From the Ground Up: U.S. beef cattle herd continues to grow

The 2011 drought of record caused a twenty percent reduction in the Texas cow herd, and once the drought ended the shortage of supplies drove beef prices to record levels, signaling ranchers that they needed to produce more beef. The price drop last fall indicated to producers that is was time to tap the brakes a little on production, but that adjustment can’t be made overnight. David Anderson is a Texas A&M Agrilife economist.

“USDA’s Cattle Inventory Report is going to come out at the end of January, and I fully expect that we’re going to see more cows in the U.S. than we did last year. I think we’re going to be up maybe two percent. Somewhere in that neighborhood in terms of the number of beef cows. We continue to expand because until the latest price decline in the fall of 2016, it’s been profitable to do so.”

Anderson says it takes time for the supplies in the pipeline to adjust to market conditions.

“Remember biology plays a big part in expanding cattle numbers. A cow has a calf. It takes sixteen months before that calf goes to slaughter or eighteen months or whatever in that general time frame. So it takes time and so we build up that inertia of building cattle herds when it’s profitable and when grass and drought conditions allow us to build up and so we’re kind of moving in that direction of a growing cow herd.”

Anderson pointed out that the 2011 drought resulted in a record sell-off cattle and the smallest cow herd in sixty years.

“How we’ve grown from there really starts with ending the drought and better grass conditions so there’s something for the cows to eat and that growth also comes through holding back animals, sending fewer cows to market, holding back young females to enter the cow herd and so we’ve really grown that from within. We really don’t import breeding stock, cows and things like that. We do it from within.”