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US beef cow herd declines

22 February 2022

Significant declines were seen in South Dakota, Texas, Missouri and Montana

USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released the 1 January Cattle Inventory report, detailing beef cow herd size and changes at the state level, the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) said in an update.

The US beef cow herd declined 719,000 head from a year ago and saw substantial changes in key states. Among the largest declines in beef cows were South Dakota, down 189 thousand head; Texas, 160 thousand head smaller, Missouri 94 thousand head lower; and Montana, down 90 thousand head. There were also some surprises in states that gained cow numbers after a year of significant drought: Idaho increased 34 thousand head, Washington up 13 thousand head, and California increased 20 thousand head.

The calf crop for 2021 was reported at 35 million head, down 1.2%, with significant declines in Montana, California, and Florida. Interestingly, inventories of calves under 500 pounds was down significantly more, decreasing 2.6%. Serious weather events in the winter of 2021 likely led to losses. The calf crop and the under 500-pound calf category on 1 January are usually correlated, but the long-term trend is for calves to be weaned at heavier weights skewing more cattle to appear in categories over 500 pounds.

Other highlights from the cattle inventory report include supplies of cattle outside of feedlots shrank by more than 600 thousand head, with concentrated losses through most of the Great Plains states, with Nebraska and Missouri losing more than 100 thousand head each.

The cattle inventory was slightly lower than analysts' expectations on the breeding herd and indicated tighter cattle supplies through smaller numbers of under 500 pounds and those outside of feedlots. This will be supportive of feeder cattle prices in 2022. LMIC revised its cattle price forecasts to reflect tighter feeder cattle supplies in 2022 and smaller production in 2023. LMIC has 2022 annual fed cattle prices $135-137 in the five-state area, 700-800 pound feeders in the Southern Plains $164-166, and 500-600 pound calves $189-193 per cwt.


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