USDA released two cattle reports on Friday July 22nd – the Cattle on Feed and Cattle Inventory reports. Taken together, these reports paint a picture of a smaller cowherd and some future opportunities as supplies continue to tighten.
Cattle on Feed
Placements, marketings, and total cattle on feed were reported at 97.6, 102.0, and 100.4 percent of a year ago, respectively. For the fourth month in a row, placements were below a year ago. For the year, placements are ahead of last year, but the increase was all in February.
Placements were higher than a year ago by 15,000 and 10,000 head, in the two lightest weight categories, under 600 pounds and 600-699 pounds. All of the increase in light weight placements was reported in Texas. Based on anecdotal evidence of large runs of cattle after the 4th of July, placements in July may be larger than last year, at least in light-weight cattle.
In only two years, 2019 and 2001 (4.470 and 4.446 million head), were more heifers reported on feed on July 1 than this year (4.445 million head). The quarterly number of heifers on feed dovetails with the inventory report of fewer beef cows and replacement heifers held back.
Beef cow numbers were reported 2.4 percent below July 1, 2021 in the mid-year Cattle inventory report. The most interesting number in the report, though, was the number of heifers held for beef cow replacement. Only 4.15 million heifers were held back which was the fewest since the data series began in 1973. The 4.15 million heifers equals 13.7 percent of the cowherd. As a percent of the cowherd, only the years of herd contraction 2001-2003, the 2011 drought year, and herd contraction in 2019 were smaller than this year. It’s worth noting that over the last 50 years, heifers held back as a percent of the cowherd has been declining. In general, we have fewer beef cows than in the early to mid-1970s requiring fewer replacements, but it also suggests more efficient beef cattle production.