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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
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The Cattle Business - Cattle Supplies

Livestock Update, September 2001

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

The July 1, U.S. Cattle Inventory Report failed to show any significant signs of expansion in the nation's cattle herd. Total cattle numbers were estimated at 105.8 million head, down slightly from the July 1, 2000 count. Beef cows were also down less than 1% from July, 2000 at 33.85 million head. Beef replacement heifers were off 2% from 2000 and down 4% from 1999.

July 1, 2001
U.S. Cattle Inventory Report

  200120002001 as a % of 2000
 (million head) (million head) 
All cattle and calves 105.80 106.30 100
All cows that have calved 43.00 43.20100
Beef cows that have calved 33.85 33.95 100
Beef replacement heifers 4.60 4.70 98
Steers over 500 lbs. 14.30 14.40 99
Calves under 500 lbs. 29.70 30.20 98
Cattle on Feed 13.10 12.30 107

Data from around the country suggests that the industry is nearing the bottom of the liquidation phase of the current cattle cycle. The reduction in the nation's cow herd has slowed and resulted in 6% fewer beef cows than the most recent peak in 1995. High slaughter cow prices early in the year seemed to attract more cows to the market. Cow slaughter for the first quarter of 2001 ran at 8% higher levels than a year earlier. Better moisture conditions in the Eastern two thirds of the country and the prospects of higher calf for a few years slowed cow slaughter during the second quarter. Through July, year-to-date cow slaughter is now only 2.4% ahead of 2000. By the end of the year, the industry could expect to see cow slaughter for 2001 fall below the total for 2000

Dry conditions and limited feed supplies in much of cow country during late 2000 seemed to limit the retention of heifer calves for replacements. The July 1, 2001 report indicates that the number of beef replacement heifers is down 2% from last year and off 4% from 1999. Cattle on feed numbers also suggest that higher feeder cattle prices also drew larger numbers of heifers than normal to the feed yards. Many expect that better moisture conditions around the country coupled with expected higher calf prices for the next couple of years may spur heifer retention during the fall of 2001.

One big question that some folks continue to ask is how can the industry continue to shrink cow numbers and total inventory and still have higher numbers of cattle on feed than a year earlier. The July and August Cattle on Feed reports pegged feedlot totals ahead of 2000's count by 7% and 6%, respectively. The answers may have to do with the numbers of heifers on feed and the trend toward placement of lighter cattle into the feedlots.

Since 1997, the percent of heifers in the feedlot mix has been at historically high levels, averaging 38.4%. The percent of heifers on feed during the last liquidation period averaged only 31.7%. During the first six months of 2001, heifers made up 38.7% of the feedlot count, up 1% from the previous two years.

The August on feed report indicated that the industry continues to pull available supplies of feeder cattle into the feed yards at lighter weights. There were 11% more cattle on feed under 600 pounds and they made up 24% of the total. Cattle weighing 600-699 pounds were ahead of the August 2000 count by 15% and comprised 30% of the on feed total. There were 8% less cattle on feed this August weighing more than 800 pounds and that category made up only 24% of all cattle on feed.

The head counts around the country seem to suggest that there may be relatively fewer heavier, yearling type cattle outside of the feed yards as we move into the fall months. The reverse may be true in Virginia. Given the past two dry summers in Virginia as compared with current pasture conditions, we find more yearlings still available to be marketed here at home. During 1999 and 2000 the heavy calf market in Virginia probably benefited from the shortage of yearlings available in September and October. Producers need to be aware of potential local trucking bottlenecks in late September and October as the industry tries to move both yearlings and heavy calves out of the state.

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