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Cattle inventory shows herd numbers stifled

00:00AM Jul 25, 2008
Kim Watson

There were no surprises in the latest data from USDA's mid-year cattle inventory report. The nation's cowherd is smaller than last year with total cattle numbers at 104.3 million head. Of that beef cow numbers stood at 33.2 million, down 1% from last year. While that number is low, it's not as low as it was in 1990, when the number of beef cows were reported at 32.9 million head.

This year we've seen several factors limiting the ability of producers to expand herds. The main factors being the weather and high feed costs. Continued drought in the south and flooding in the Midwest limited access to quality forage for many. Also, high costs for supplemental feed and hay are forcing some to make decisions to send marginal cows onto slaughter rather than retaining them in the herd. As a result, we've seen beef cow slaughter running 9% higher compared than last year.

Heifer retention is also down with the report showing beef replacement heifer numbers down 2% at 4.6 million head; however, some analysts expected that number to be even lower.

On the other side of the fence, the Cattle on Feed report released Friday shows fewer cattle are being placed or marketed. Placements into feedyards were down 9%, and marketing of fed cattle out of feedyards was down 8%. The report also shows that the number of lightweight cattle being placed in the feedyards is down compared to last year. That's no surprise considering high feed cost.

That also means there are opportunities for farmer/feeders and stocker operators to add weight to those lighter animals before sending them to feedyards. That segment just needs to watch input costs and carefully analyze breakevens to avoid getting into a bind this fall. Also use marketing tools to put a floor on your cattle to ensure you can cover your breakeven and potentially make a profit.

USDA data:

All cows and heifers that have calved, at 42.4 million, was down slightly from both July 1, 2007 and July 1, 2006.

  • Beef cows, at 33.2 million, were down 1% from July 1, 2007 and 1% below two years ago.
  • Milk cows, at 9.25 million, were up 1% from July 1, 2007 and 1% above two years ago.

Other class estimates on July 1, 2008 and the changes from July 1, 2007, are as follows:

  • All heifers 500 pounds and over, 16.5 million, down 1%.
  • Beef replacement heifers, 4.6 million, down 2%.
  • Milk replacement heifers, 3.9 million, unchanged.
  • Other heifers, 8.0 million, unchanged.
  • Steers weighing 500 pounds and over, 14.7 million, down 1%.
  • Bulls weighing 500 pounds and over, 2.1 million, unchanged.
  • Calves under 500 pounds, 28.6 million, down slightly.
  • All cattle and calves on feed for slaughter, 11.7 million, down 5%.

Click here for Cattle Inventory report.

Click here for the latest Cattle on Feed report.

Kim Watson is the editor of Beef Today. You can reach her by e-mail at