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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

The Cattle Business - Inventory Update

Livestock Update, March 2002

Bill McKinnon, Extension Animal Scientist, Marketing, VA Tech

Evidence suggests that the nation's cow/calf operators have yet to begin the expansion phase of the next cattle cycle. Higher feeder cattle price levels in recent years should have signaled a slowing in cow slaughter and more heifer retention. Limited moisture and feed resources in much of the western region of the country have limited herd rebuilding. The percentage of heifers in the on-feed mix continued to run at historically high levels during most of 2001. Commercial cow slaughter in 2001 was actually 4% larger than a year earlier. With little herd growth from heifer retention, the nation's cowherd is roughly 1% smaller than a year ago and is the smallest cowherd since 1992.

Steer and heifer slaughter in 2001 was down 4% from the previous year. Beef production during 2001 totaled 26.1 million pounds, down 2.5% from the record level set in 2000. The beef production total for 2001 was still the third largest on record. Fed cattle carcass weights for the year were down one pound from the previous year, but during the last two months of the year carcass weight ran 15 to 30 pounds ahead of the previous year. Average carcass weights have increased roughly six pounds per year since the mid-1970's.

Given better moisture conditions and continued relatively higher feeder cattle prices, more heifers will be retained this fall. The smaller cow herd and fewer heifers leaving the herd will result in reduced feeder cattle supplies this fall.

January 1, 2002
U.S. Cattle Inventory Report

Million Head
  2002 20012002 as a % of 2001
All cattle96.797.399
All cows42.242.699
Beef cows33.133.499
Beef heifers for replacements5.55.6100
Steers over 500 lbs.16.816.4102
Calves under 500 lbs.15.816.297
Cattle on Feed, Jan. 113.914.298

In recent months feeder cattle prices have been tempered by the huge losses that cattle feeders suffered in the last half of 2001 and early 2002. For much of 2001, feeder cattle were overvalued based upon feeding conditions and fed cattle outlook. Black ink will not return to many cattle feeders' closeouts until early spring. The hangover of the cattle feeding losses in 2001 and early 2002 will keep the lid on feeder cattle prices during much of 2002.

January 1, 2002
U.S. Cattle Inventory Report
Virginia Estimates
Thousand Head
  2002 20012001 as a % of 2000
All cattle1,6501,650100
All cows810790103
Beef cows690671103
Beef heifers for replacements120116103
Steers over 500 lbs.17521083
Calves under 500 lbs.375370101
Operations with cattle/calves26,00027,000
Operations with beef cows22,00022,000
Cows per herd30.5 

The latest cattle inventory pegs Virginia at 19th in total cattle numbers and 18th with regards to the number of beef cows. Virginia producers have seemed to be ahead of national averages in terms of cowherd expansion during the last two years. The dry fall of 2001 may have reduced Virginians' appetite to background calves this winter.

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