The U.S. cattle herd could continue contracting in

2010 because the slow economic recovery has not found its way back to the cow-and-calf producer.

Feedlots may become more profitable later this year, reversing a

two-to-three-year trend, but it will take time to filter back to producers and encourage them to begin rebuilding their herds, market analysts said.

Over the last few years, cattle industry losses have been reflected by a reduction in cow numbers, market analysts said. These are the mother cows that produce the calves that eventually wind up as fed cattle and meat on the table.

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