Cattle herd steady

Longhorn heifers graze in the Sierra foothills of California. The U.S. cattle herd has leveled off, for now.

The U.S. cattle herd is in a holding pattern, showing no growth in the total inventory of beef and dairy animals over year-ago levels.

Beef cow numbers were also unchanged from a year ago, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service’s mid-year inventory report.

The stall in total cattle inventory and beef cow numbers follows year-over-year increases in both categories since 2015.

No growth in cattle numbers would normally be called a cyclical peak, but that implies those numbers will come down, Derrell Peel, livestock marketing specialist at Oklahoma State University, said.

“I don’t think that will happen,” he said.

Cattle numbers haven’t gone too high to push prices lower and trigger liquidation. Instead, they’ve reached a plateau, he said.

Beef cow numbers are stable, beef replacement heifers are down 4% and the calf crop is down slightly from a year ago, NASS reported.

That suggests there’ll be little to no growth in beef production going into next year, Peel said.

“We can maintain current levels of (beef) production and (cattle) price levels till something occurs to push us in another direction,” he said.

Cattle prices in general have been pretty stable since 2017, and he expects they will maintain at current levels or a little higher going into next year with roughly the same amount of beef production, he said.

“Something will change eventually, and it could go either way,” he said.

It will all depend on beef demand. A recession or other macroeconomic conditions in the U.S. could affect domestic demand, and beef exports are being held in check by trade disputes, he said.

“I’m a little concerned about beef demand but not overly concerned. We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.

Loss of demand domestically or internationally could bring some liquidation. But if trade issues were resolved, it could mean more demand and herd expansion, he said.

“It’s all sort of to be determined, a kind of stay-tuned thing,” he said.

Cattle and calves on feed in large U.S. feedlots on July 1 was 11.5 million, up 1.7% from a year earlier. Placements into those feedlots in June were 2.3% below a year earlier. Marketings of finished cattle in June were 3% below a year earlier with one less slaughter day compared to June 2018.

The estimated supply of feeder cattle outside feedlots on July 1 was 37.1 million, up 0.3% compared with a year earlier.

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