The latest USDA Cattle Inventory report shows the nation’s cow herd continues a slow liquidation. Beef heifer-replacement numbers were down 6 percent. Overall, the number of cows and heifers that have calved stood at 33.35 million head, which was down 0.32 percent compared to a year earlier. Smaller cow numbers also mean a smaller calf crop, which stands at the lowest level in 50 years.

Dry conditions around much of the country have slowed herd growth. If you look at the drought maps, states that had plenty of moisture last year are in a deficit this year. And those states suffering from drought last year have had a wetter season this year. Last January’s Inventory Report showed that herd expansion was happening in the Southeast; however, because of the drought that area is experiencing this grazing season, that expansion has turned to liquidation.

With the delayed herd expansion, prices for replacement-quality females has held steady overall. Even in the drought regions in the Southeast, prices for replacements have held steady, according to the Drovers’ auction market summary.

Slaughter-cow prices actually moved higher this month and remain higher than year-ago levels. But expect the seasonal price dip this fall, so consider making your cull marketing decisions earlier than usual this year to avoid the market lows.

July prices

In the Drovers’ auction market summary, prices for cows with large calves dropped $16.41 per head, ending July at $984.59. Cows with small calves increased slightly by $12.50 per head to average $967.50 for the month. Prices for small or aged cows with calves remained steady, ending July at $689.33.

Young and middle-aged, bred-female prices remained steady, ending July at $733 per head. Aged, bred-cow prices held steady, averaging $632.50 per head during July. While the prices appeared to increase significantly for bred heifers, which averaged $1,020 for July, that may not be a true indication of the market given the light volume reported.

Young and middle-aged, open-female prices increased $9.79 per hundredweight, averaging $64.50 per hundredweight for the month. Heiferette prices declined $1.82 per hundredweight, averaging $66.03 per hundredweight. Prices for open, aged cows increased by $1.38 per hundredweight to average $50.13 per hundredweight for July.

Prices for utility and commercial cows increased $2.03 per hundredweight, averaging $51.81 per hundredweight for July. Prices for canner and cutter cows also moved $1.46 higher, averaging $43.88 per hundredweight.