All it took was a little rain and some green grass, and the appetite for heifer retention, long suppressed by withering drought, is growling again. According to a survey of BEEF readers, almost half of respondents say they are in full expansion mode.

When asked “What are your plans concerning your cowherd size in 2013-2014?” 33.5% of respondents indicate they plan to expand by 1%-10%. Another 13.4% say they plan to expand by 11% or more. However, 38% say they’ll stay with about the same number of cows they’ve carried the past year, while another 4.7% say they will stay with the same number of cows but add other enterprises to the operation, such as stockers or a commercial heifer development program.

Very few respondents indicate they plan to cut herd size in the coming year. Only 4.8% indicate they will get smaller by 1%-10%, and another 2.5% plan to cut back 11% or more. Of those who plan to cut back, age and drought are the primary reasons for cutting back; 35.7% said they’re getting older and want to cut back, and a similar percentage say drought is still a concern. In addition, 16.7% say feed costs are still too high and 14.3% say land is too expensive.

Of course, weather and other factors can quickly change the best of intentions. In fact, in 2011, 33.7% of cow-calf producers responding to a January BEEF survey reported their intention to expand their cowherd size by 1%-10% that year, while 19.1% planned to expand by 11% or more. A combination of continued drought in major parts of cattle country, high inputs and a shaky economy altered many of those intentions.

2013-2014 beef industry expansion plans

Producers optimistic in long term

Folks in agriculture are die-hard optimists, and respondents to the latest survey feel good about the future. When asked their plans regarding cowherd size for the next 3-5 years (2014-2019), 31.5% of respondents say they plan to expand 1%-10%, while another 24.2% say they plan to expand by 11% or more. Combined, more than half of the respondents (55.7%) indicate they will continue growing their cowherd for the next few years.

Another 29% plan to stay with the same number of cows they have now, and 6.2% plan to add other enterprises to the mix. Only 3% say they plan to cut back by 1%-10% in the next 3-5 years, while 1.9% will pare down by 11% or more. Another 1.6% plan to get out of beef production but not retire, and 2.7% plan to retire in the next 3-5 years (see Figure 1).

plans for cowherd size for next 3 years

The picture becomes even more interesting when looking at the geographical breakdown of respondents. While producers in all regions indicate plans to expand, the largest percentages aren’t in the Great Plains.

Switching to a shorter-term outlook, the region with the highest percentage of those who plan to increase their cowherd size in 2013-2014 is the East North-Central (WI, IL, IN, MI and OH). In total, 60% of respondents from those states indicate they’ll expand either from 1%-10%, or 11% or more. Close behind is the East South-Central region (KY, TN, MS and AL) at 57.6%, followed by the South Atlantic (MD, DE, WV, VA, NC, SC, GA and FL) at a combined 52.1%.


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Next in line are producers in the West. The Pacific region (CA, OR and WA) showed that 50% of respondents from that area plan to expand, while 47.4% of producers in the Mountain states (MT, ID, WY, CO, UT, NV, AZ and NM) said they plan to grow their herds in the coming year.

Riding drag are producers in the Plains states. Of the respondents in the West South-Central states (TX, OK, AR and LA), 46.6% indicated they’ll add to their cowherds, while 40.6% of producers in the West North-Central region (ND, SD, MN, IA, NE, KS and MO) said they plan to add more females to the herd (see map above).