As the old cliché goes, if the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise — or go dry — the beef industry is poised for some significant restocking and expansion. That’s the take-home from a BEEF survey of readers conducted in late July that shows the pent-up desire to restock and expand the cow herd is already underway.

BEEF emailed slightly more than 30,000 readers, asking them to share their thoughts and plans regarding their marketing and herd expansion plans this fall. A few more than 1,000 responded, for a 3.3% response rate. Here’s what you told us.

Stocking up on heifers

Based on survey results, enthusiasm for expansion is high. When asked about plans in 2014-15 concerning their cowherd, 51.7% of respondents say they plan to expand by 1% to 10%; 19.4% plan to grow by 11% or more; and 17.1% plan to keep their herd size about the same  (Figure 1).

cowherd expansion plans

Those results show a marked increase in optimism from the 2013 BEEF survey published in December. Then, 38% of respondents said they planned to stay with the same number of cows they carried in past years. Another 33.5% indicated they planned to expand by 1%-10%, and 13.4% planned to expand by 11% or more.

As we enter fall 2014, the “girls” will lead the charge as cattle producers restock. When those who plan to expand were asked how they will accomplish that, 84.2% said they’ll hold back heifers, while 36.7% say they’ll buy replacements. The numbers add up to more than 100% because some producers plan to do both. Only 12.8% plan to sell fewer cull cows, perhaps because there just aren’t many cull cows left to sell (Figure 2).

cowherd expansion tactics

Those who plan to retain heifers from their 2014 calf crop will, as a general rule, keep quite a few. In fact, 36.1% indicate they’ll keep more than 20% of their 2014 heifer calves. The remainder are fairly evenly distributed, as 15.1% plan to keep 15% to 20% of their heifers; 14.4% plan to keep from 10% to 15%; 18.3% say they’ll keep back 5% to 10%; and 16.1% will keep 1% to 5% (Figure 3).

heifer retention plans

And why are cattle producers keeping heifers? Because the market is telling them to, according to 52.6% of respondents. In addition, more producers have pasture this year, with 46.7% saying the drought is over. Further, 18.4% say they bought or leased more land, and 15% are adding a partner or family member to the operation (Figure 4).

why heifer retention

Not all respondents plan to expand, however. In fact, some are looking to cut back, as 6.4% of respondents plan to contract by 1% to 10% in 2014-15, and 3% plan to contract by more than 10%. An additional 1.2% plan to retire, and a similar percentage plan to get out of cattle production but not retire from their ag operations.

That’s slightly fewer than the results from the end of 2013 indicate. Then, 4.8% indicated they planned to get smaller by 1% to 10%, and 2.5% planned to cut back by 11% or more.

did producers retain beef heifersOf those who plan to reduce herd size, the majority (52.7%) say they’re getting older and want to cut back. Another 26.9% are still fighting drought, while 8.6% say feed costs are too high. In addition, 6.5% say feeder prices are too high, and 6.5% say land is too expensive. However, 22.6% have other reasons. “Run the opposite way of the majority,” one respondent said. “High prices of calves; I don’t expand during high prices, I expand when prices are low,” said another (Figure 5).

For those who plan to grow numbers, green grass and high prices are the biggest incentives. “Have extra pasture if it continues to rain,” said one respondent. “More cattle equal more money,” said another.

What’s more, BEEF readers say they began retaining heifers in earnest last year, with 75.2% saying they retained heifers from their 2013 calf crop (Figure 6). Of those who kept heifers, 32.2% kept more than 20% of their heifer calves; 12.9% kept 15% to 20%; 13.2% retained from 10% to 15% of last year’s heifers; 19.9% kept from 5% to 10%; and 21.9% kept from 1% to 5% (Figure 7).

heifer retention averages

And it appears that many of those heifers have stayed in the breeding herd. Of the total number of 2013 heifers they held back as replacements, readers say they kept 69.4% in the herd and sold 30.6% as feeder cattle (Figure 8).

When asked why they sold their 2013 heifers, 42.7% said feeder prices were high and they took the money to the bank. Another 17.3% said they’re still battling drought, and forage and pasture conditions are sparse; and 4.6% are getting older and want to cut back.

However, 44.9% had other reasons, most having to do with herd improvement. “Weren’t the keeping kind,” said one respondent, summing up many of the comments.