer retention since mid-2013, he said.

Beef replacement heifers have been up year over year on Jan. 1 for the past three years, yet this July number was down from two years ago. It could be up from last year but with the cattle inventory report suspended last year there’s no way to know, he said.

Regardless, the ratio of the number of replacement heifers in July compared to the number in January, at 75 percent, is the lowest since the July series began in 1973, indicating herd liquidation. The average ratio over the past 10 years is 82 percent, he said.

The ratio typically increases during herd expansion. The last time the national herd expanded, in 2004-2005, the ratio of heifers in July compared with January jumped to 85 percent to 87 percent, he said.

With other numbers suggesting herd expansion, Peel doesn’t quite know what to make of the July 1 heifer numbers, he said.

The January number suggests the industry is holding more heifers, and the July 1 cattle on feed report shows heifers on feed for slaughter are down 4.6 percent from a year earlier. In addition, the quarterly estimate of heifers on feed for slaughter has posted year-over-year decreases for the past eight quarters, Peel said.

Year-to-date heifer slaughter is down almost 8 percent. Perhaps the industry is turning things around and the data is not consistent, he said.


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