Two years of devastating drought pushed America’s cattle inventory to its lowest level in more than 60 years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported all cattle and calves totaled 89.3 million head on Jan. 1, 2013, a 1.6 percent decline from last year. The 1952 inventory was 88.1 million head.

Inventory lowest in 60 yearsThe inventory for all cows and heifers that have calved was reported at 38.5 million, down 2 percent from last year and the lowest number since 1941.

The total number of beef cows was estimated at 29.3 million, down 3 percent from last year. The 2012 calf crop was estimated at 34.3 million head, down 3 percent from 2011. That’s the smallest calf crop since the 33.7 million reported during 1949.

Cattle on feed numbers reported at the same time as the inventory data estimated cattle in  feedlots at 13.4 million head, down 5 percent from last year.

Market analysts generally regard this latest cattle data from USDA as positive for prices in late  2013 and 2014. However, the declining number of feeder cattle and calves continues to provide great concern for the feeding and packing industries. Both sectors had significant excess capacity even before this report, and further declines in the nation’s herd will place additional pressure on those businesses.

One bright spot in the data was found in a 2 percent increase in beef heifer replacements. USDA estimated the total at 5.4 million head.

Providing the widespread drought lifts this year, cattlemen should find plenty of incentive to expand their herds, but the process will be slow.