National Beef Cattle Numbers

The USDA’s cattle inventory came out at the end of January and indicated that the number of beef cows in the U.S. was the fewest since 1963, and the fewest total cattle count since the 1950s. Bob French has more in this week’s From The Ground Up.

"We often talk about a cattle cycle, the cattle numbers go up, prices go down, and we start reducing herds, and then when the herd size gets cut back enough, prices go up and ranchers start expanding their herds, and that cycle, that cyclical nature of the industry has been much less pronounced over the last number of years."

And Texas Agrilfe Extension’s David Anderson says we produce twice as much beef today with the same number of cows.

"And there are several reasons for that. Cattle go to feed lots and they’re fed to heavier weights. The heifers that used to be not fed at all or fed to those heavier weights, more of them were held in the breeding herd to expand the herd, all go through feed lots now."

Anderson says imports also play a new role in U.S. beef production.

"We import cattle from Canada and Mexico. They go to U.S. feed lots where they go to those same finished weights and if you go back to the early sixties we really didn’t do that, that’s a phenomenon over the last twenty five or thirty years."

Anderson pointed out big differences in cattle today.

"If you went back and looked at the Houston Livestock Show and looked at some of the winners, the winning steer, the breeding stock in the show, the animals then were much smaller than they are today."

And today’s changes are due to genetic research.

"The genetic stock, those that have been selected to continue breeding, and breeding stock are bigger animals than they were 50 years ago, so we just plain, in many ways we’re a much more efficient industry at producing beef than we were fifty years ago."

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