One significant sign of the 2006 drought's impact is cow-harvest rates have picked-up dramatically, essentially halting nationwide cow herd expansion. Analysts at the Denver, CO-based Livestock Marketing Information Center say if recent trends continue, the Jan. 1, 2007, U.S. beef cow inventory could be below that of 2006.

Lack of moisture combined with concerns for tight forage supplies this winter have resulted in a larger number of cull-beef cows in the harvest mix than under more normal circumstances. At the same time, dairy-cow harvest has also increased, not only due to tighter supplies of quality forage but also lower milk prices.

The drought's impacts can also be seen in average dressed weights in the Southern Plains this fall, which have been moderated by the number of lightweight cattle placed into feedlots and increased cow slaughter.

On a weekly average basis, federally inspected (FI) cow harvest for July totaled 393,500 head, 18% above the respective period a year ago but slightly larger than the 2000-2004 average. For the month of July, FI beef-cow harvest on a weekly basis totaled 227,000, 26% larger than 2005's. For the same period, dairy-cow harvest based on weekly data totaled 166,000 head, a year-to-year increase of 8%.

However, dairy-cow harvest was well below the prior five-year average, down 8% in July. Both beef- and dairy-cow harvest is expected to be above a year ago for the remainder of the year, which will continue to pressure harvest cow prices.