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Beef cow herd slowing but plenty of feeder cattle

Analysts expect cattlemen to pull back on increases to the beef cow herd, but feeder cattle supplies will remain strong for another 18 months.
Carol Ryan Dumas

Capital Press

Published on July 24, 2018 12:32PM

Beef cow replacement heifers are down 2 percent at 4.6 million head, NASS reports.

Capital Press File

Beef cow replacement heifers are down 2 percent at 4.6 million head, NASS reports.

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The number of beef and dairy cattle in the U.S. on July 1 totaled 103.2 million head, up 1 percent from a year earlier.

Beef cows and heifers that have calved increased 1 percent year over year to 32.2 million. Their dairy counterparts held steady at 9.4 million, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reported on Friday.

Beef cow replacement heifers were down 2 percent at 4.6 million head, and milk cow replacement heifers were unchanged at 4.2 million.

Lower heifer retention in the beef industry and double digit increases in beef cow slaughter imply a smaller beef cow herd by next year, Daily Livestock Report analysts said on Monday.

They estimate beef cow slaughter is up 10.8 percent in the first half of the year compared with the same period last year.

“Dry conditions in a number of key cow-calf producing regions have impacted feed supplies and likely pushed more cows to market this year,” they said.

“The beef industry has a tendency to overshoot the market during expansion, leading to liquidation immediately after. That may not happen this time,” Derrell Peel, livestock marketing specialist with Oklahoma State University Extension, said.

A lot could happen to change the outlook, but it looks like cow numbers will reach a peak, stabilize and move sideways more than anything else, he said.

“It almost looks to me like we could stabilize and do a soft landing,” he said.

But there are lots of feeder cattle available, and they’ll keep coming for another 18 months.

This year’s calf crop is estimated at 36.5 million head, an increase of 2 percent year over year and the largest calf crop since 2007. About 73 percent have already been born with an additional 9.9 million expected in the second half of the year, NASS reported.

The combined inventory of steers, heifers not retained for replacement and calves adjusted for cattle on feed shows an estimated July 1 feeder supply of 37.1 million head outside of feedlots, he said.

That’s up half of a percent year over year. It’s not a big number, but cattle supplies will continue to grow, he said.

“I think we’re adding modestly to the herd, so there’ll be more ahead into 2020. Even if we stop expanding today, we have enough feeder supply for another year and a half at least,” he said.

The number of beef cows is up almost 1 percent year over year, and he expects the January to January beef cow inventory on Jan. 1, 2019, to be up half of a percent.

So there’ll be that many more additional calves, plus or minus, he said.


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