Beef cattle numbers causing concern


Livestock marketing specialist predicts significant reduction in cattle slaughter in 2011.

STILLWATER, Okla. — Declining beef inventories are causing some in the U.S. cattle industry to wonder how beef production can be maintained.

The numbers tell the tale — America’s cattle industry has effectively been turning fewer cattle into more pounds of beef.

Lowest since 1963

According to Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock marketing specialist, the U.S. beef cow herd has decreased 12 of the last 14 years, dropping from a cyclical peak of 35.3 million head in 1996 to the January 2010 level of 31.3 million head.

This represents the smallest beef cow herd since 1963.

Combined with smaller dairy cow numbers, Peel said the 2010 calf crop is expected to be 35.4 million head, the smallest U.S. calf crop since 1950.

Total U.S. cattle inventory has decreased by almost 10 million head since 1996 to the January 2010 level of 93.7 million head, the smallest cattle inventory since 1959.

Fewer cattle, but not beef

In contrast, total beef production has not changed accordingly. In fact, 2010 beef production is projected at 25.9 billion pounds, slightly higher than the 1996 level of 25.4 billion pounds.

The U.S. cattle industry has been able to turn fewer cattle into more pounds of beef.

Peel said producers have maintained production in two primary ways.

First, decreasing inventories allows the industry to utilize that inventory as production while numbers are declining.

“Second, between 1996 and 2006, cheap corn allowed the industry to feed animals to ever-increasing carcass weights and to feed lightweight calves for many days in feedlots.”

Feedlot inventories have thus been maintained by a slower rate of turnover.

“In effect, the U.S. cattle industry has been able to effectively turn fewer cattle into more pounds of beef,” Peel said. “However, the situation is now different.”

Different scenario

Expensive corn today forces the industry to feed heavy yearlings and move them through the feedlot faster. Carcass weights in 2010 have been below year-ago levels almost all year and high feed costs likely limits carcass weights to little or no trend in coming years.

A faster feedlot turnover rate exposes the shortage of cattle quickly as feedlots scramble to find sufficient supplies of feeder cattle to place on feed and maintain feedlot inventories.

“So far, we appear to have been able to do that,” Peel said.

Total cattle slaughter for 2010 is running almost 2 percent above 2009 levels. Steer slaughter is up less than 1 percent this year. By contrast, heifer slaughter is up nearly 3 percent and cow slaughter is up 4 percent.

“It is clear that we are maintaining slaughter rates, in the short run, with our females.”

Contract, then expand

Peel cautions this is not sustainable without accelerating herd liquidation. At some point, the U.S. cattle industry will try to stabilize the herd size and then expand a bit.

“Given the current situation this implies a significant reduction in cattle slaughter in the short term just to hold the cow herd size steady,” he said. “It seems likely this process will start in 2011.”


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  1. We have got to have a campaign that promotes the benefits of Beef in the Human diet. Something that is not filled with show biz type glitz and movie star voice overs. People are too smart for that and are tired of those kinds of hard sells. We need to be strong on the science of biochemical reasons for why meat is an essential healthy element in all of our lives for all genders and ages. To be misinformed is a diservice to the cattle industry.

  2. We don’t have grass during the winter, we need grain, hay, alfalfa to feed our livestock. I do agree we need to promote beef and other meats more and by real people like you and me.I for one think a vegan diet is not good for anyone.

    • Grain is not part of the natural diet for cattle and causes digestive upsets which lead to the need for antibiotic and other drugs.

      The grass/fed grass/finished meat is the way to go and its health benefits are outstanding. A balance of Essential Fatty Acids, High CLA, a perfect balance of Omega 6 to Omega 3, high betacarotene… I could go on and on.

      But it will be slow in educating the public because it goes contrary to using pharmaceuticals, consuming grain and the price supports there in. Big corporations have no benefit from cattle that do not need their hormones, drugs, grains, feeds and products.

      • Rosie-You are perfectly welcome to your opinions, but please dont tell outright lies to support them. The notion that feeding grain to cattle causes cattle to get sick and require antibiotics is outright FALSE!! While cattle CAN get acidosis from IMPROPER feeding (suddenly putting them on a high-grain(concentrates)/low roughage diet)-they are easily treated by remodifying their diet and slowly putting them on feed. Drugs and antibiotics are VERY VERY RARELY used for this condition-and nearly all producers are aware of this and take care to administer a proper diet-avoiding this condition.

        While feedlot farmers can care less what you eat, it is very unprofessional of you to dictate what others can eat. I have had “grass-fed” beef-and hands down prefer fed beef. As far as your “health benefits”-there are studies that refute them…What price supports are you refering to??? I havent seen price supports that only go to one kind of husbandry over another-actually I have seen “caps” on supports that actually benefits smaller farmers over larger ones. Your depiction that modern beef is pumped full of antibiotics and hormones and of inferior quality is a complete LIE! By the way, what is grain?? Simply grass seeds. Please dont put down others because they have different husbandry methods than you. There is room for all-no need for anyone to “BASH” someone else because of different viewpoints.

  3. Talk about BASHING!
    I should have been clearer. Corn and soy are not part of the natural diet for ruminants. The major part of the feedlot diet is composed of corn and soy, not to mention other horrible additives like animal by products and antibiotics.

    Guess where all the price supports are? Corn and soy, so the feedlot get the benefit of artificial lower, subsidized priced corn and soy to fatten their cattle. If you kept the cattle on that diet for a great length of time it would kill them.

    Your probably right here: “feedlot farmers can care less what you eat”, but I would not call them farmers. Aren’t the major feedlots owned by Cargill, ADM, Conagra and other huge corporations ?

    I am not the one to take your anger out on. It’s clear you are a small farmer/rancher who cares, but the majority of cattle are implanted with hormones, given antibiotics and vaccines as prophylactic measures to insure the highest weight gains. I am not saying you are a part of that group. My suggestion to people who are concerned about where their food comes from is to meet the farmer or rancher who raises there food.

    If you would like to learn more about the benefits of raising cattle with a natural diet I suggest Julius Ruechel’s book “Grass-fed Cattle” or Jo Robinson’s book “Pasture Perfect” or her website at or try Carol Ekarius’ book “Small-scale Livestock Farming a grass-based approach for health, sustainability and profit” or my favorite Joel Salatin’s book “Salad Bar Beef”. There is lots to read out there, and I have read them all.

    I’d like to see your studies that say there are no health benefits from eating grass fed, grass finished meat. Cardiologist and neurologists are already prescribing their patients eat a diet of naturally raised grass fed/finished meats not feedlot finished meat.

    I don’t understand your intensity directed at me… I am not bashing anyone. You didn’t take issue with Salad Bar Beef above and they said the same thing.

    • Rosie- I am NOT trying to be rude to you-but it is COMPLETLEY FALSE to keep writing that the feedlots are feeding their cattle animal products and antibiotics… Every farm has a different feed plan-but feeding animal-based protein to cattle HAS BEEN OUTLAWED for years-and antibiotics are NOT allowed in food products-which are tested very frequently. Most feedlot owners also include hay/haylage in their feeds.
      I can TRUELY tell you that we farmers ARE NOT receiving ANY breaks on any feed-corn and soy included-we pay market price just the same as anyone.

      I do not mean to attack you-but I feel it is necessary to point out that you are giving incorrect information in your comments…go ahead and promote your type of beef-but please dont do it by putting other producers down-there is already enough nastiness going around in the world-and we dont need any mudslinging amongst farmers… there is room for all of us. We can be friends-even if we disagree..

  4. This is a mix I like to have made up for my cattle and the horse eats it also.corn,hole oats,milo,bran,soybean meal,cotton seed mill,and liquid molassis.pluse stockaid minneral block.They get this in the summer at 1 , can twice a day per all the pasture grass they want.In the winter they get this 3 times a day plus all the hay they want.also in the winter i will mix alfalfa pellets into thier grain. i find that this makes my animals happy and keeps them healthy.


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