USDA’s semi-annual cattle inventory report released Friday confirmed farmers trimmed the herd last year, thus ending a six-year expansion phase.
All cattle and calves in the U.S. totaled 94.4 million head as of Jan. 1, down .4 of a percent from 94.8 million head a year ago.
The 2019 calf crop, 36.1 million head, declined 1% from last year.
“Overall, the numbers were, for the most part, within trade expectations,” said Rich Nelson, director of research at Allendale Inc. “It’s the first year-over-year decline of the cattle herd in six years. We’ll call this, in general, good news for the long-term supply structure for the cattle industry.”
All cows and heifers that calved last year totaled 40.7 million head, down 1%. The trade seemed particularly fascinated with beef cow numbers, which slipped 1.2% to 31.3 million head.
The number of milk cows also declined slightly to 9.33 million head.
“We are seeing confirmation of last year’s liquidation of the beef cow herd,” Nelson said. “It should be an issue at sale barns in the fall,” and possibly lead to higher prices in 2021-22.
Meanwhile, the number of heifers going into the beef herd declined 1.9% in the past year.
“It’s the tightest supply for beef cows in three years and first year-over-year decline in six years,” Nelson said.
The U.S. cow herd had been increasing since 2014, driven by robust demand in domestic and export markets, improved cow-calf profitability and good pasture conditions, authors of the CME Group’s Daily Livestock Report noted.
However, cow-calf profitability slowly eroded the past couple years and eventually triggered some downsizing.
Total cow slaughter the second half of last year totaled 3.25 million head, 4% higher than the same six-month period the previous year, according to the Daily Livestock Report.
More heifers were also sent to feedlots in 2019 and heifer slaughter in the second half of the year reached 5.096 million head, up 7% from the previous year.