BEEF Daily

U.S. Cattle Numbers At Record Low


The drought is forcing ranchers to sell their cattle.

Earlier this week, I attended a statewide drought management meeting hosted by South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension. According to SDSU, 90% of South Dakota is experiencing some form of drought.
“Last year, the southern U.S. was in a very severe drought. This year, we have the whole Corn Belt, except for parts of Minnesota, and the rest of the U.S. It has been many years since we have seen a drought of this scale,” said Dennis Todey, SDSU climatologist.

With no relief in sight, Todey predicts that the rest of the summer will continue to be hot and dry.

“Some of the issues we are seeing in the livestock sector, first and foremost, are the dramatic decrease in the amount and condition of pastures and hay production. It’s been disappointing at best and disastrous at worst. We are starting to see some cattle be liquidated. When we think about feed costs in general, the shortage of forages is going to be a significant issue for livestock producers. I believe the feed supply situation is going to be one of the biggest challenges for livestock producers in the upcoming months,” added Warren Rusche, SDSU cow-calf field specialist.

“Corn prices are trending higher, and there are few if any cheap options. This will change the market environment with lowered feeder cattle prices. Cattle will have less value in the marketplace. So not only will producers have to deal with higher feed costs, but they will also be receiving a smaller paycheck for their calves when they sell,” Rusche said.

As the drought progresses, more producers are selling their cattle, shrinking the nation’s herd to the smallest number in at least four decades.

According to the latest USDA Crop Progress report, the situation continues to deteriorate on America’s pasture and rangeland, as well as in corn condition. See those reports here.

According to the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, MS, “The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) reported that the number of cattle and calves in the U.S. totaled 97.8 million head as of July 1. That's 2% less than a year ago. Beef cattle numbers were down 3% at 30.5 million head counted, while dairy cow numbers remained unchanged at 9.2 million. Overall, it's the smallest cattle inventory since the agency began a July count in 1973.”

How are you managing for the drought? Are you selling your cows this summer as pasture resources run dry?

Discuss this Blog Entry 3

Jeff (not verified)
on Jul 25, 2012

(Southern New Mexico)

I've been weaning calves since April (200-300lbs). Will continue to wean and background calves in our grow yard. Our farm operation allows us to hold calves through the fall in necessary.

Have been stock piling feed from farm, culling cows, and saving pastures for fall grazing.

Have also replaced cull cows with corriente pairs and currently running angus bulls with them. These cattle will run on tougher country long term. Beef cows will run on better pasture.

Our strategic plan at this time is simple, do every thing possible to get cows bred back, do not compromise pastures, and package calves to maximize profits, Lord knows all of us will need every penny!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jul 26, 2012

Our pastures in the Central Pennsylvania Appalachian mountains are green and we had a good hay crop. For that we are grateful. Our corn crop is very uneven, however. Ugliest field of corn we ever had. Still, it looks as though we will get almost a normal yield. My friends not far away tell me their pastures are brown and hay is in short supply while corn yields will be close to zero. My heart goes out to those suffering.

Shalom R. (not verified)
on Jul 29, 2012

We have been blessed with rain for the past two weeks in the western New York. Had a good hay crop. Our hearts are going out to the rest of the US effected by drought.

Please or Register to post comments.

What's BEEF Daily?

BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

Sponsored Introduction Continue on to (or wait seconds) ×