Missouri regains No. 2 in cow numbers, national herd sizes fall

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COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri returned as No. 2 beef cow state in the nation, with a 63,000-cow increase in 2013. The USDA cow count shows Missouri rose from No. 3 back to the position it held from 1983 to 2008.

The state has 1.82 million cows, down from more than 2 million in 2008. The annual U.S. Department of Agriculture inventory shows Missouri to be one of only three states to grow herd size by more than 50,000 cows.

In 2013, Kansas went up 86,000 cows. Oklahoma grew by 51,000. Arkansas rose 31,000, making it fourth-fastest-growing cow state in the nation.

Texas remains No. 1, with 3.91 million head. In a long-term drought, Texas cow numbers dropped 1.1 million head from the 2011 USDA report.

Nebraska, which had been No. 2 for two years, dropped to No. 4, with Oklahoma No. 3 in beef cow numbers.

In contrast, 37 states declined or held steady at 2013 levels, says Daniel Madison, research economist at the University of Missouri Division of Applied Social Sciences.

Nationally, the cow herd continued declining, losing 255,000 head in 2013. The U.S. herd now has 29 million cows, the lowest level since 1962.

Observers anticipate an upturn in cow numbers. Declining beef supply brought sharp increases in cattle prices. Meanwhile, sharp drops in feed prices give economic signals for higher profits. That should lead to rebuilding the cow herd.

However, droughts and doubts about grass and hay supplies cause caution for herd owners nationally. Dry weather continues in parts of the United States.

“The economics seem to be in place for future growth in the beef cow numbers,” says Scott Brown, MU beef economist.

“Missouri producers see those signals,” he says. “Heifers retained in the herd are an indicator of optimism.”

Nationally, 1.7 percent more heifers are in the inventory over 2013. In Missouri, heifers are up 5.2 percent.

“Unlike the last few years, feed price projections are more promising for anyone raising cattle,” Brown adds. “Feedlots are selling fed cattle at prices never seen before. Now that their feed bills are dropping, they pay more for feeder calves. They want to refill their lots.”

The strongest developing trend in cattle prices is higher premiums for quality beef.

“The biggest premiums are paid for USDA prime grade cattle,” Brown says. “Missouri producers in the Quality Beef by the Numbers program gain current high market price, plus grid premiums in some cases of hundreds of dollars.”

However, more than economics are in play, he adds. “Drought continues to be a concern. California and Nevada herds are being reduced because of lack of water and grass.”

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, conditions ranging from abnormally dry to moderate drought cover a swath from northern Missouri through Iowa to southern Minnesota.



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