U.S. Beef Herd Continues to Shrink

Hurt says numbers are likely to dwindle further.

Published on: Feb 16, 2011

The number of beef cows in the United States is falling. Purdue Extension Ag Economist Chris Hurt says the trend lower has been in place for several years.

"The continued decline is related to multi-year financial discouragement due to high and volatile feed prices, to shortage of pastures in some areas last summer, and developing dry conditions in the Southeast and the Central and Southern Plains," Hurt said. "Beef cow numbers at 30.9 million head are down 2% over the past year and down 6% since 2005."

The largest decline has come in the western Corn Belt, where Hurt says beef cow numbers have dropped by 168,000 head in just the last year.

"This decline was led by the state of Missouri with 103,000 fewer head and Iowa with a 45,000 head reduction," Hurt said. "The southern plains had a reduction of 166,000 head that was lead by Texas with 115,00 fewer head of beef cows. The southeastern region had the third largest decline with a reduction of 121,000 head. In the eastern Corn Belt beef cow numbers declined by 35,000 lead by Illinois."

The only area of increase came in the northern and central plains as cow numbers seem to be concentrating in the open spaces of the central part of the nation. Still, Hurt says the number of beef cows is down and looks to shrink even further in the coming months.

"Producers are planning to further reduce their numbers," Hurt said. "We know that by the number of beef heifers being retained for breeding purposes, which were reported as down 5%. This means beef cow numbers should continue to drop at least into the USDA July inventory report. The expected 2011 calf crop should be around 35.3 million head and that'll be down 1% as well."

The smaller number of beef cattle currently in the system and the expectation that those numbers will continue to dwindle should keep cattle prices high.