"There are indications heifer retention will accelerate this fall with cow-calf producers holding more heifer calves for breeding," he said.
Future still uncertain
Still, cattle industry professionals can be forgiven for scratching their heads when trying to analyze what is coming. Herd expansion prospects for 2014 include factors that suggest both potential for faster-than-normal growth and factors that will limit growth.
The young and productive base herd suggests the potential for one or two years of minimal cow culling, and that could contribute to faster growth," Peel said. "A year-over-year decline in beef cow slaughter of approximately 20% in 2014 would correspond to a culling rate of less than 9%, a low rate for typical herd expansion."
Given the youth of the U.S. beef cow herd, an ever more significant decrease in cow culling is possible – less than 8% – but such a large decrease in cow slaughter might result in a disruption of lean beef supplies.
"The sharply higher cull cow prices that would result should mitigate some of the decrease in cow slaughter," Peel said. "At the same time, significantly more replacement heifers may be reported in Jan. 1, 2014, but the report likely will include a higher-than-normal percentage of heifer calves that will not produce a calf until 2015."