No Signs of Beef Cattle Herd Expansion…Yet

Two key reports were released on Friday that give the latest insight on the herd dynamics for beef cattle. USDA-NASS released the mid-year Cattle report and the monthly Cattle on Feed report. While there is plenty to digest in each report, I wanted to note a few key points from each report in this article.

For the mid-year Cattle report, two of the most interesting estimates were the number of beef heifers held for replacement and the 2023 calf crop. NASS estimated 4.05 million beef heifers held for replacement, a 2.4 percent decrease from the 2022 estimate. The 2023 calf crop is estimated to be 33.8 million head (a 1.9 percent decline from 2022) and includes 24.8 million for the first half of the year and 9 million calves to be born during the second half of the year. This is the fifth consecutive annual decline in calf crop and would be the lowest total since the 33.5 million total in 2014. 

For the Cattle on Feed report, one of the most interesting points was an estimate that didn’t change from a year ago. The number of heifers on feed was estimated at 4.47 million head which is unchanged from a year ago, even though the tightening calf crop the past few years implies the total number of heifers has declined. For comparison, the number of steers on feed was estimated at 6.73 million head which was a 2.9 percent decrease from 2022. Heifers were estimated at 39.9 percent of cattle on feed, the highest percentage since 2002.

Contraction in the beef cattle herd continued through the first half of 2023. Beef cow numbers are lower, the calf crop is lower, and many heifers continued to enter feedlots instead of being held for replacement. Beef cattle prices are at record highs which has many folks wondering when herd expansion will follow. However, the signs of expansion are not evident yet.