Where Can We Support More Cows? Overview of the Beef Cowherd and Land Use

Monday, July 21, 2014: 2:00 PM
2101 (Kansas City Convention Center)
John A. Paterson , National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Centennial, CO
Abstract Text: The US cow herd population has declined from 45 million in 1975 to 29 million in 2014. Record setting drought in the Southern US caused beef cow herd liquidation, fewer calves on cereal grain pastures, and more cattle in feedlots. All cattle and calves in the U.S. totaled 90.8 million head (2012), and was the lowest inventory since 1952. The recent drought caused cow numbers to decline by 13% in TX, 14% in OK, and 11% in NM.   The consequences of low supply has been the closure of packing plants in TX and CA.  When there is a return to normal pasture conditions there will be more of a willingness to increase heifer retention and increase the nation’s cow herd inventory.  How many beef cows does the beef industry need in order to remain sustainable? It has been predicted that the cattle industry may not grow beyond more than 32 million cows because of the availability of growth promoting technologies, improved cattle genetics, nutritional and health management practices, new generation antibiotics and anthelmentics. The reasons for future expansion include better pasture conditions in most areas of cow-calf country, higher feeder calf prices, record high beef prices, lower corn prices and lower debt in mature ranching operations. The reasons for not increasing cow numbers include advancing age of ranchers, EPA regulations in the eastern United States, Forest Service and BLM regulations on public lands in the West and continued fear of drought. A significant increase in the beef cowherd is not expected until 2016 or 2017. With expansion likely underway, it will be 2017 or 2018 before a trend of larger fed cattle supplies will be measured. As a percentage of the nation’s cow herd population, the Great Plains has increased from 27% to 34.2%, the Corn Belt increased slightly from 13.3% to 14%, while the Southern Plains (-3 percentage units), West (-1.2 percentage units), Southern Plains (-3 percentage units) and Southeast (- 4.4 percentage units) have all decreased. A decrease in cow numbers is predicted to be more pronounced in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee  where competition with crops is greater. As a result, it is projected that an increasing share of the total beef cow herd will be located in the Great Plains with a smaller increase in the western Corn Belt.

Keywords: Cattle, Drought, Retention