Shrinkage of the U.S. Beef Cattle Herd

“We’ve got the fewest the fewest number of beef cows in 50 years. We’ve got the fewest number of calves in the U.S. born last year, in 60 years, and the smallest overall cattle inventory in 50 years.”

David Anderson is a livestock economist for Texas Agrilife Extension.

“Costs are higher. Feed costs are through the roof, and with higher costs, some producers lose money. There’s a lack of profitability because of those higher costs and as an industry ranchers cut back in the number of cows they have.”

And in certain parts of the country, Mother Nature has taken a toll.

“Particularly for us in this area, and throughout the southeast, 2010 was pretty dry, so we had some approaching drought conditions that, you know, it’s really hard to expand your herd or keep the same numbers you have if you don’t have any grass. The cattle industry really is a grass based industry and you have to start there in terms of how many cattle you can have.”

The beef industry is much more productive and efficient than it was 50 years ago, or the effect that the shrinking cattle herd has on today’s beef supply would be magnified.

“We produce a lot more beef per cow in the U.S. than we did 50 years ago.”

“If we look back 50 years ago at our beef production, we’re almost double the amount of beef production in the U.S., with the same number of cattle.”

Anderson sees the cow herd continuing to shrink.

“We’ve got plenty of ranchers that have to pay off feed bills from the last drought, and so record high prices come from record high costs and it’s that transitioning period that we’re in as an industry on the producer’s side. So what’s that mean for consumers? What that really means is that we’re going to see record high beef prices.”
I’m Ashley Batey, tracing the journey our food makes from the ranch to our tables, From The Ground Up.


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