Ranchers continue to grow their cow herds at an aggressive pace. In fact, the total three-year herd expansion, 2014 through 2016, is the largest since the 1970s.
The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Cattle Inventory report counted 93.6 million cattle and calves on Jan. 1 of this year, 2% more than a year ago. Beef cow numbers totaled 31.2 million head, a 3.5% increase from 2016, and 6% more than just two years ago. The beef cow herd is now 2.1 million head larger than the low point of 29 million head in 2014, and the largest since 2010.
“Expansion is the result of profits and ample forage supplies,” says John Nalivka, president, Sterling Marketing, Inc. “While the profits of two years ago have diminished significantly, range and pasture conditions throughout cattle country have continued to support herd expansion.”
Nalivka says the beef cow slaughter rate in 2016 totaled 2.58 million, which represents 8.6% of the cow herd and is the fourth smallest percentage of beef cows slaughtered since at least 1965. He believes the percentage of cow culling might have been much lower if not for an aging cow herd that encouraged ranchers to send the older ones to market.
While cow culling this past year was slow, ranchers also added more replacement heifers to their herds. USDA counted 6.42 million beef replacement heifers on Jan. 1, a 1.2% increase from 2016, and a 5% increase from two years ago. Beef replacement heifer numbers were the largest on farms and ranches since 1997.