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Cattle Report Reveals Some Unexpected Numbers

01 February 2011

US - USDA's semi-annual Cattle Report, released on Friday afternoon, confirmed observers' expectations of lower beef cattle numbers but pointed to higher-than-expected dairy cow and heifer numbers, write Steve Meyer and Len Steiner.

The key data items from the report appear in the table below along with the ranges and averages for analysts' pre-report estimates. The differences between average estimates and actual numbers for the Cattle report are usually not large, primarily because cattle inventories, by their nature, change slower than other livestock inventories, meaning that the year-on-year changes are smaller to start with. It is difficult to get a large difference when one is estimating a small number. For the opposite, think of last week's Cattle on Feed report for which analysts provided large estimated changes and the differences between estimates and actual changes were large in absolute terms. Total cattle inventories change slowly. Cattle-on-feed inventories can shift dramatically.

This report, though, does contain some surprises based on the differences between estimates and actual numbers. The largest one is the estimate of 5.158 million heifers being held as beef replacements. That number is over five per cent lower than one year ago and 3.4 per cent lower than analysts' average pre-report estimate of 98 per cent of the January 2010 level. The actual number of beef cows on farms and ranches on 1 January 1 was 0.8 per cent higher than expected by analysts at 30.865 million head but the drop in heifer inventories puts the combined number of beef cows and heifers on 1 January at 36.022 million, 2.2 per cent lower than one year ago. A good portion of the 'expected' beef cow replacements are being counted in the 'Other heifers' weighing over 500 pounds category, it appears. That number, at 9.818 million head, was 0.5 per cent larger than last year and 1.8 per cent higher than analysts expected. Beef producers are keeping fewer heifers for cows and putting more of them in the market mix.

This is the smallest US beef cow herd since strict 'beef cow' inventories began being published in 1965. It is the lowest beef female numbers (prior to 1965, heifers over two years old were included in the cow herd count) since 1963. The dairy herd has grown slightly from its all-time record low of 8.988 million head in 2004. But the remarkable growth of dairy productivity has reduced dairy cow numbers by roughly half since 1963.

The 2010 calf crop is now estimated to be 35.685 million head, the smallest since 1950. This lower calf crop comes on the heals of a crop of only 35.939 million head in 2009 and leaves the supply of feeder cattle outside of feedlots at 26.771 million head according to the Livestock Marketing Information Center. That is 3.3 per cent lower than one year ago and is, again, the lowest level on record.

Further Reading

- You can view the original report from USDA NASS by clicking here.

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