The January 1, 2019 Cattle Inventory report was released at the end of February which was one month later than usual which makes this article extremely delayed since it is now the beginning of April. Despite this fact, it is beneficial to know how the beef cow herd has changed and what the expectations are moving forward. This information has direct implications on beef production and cattle prices for at least the next two years.
Total cattle inventory as of January 1, 2019 totaled 94.76 million head which is an increase of nearly 462,000 head (+0.5%) compared to the previous year. Beef cows that calved totaled 31.77 million head at the beginning of the year, an increase of 299,500 head (+1.0%) compared to 2018. Beef heifers held as replacements declined 183,300 head (-3.0%) compared to the previous year and totaled 5.92 million head. Lastly, the 2018 calf crop registered in at 36.40 million head, an increase of 644,500 head (+1.8%) compared to the 2017 calf crop.
The synopsis of the national beef cattle herd is that prices remained strong enough in 2018 for cattle producers to continue expanding the herd, though be it at a much slower pace than the past several years. The slowing of growth is most easily seen in the number of beef heifers held as replacements, but the retention rate in the latest report is still high enough to result in an increased beef cow inventory going into next year. What appears most certain is that beef production the next couple of years will be greater than 2018. The increase in the calf crop from 2017 to 2018 means more cattle on feed which is sure to result in more domestic beef production.
Tennessee cattle inventory declined 30,000 head (-1.64%) from the previous year and totaled 1.8 million. The decline appears to have stemmed from fewer dairy cows and increased marketing of calves in the fall as opposed to waiting until after the first of the year. Beef cows that calved increased 4,000 head (+0.44%) and totaled 914,000 at the beginning of 2019. Similarly, heifers held as beef cow replacements during 2018 increased 10,000 head (+7.41%) to 145,000 compared to the previous year.
Sometimes it is beneficial to look at the information from a regional perspective. The Southern Plains region (KS, OK, TX) saw the biggest growth in the beef cow herd adding 222,000 head (+2.74%) to the cows that calved value from the previous year resulting in a total of 8.33 million head as of January 1. The region with the second largest gains in beef cow numbers was the Northern Plains (NE, ND, SD). The three states comprising the Northern Plains increased beef cow numbers 119,000 head (+2.57%) to a total of 4.74 million head. Cattle producers in the Midwest (IL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, OH, WI) increased beef cow inventory to 4.71 million head representing a 19,000 head increase (+0.41%) compared to the previous year. Southeastern states (AL, AR, GA, FL, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, VA, WV) saw a decline in beef cow numbers of 4,000 head (-0.05%) compared to the previous year resulting in a total cow inventory of 7.30 million head. States in the West (AZ, CA, CO, ID, MT, NV, OR, UT, WA, WY) reduced the number of beef cows by 66,000 head (-1.06%) to 6.17 million head.
Though changes in beef cow inventory were not consistent across all the defined regions, there was consistency in the trends for beef heifers held as replacements. The Southern Plains states retained 1.42 million heifers for replacement which is 70,000 fewer (-4.70%) than the previous year while the Norther Plains states retained 947,000 heifers which is 54,000 fewer (-5.39%). Midwestern states reduced beef heifer retention by 24,000 head (-2.63%) to total 890,000. The Southeastern states and Western states retained 18,000 (-1.52%) and 16,000 (-1.17%) fewer heifers respectively. This resulted in the Southeastern states retaining 1.17 million heifers and the Western states retaining 1.35 million heifers.
The regional changes in beef cattle inventory may have been expected. The areas of extensive growth occurred in the states (OK, SD, TX) with the largest cattle herds and in the states that had culled heavily during drought periods. Modest growth occurred in other areas of the Great Plains (ND, NE, KS), and the Southeast (AR, FL, GA, SC).
Thus, what about next year? Cattle inventory in 2020 is expected to increase 0.1 percent to 0.5 percent with beef cow inventory up 0.3 percent to 0.7 percent.