It has been 61 years since the U.S. cattle inventory was as small as it is now. And it has been 64 years since the calf crop was as small as it is now. At the first of the year the cattle inventory was 89.3 mil. down 2 percent from last year.
The calf crop in 2012 was 34.38 mil. down 3 percent from 2011. The 38.5 mil. cows and heifers that calved last year is the lowest number since 1941. The only anomaly in the trend was the fact replacement heifers were 102 percent of 2012. Are the days numbered cows and cowboys?
Don’t write off the resilient cattle industry; it is just re-inventing itself. There have been dry creek beds and rattlers along the way, but the iconic cowboy is just taking a snooze in the saddle until it is time to move on. And sometimes it is hard to see what is on the other side of the next rise until you get there.
Let’s start with the USDA’s January First US cattle inventory. As noted earlier it was 89.3 mil. down 2 percent from last year. The calf crop in 2012 was 34.38 mil. down 3 percent from 2011. The 38.5 mil. cows and heifers that calved last year is the lowest number since 1941. The only anomaly in the trend was the fact replacement heifers were 102 percent of 2012.
The decline in numbers, which came faster last year than in prior years, was attributed to the drought by Purdue livestock economist Chris Hurt. Hurt says, “The 2012 drought was the primary driver of the decrease last year as it destroyed pastures and forage supplies and catapulted corn, sorghum, and soybean meal prices. The impacts were largest for producers in the Southern Plains where beef cow numbers dropped by 9 percent last year and in the Central Plains were numbers were down 6 percent. These two regions had a decrease of 860,000 cows.” Apparently there were a number of livestock trucks that were northbound into wetter areas where forage was more abundant. Hurt says there was a 170,000 head increase in the Northern Plains, where better weather was to be found.
The declining number of head of cattle should not come as any surprise. The long term production chart from the Livestock Marketing Information Center points to a trend that will not be reversed overnight, or within the next year.
Hurt says there has been a more rapid drop in cattle numbers in the past 6 years. “The 2012 drought was just the latest event to result in the liquidation of cows that has been accelerating since 2007. Nationally, the beef cow herd has dropped by 3.6 million head (11 percent) with reductions in all regions except the Northern Plains. It has been difficult for the beef industry to compete for high priced feed and limited land that is being converted to corn and soybean production.”