If recent cattle USDA estimates of feeder cattle placements are in the ballpark of reality (see "Where Are All The Calves Coming From?), then logic says the only thing that changed from previous estimates of dwindling calf supplies is that buyers figured out how to scrape the bottom of the well, and that the well will be even drier than folks suppose in coming months.

“The vacuum of feeder-cattle supplies would already be very apparent without increased Mexican cattle imports, which are unlikely to continue at current rates; reduced veal production, which is already projected to show a nearly 10% annual decrease; drought-forced calf and replacement heifer sales, which are likely mostly done at this point; and reduced other disappearance, which is already at minimal levels,” says Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist.

In the meantime, sexed semen is helping increase the nation’s dairy herd.

According to analysts with the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC), based on the monthly USDA milk production report, 17,000 dairy cows were added to national production in March.

“Historically, dairy cow slaughter was a number to watch, moving counter to herd growth,” say LMIC analysts. “In the weeks leading up to 2011, dairy cow slaughter posted above year-ago numbers. Many anticipated a decline or a steadying of the size of the dairy herd as slaughter numbers showed an increase in cows moving out of the system.

“Since then, monthly milk production reports indicate producers are adding cows, currently up 34,000 head since December of 2010 in all states and approaching inventories similar to mid-2007. Ironically, dairy cow slaughter has not slowed either, posting above year ago slaughter numbers every week since January. March monthly dairy cow slaughter was 12.5% ahead of last year.”

So, expansion while cow slaughter continues to be higher indicates accelerated herd turnover.

“…it’s fair to assume heifers are quickly entering the herd, and replacing older cows,” LMIC analysts explain. “Herds are also retaining more heifers, leading to the overall increase in total cows. Heifer data are limited to beginning and mid-year estimates, however, both describe or indicate replacements as a percent of herd size as increasing at an increasing rate, nearing 50%. Although biological thresholds would suggest 50% is near the naturally occurring maximum, sexed-semen technology and improved reproductive techniques could increase this percentage even more.”

In fact, a growing number of dairy producers are considering using more beef semen and bulls to boost the value of non-replacement cows (see the article in the May issue of BEEF, "Use of Sexed Semen in Dairy Cows Could Help Beef Cow Numbers.")

In basic terms, they would use semen sexed to produce heifers on their heifers and top-producing cows in order to build replacements. Then they’d use conventional (non-sexed) beef semen on the remainder of the herd.

Though the notion might give some beef producers heartburn, such a move could help the beef industry by adding numbers and tonnage to maintain infrastructure at a time when there continues to be too little economic incentive for widespread beef cow herd expansion.

“The increasingly steep, downhill slope of feeder supplies is turning a precipice over which we are likely to fall in the next month or two,” Peel says. “…unless the market can pull another rabbit, or more feeder cattle, out of the hat once again.”