Sort and Cull

What Comes Next After Seeing Second Lowest Beef Cow Herd in 50 Years

ShayLe Stewart
By  ShayLe Stewart , DTN Livestock Analyst
Will higher prices entice cattlemen to buy back into cows or is the nation in uncharted waters as cattlemen wash their hands of the cow business? (DTN chart by ShayLe Stewart)

It wasn't surprising that Friday's Cattle Inventory report showed fewer beef cows in the nation and significantly fewer beef heifers kept for replacement, but what leads to an endless list of questions is wondering what comes next.

To recap Friday's report, the midyear Cattle Inventory report shared that the nation's beef cow herd sits at 30,350,000 head; that is down 2% from a year ago and is the lowest the beef-cow herd has been in the last eight years, and the second lowest on record since the report started in 1972. Beef replacement heifers totaled 4.15 million head, which is down 3% from a year ago and is also the lowest beef replacement heifer figure the market has seen since 2014; it's also the second lowest beef heifer replacement figure the report has shared since its debut in 1972.

Truthfully, Friday's report leaves me with so many mixed emotions. On one hand, it's likely inevitable that cattle prices are bound to soar and any producer who's been able to scrape by and sustain through the last cattle cycle is about to be rewarded. On the other hand, I must wonder what's truly in store for the future of the cattle industry as cattlemen look at a season of higher interest rates dead in the eye, saw diesel average $5.41 last week throughout the nation and compete for land against some of the richest individuals on the planet, such as the fake meat investor Bill Gates, who also conveniently happens to be the largest farmland owner in the United States.

My questions range from a market watchers concern of "With the U.S. being the third largest beef exporter (behind Brazil and Australia), will close rivals steal some of our market share as our production lessens over the upcoming year(s)?" To a mother's concern about what the future may or may not hold for her child "Will my son be able to run cattle as a sound business if he so desires in the next 20 years?"

There are only two things that will answer these questions and the other half-million questions that fall somewhere in between the two worlds -- time and us (i.e., you and me). I may not have all the answers, but for my children -- and for the cattlemen of this industry -- I will continue to ask these questions and seek the answers. If preserving the cattle market has ever mattered to you, this is where the rubber hits the road. The market could rally again like it did in 2014 and cow-herd numbers could rebound, or we could be in an uncharted territory where hardship has sent cows to town and cattlemen don't intend to rebuild ever again.

ShayLe Stewart can be reached at ShayLe.Stewart@dtn.com

ShayLe Stewart