Cattle inventory continues to shrink

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On February 1, 2013 the USDA released its semiannual cattle inventory report. The report benchmarks where the cattle industry is in regards to current supplies and where the industry is headed.

Of greatest interest was the estimated inventory as of January 1 after the beef industry has been faced with two years of back-to-back droughts, first in the Texas and New Mexico region in 2011 and then further up into the Midwest in 2012. The USDA report listed all-cattle-and-calves in the U.S. as of January 1, totaling 89.3 million head, 2% lower than last year at that time and the lowest all-cattle-and-calves inventory since 1952 reported an inventory of 88.1 million head. Also stretching back to record-breaking number is the all-cows-and-heifers that have calved inventory where the 38.5 million head was the lowest inventory since 1941. Due to the lower cow numbers, it’s not a surprise that the calf crop numbers will also be down.

However, the report did indicate beef replacement heifers were up slightly by 2%, indicating some of the industry is trying to begin a process of rebuilding particularly with younger replacements over cows.

On the cattle feeding side, cattle and calves on feed for slaughter in all feedlots was down 5% to 13.4 million head. As part of this major semiannual cattle inventory report, USDA conducts a more comprehensive survey of feedlots and includes only US feedlots with 1000+head capacity.

However, South Dakota’s numbers actually showed a slight increase. For South Dakota’s total cattle and calves between January 1, 2012 and January 1, 2013, the number rose from 3.65 million to 3.85 million. Yet, in regard to cattle-on-feed numbers reported for South Dakota, for feedlot over 1,000 head did decrease, totaling only 94% of the numbers that were on feed in South Dakota January 2012.

As we move ahead and producers start facing calving season, not only is calving on their mind, but the concern for moisture that will result in pasture and hay supplies needed particularly in the cattle-producing areas of the U.S. is also a topic of discussion. Time will tell if we can garner the moisture needed to keep the cowherd levels we have in South Dakota.

Source: B. Lynn Gordon


  • USDA. (February 1, 2013). January 2013 cattle inventory report. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

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