The results tell a tale of two extremes. The majority of respondents said they typically retain between 6% and 20% of their heifers, with 24% indicating they keep 26% or more (Figure 2).

However, 53.4% of respondents in the drought-affected area of the survey indicated they retained fewer heifers than normal in 2011. Showing the resilience and optimism that runs deep in cattle country, 13.5% of respondents from the drought states said they kept more heifers than usual, while 33.1% reported keeping the same number as in a normal year.

On the spectrum’s other end, 21% of respondents in the North indicated they kept more heifers than normal, and 66.7% said they toed the line on replacements. Only 12.3% indicated they cut back on heifer retention (Figure 3).

Of those retaining fewer heifers, 94.7% of southern respondents cited the shortage of feed as the main reason. Only 15.8% did so because of historically high prices for calves, and 10.5% had other motivations (Figure 4).

In the North, however, only 10% listed a shortage of feed as the reason to sell more heifers than usual. A full 50% said favorable prices were behind their decision, and another 50% had other reasons. Among those reasons was one respondent who cited: “We are getting older and are reducing our cow-calf numbers.”

On the other hand, those who kept more heifers than usual were looking ahead at a market that’s signaling it’s time to expand. Of respondents in the drought states who kept more heifers than usual, 45.8% said they were optimistic about future prices, while another 45.8% said they’re trying to reduce the average age of their cowherd. Only 4.2% indicated they had ample feed.

Meanwhile, in the North, 64.7% said they are optimistic about future prices, while 41.2% are reducing the average age of their cowherd, and 35.3% indicated they had ample feed to support expansion.