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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

The Cattle Business

Livestock Update, September 2000

Bill R. McKinnon, Extension Animal Scientist, Marketing, Virginia Tech

The July 1 U.S. Cattle Inventory Report failed to show any signs of expansion in the nation's cattle herd. Total cattle numbers were estimated at 106.4 million head, down 1 percent from the July 1, 1999, count. Beef cows were down 1 percent from July, 1999, at 34.0 million head. Beef replacement heifers were off 2 percent from 1999 and down 6 percent from 1998.

July 1, 2000
U.S. Cattle Inventory Report


2000 as a
% of 1999

(million head)(million head)
All cattle and calves106.40107.00 99
All cows that have calved43.2043.30100
Beef cows that have calved33.9534.1599
Beef replacement heifers4.704.8098
Steers over 500 lbs.14.3014.4099
Calves under 500 lbs.30.3030.5099

Though the inventory report and heifer placements on feed fail to show any interest in cowherd expansion, some signals do point to tentative growth in female numbers. Expansion in cow numbers is typically initiated by a reduction in cow slaughter. Through July, cow slaughter is down 3.4 percent from 1999. Losses in the dairy sector have actually moved dairy cow slaughter higher by over 2 percent for the year. The reduction in cow slaughter is obviously the result of beef cow slaughter declining by nearly 10 percent. Record high calf prices in the spring of 2000 have a way of keeping sound cows at home.

To this date, higher feeder cattle prices paid for heifers have pulled females into the feed yards and away from replacement programs. Federal inspected slaughter data through July indicated that heifer slaughter was up 1.6 percent from 1999. The increased level of heifer feeding and slaughter has helped move beef production to record levels for much of the year.

Some cow/calf operations may be reluctant to begin retaining heifers within the herd this fall. Feeder cattle prices will be near record levels for the fall months fueled by the expected largest ever corn crop. High priced feeder heifers may be used by a number of operations to pay down debt before expanding their herds. Drought conditions in much of the South, Southwest, West, and western Central Plains may also limit heifer retention on many ranches.

It would appear evident that some expansion will begin in late 2000 and into 2001. That will mean that the smallest supplies of feeder cattle and slaughter cattle of this cycle are yet ahead of us.

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