US cattle herd falls to 60-year low

by Editor
Wednesday, February 05, 2014
Photo: Michael Loeper /

Persistent drought conditions have resulted in the smallest US cattle herd in more than 60 years and record beef prices at grocery stores. But recently released government data hinted at some efforts to rebuild the herd.

Cattle and calves totalled 87.7 mill. as of 1 January, 2014, down 2% from 89.3 mill. recorded a year ago, according to the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). This is the lowest 1 January inventory of all cattle and calves since the 82.1 mill. head recorded in 1951, NASS noted.

The inventory of cows and heifers that have calved eased 1% to 38.3 mill. head from 38.5 mill. reported on 1 January, 2013. NASS said this is the lowest 1 January inventory of all cows and heifers that have calved since the 36.8 mill. head reported in 1941. Beef cows were down 1% to 29.0 mill. head, while milk cows, at 9.2 mill., were unchanged from the comparable year-ago period, NASS reported.

However, cattle producers retained more replacement heifers, according to NASS data, a sign that producers are rebuilding their herds while feed prices remain low and drought conditions ease in some areas. Beef replacement heifers were up 2% to 5.5 mill.

Cattle and calves on feed for slaughter in all feedlots totalled 12.7 mill. head, down 5%, NASS reported. The combined total of calves under 500 lbs. and other heifers and steers weighing more than 500 lbs. outside of feedlots declined 3% to 24.7 mill. head.

NASS noted that the calf crop declined 1% to an estimated at 33.9 mill. head in 2013. The agency said this is the smallest calf crop since the 33.7 mill. calves born during 1949. Additionally, calves born during the first half of 2013 are estimated at 24.7 mill. head, down 1% from 2012.