Heifer retention is far and away the chosen method of growing the cowherd by BEEF survey respondents, with an 80.8% tally mark. Another 40.9% say they will buy replacement heifers (totals add up to more than 100% because some respondents will both keep heifers and buy replacements). Another 12.3% will cull fewer cows, and 2.8% plan to lease cattle or run them on shares.

retaining replacement heifersIn fact, when considering their 2013 calf crop, 76.6% of respondents plan to keep females back for breeding (see Figure 2). Of those, 37.2% say they’ll keep 20% or more of their 2013 heifers to develop and evaluate as brood cows. Another 21% plan to keep 6%-10% of their heifer crop; 14.7% plan to retain 1%-5% of their heifers; 14.3% plan to hold onto 11%-15%; and 12.8% say they’ll keep back 16%-20% (see Figure 3).

The incentive for heifer retention comes from a combination of Mother Nature and market signals. When asked “Why are you retaining heifers?” 48.9% said, “The market is telling me it’s time to expand,” while 44.6% say, “Have the pastures, and the drought is over.” In addition, 18.8% of respondents bought or leased more land, and 13.6% are adding a partner or family member to the operation. Figures add up to more than 100% because of multiple answers (see Figure 4).

Some respondents, however, don’t plan to keep their heifers. The market is also the primary factor in the decision by readers not to retain heifers. Of those respondents, 38.9% said they took the girls to town because feeder prices were so high. Another 19.1% said they’re getting older and want to cut back, while 14% are still dealing with drought and say they don’t have the feed or forage to justify expansion (see Figure 5).

beef industry expansion plans

However, 33.1% of respondents had other reasons for not keeping heifers back for breeding. “There’s as good of quality out there for sale, and I get a calf sooner,” one reader remarked.

Earnest about holding heifers

Earlier in 2013, industry analysts speculated that cattle producers attempted to begin herd expansion in 2012, but drought and high prices drove many of those heifers to town. BEEF readers indicated they kept heifers in 2012, but seemed to buck the trend of letting them go early.

Almost 71% of respondents say they kept heifers in 2012 for breeding purposes, with 28.6% keeping more than 20% of their 2012 heifer crop, and 23.6% keeping 6%-10%. An almost equal number split the difference — 14.5% of respondents kept 16%-20% of their heifers, and 14.7% kept 11%-15% of their 20912 heifer crop. Another 18.6% kept 1%-5% back.

However, 62% said “no” when asked if they sold some or all of their 2012 retained heifers as feeder cattle. Of those who did sell, the majority (57.9%) sold less than 25% of the heifers they kept back to develop into breeding stock. A little over 19% sold 26%-50% of their retained heifers; 14.2% sold 51%-75%, and only 8.7% sold 76%-100%.

Analysts have also speculated that, because of drought and the culling that ensued, the cowherd is younger than in years past. BEEF readers, reporting on their cowherds, seem to bear this out.

On average, survey respondents run around 300 cows. Respondents report that 42.6% of those cows are from 2-5 years old, and 42.5% are 6-8 years old. Only 14.9% of the cows are 9 years or older.

Bull prices continue to climb

BEEF also asked readers about bull-buying trends in 2013. Just over half the respondents, 54.5%, bought bulls in 2013 and 65.1% said they paid more in 2013 for bulls than they paid in 2012.

On average, respondents paid around $3,500 /bull in 2013. Of those who bought bulls, 36.6% paid between $2,500 and $3,499/head for their bull power, and 23.5% paid from $3,500 to $4,499/head. Another 18% paid less than $2,500 for their bulls, while 14.4% paid from $4,500 to $5,499/head. The remaining few respondents (7.5%) paid $5,500 or more for their bulls.

Marketplace indicators show herd expansion is underway, and BEEF readers are apparently aggressively acting on signals by holding heifers.


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