Cattle inventory updates from July’s Cattle, and Cattle on Feed Reports

James Mitchell,University of Arkansas livestock marketing specialist and Josh Maples, Mississippi State University assistant professor & Extension economist

August 7, 2023

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Two key reports were released on July 21st that give the latest insights on cattle herd dynamics. USDA-NASS released the mid-year Cattle report and the monthly Cattle on Feed report. While there is plenty to digest in each report, we note a few key points in this article.

      For the 2014-present cattle cycle, July cattle inventories peaked in 2018 and, on average, have been declining by 1.0 percent each year. The latest report estimates July cattle inventories at 95.9 million head, down 2.7 percent from last year. Note that July cattle inventories are still above the previous low of 95.7 million head in 2014.

      The total number of cows and heifers that have calved was 38.8 million head, showing a 2.0 percent decline from the July 2022 total of 39.6 million head. Beef cows total 29.4 million head on July 1, 2023, down 2.6 percent from the previous year. Importantly, beef cow numbers for July 2023 are below the 2014 low of 29.8 million head and the lowest on record.

      As cow herds decline cyclically, so will the annual calf crop. The 2023 calf crop is estimated to be 33.8 million head (a 1.9 percent decline from 2022) and includes 24.8 million for the first half of the year and 9 million calves to be born during the year’s second half. This is the fifth consecutive annual decline in calf crop and would be the lowest total since the 33.5 million total in 2014.

      As tighter cattle supplies push prices higher, most are looking for indicators of herd expansion. One of those indicators is the number of beef replacement heifers. NASS estimated 4.05 million beef heifers held for replacement, a 2.4 percent decrease from the 2022 estimate. Another indicator of herd expansion from the Cattle on Feed report is the number of heifers on feed relative to total feedlot inventories. The number of heifers on feed was estimated at 4.47 million head which is unchanged from a year ago, even though the tightening calf crop the past few years implies the total number of heifers has declined. For comparison, the number of steers on feed was estimated at 6.73 million head which was a 2.9 percent decrease from 2022. Heifers were estimated at 39.9 percent of cattle on feed, the highest percentage since 2002.

      Contraction in the beef cattle herd continued through the first half of 2023. Beef cow numbers are lower, the calf crop is lower, and many heifers continued to enter feedlots instead of being held for replacement. Beef cattle prices are at record highs which has many folks wondering when herd expansion will follow. However, the signs of expansion are not evident yet.

Southern Livestock

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