The total U.S. cattle herd counting all cattle was at 103 million head on July 1, 2017.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) outlines in the latest Cattle Inventory Mid-year Report that the total herd count has increased 4% since the previous summer report on July 1, 2015, when there were just 98.2 million head.

The total cow herd was at 41.9 million head, up 5% from the 39.8 million head mark two summers ago. Beef cows composed 32.5 million head in the total herd and accounted for a 7% increase during the last two years. Dairy cows were up 1% from the previous report with 9.4 million milk cows.

 

There were 16.2 million head of heifers weighing 500 lb. or more at the time of the report, a 3% increase from the 15.7 million head reported on July 1, 2015. Beef replacement heifers actually saw a drop of 2% from 2015 reports with just 4.7 million head. Dairy replacement heifers saw no change in the last two years with 4.2 million head counted. Non-replacement heifers accounted for a 9% increase in numbers with 7.3 million head reported this year.

Calves under 500 lb. increased 5% from 2015. There were 28 million light weight calves reported on July 1, 2017, compared to only 26.7 million head two years ago.

Steers weighting 500 lb. or more accounted for 14.5 million head, a jump of 3% since July 1, 2015. Bulls weighing 500 lb. or more saw a 5% increase since the last report with 2 million head being counted.

3% Increase in Calf Crop Since 2016

USDA reports that the U.S. calf crop for 2017 is up 3% compared to last year and 6% since 2015. Currently there are 36.3 million calves total projected to be born this year and thus far there are 25.5 million head on the ground.

There has been a 4% increase in spring born calves since 2016 and an 8% rise from two years ago for calves born prior to July 1. USDA estimates another 9.8 million calves will be born in the second half of 2017.

Feedlot Inventories Rise 6% from 2016

There were 12.8 million head of cattle on feed at the time of the report on July 1, 2017. Two years prior there were 12.1 million head, approximately 6% lower than current inventories.

Feedlots with capacities of 1,000 or more actually saw a decrease in feeder cattle shares dropping 0.1% from the previous report in 2015. However, that class of feedlots still account for 84.5% of total cattle on feed.

Take Home Points

Beef cow herd expansion appears to be leveling off. Approximately 100,000 more replacement heifers were held back in 2015 compared to 2017. This was a time when cattle prices were still coming down from the highs of 2014 and the market for developing replacement heifers saw a big run-up

Now, it appears many of those heifers are making up a larger percentage of the cow herd with the recent increase of 2 million head in beef cows. The last time the beef cow inventory was at or above the current 32.5 million head mark was July 1, 2008, when 33.2 million beef cows were counted. In those nine years there have been several years of drought in major beef cow states, especially those in the Southern Plains. It led to selloffs of herds for those who could not find grass to graze. 

The past few years moisture has improved in states like Texas and Kansas, helping those areas add cows back into the herd.

The last time the mid-year total inventory was at or above today's current mark of 103 million head, was also in 2008 when 104.3 million head were reported. 

Overall inventories haven't gone up in recent history. Every year between 2007 and 2014 has seen a drop in cattle during the July 1 report. In 2006 and 2005 there were two years of improving total inventories. Going back from 2004 there has been a drop off of at least 1% in head count for nine years. In 1995, the cattle inventory was at 114.3 million head, up 2% from July 1, 1994 and up 5% from the 109 million head two years prior.

The first recent rise was in 2015 when the total inventory reached 98.4 million head and last year there was no mid-year report.