U.S. cow herd stable

The U.S. cow herd expansion is slowing, but a healthy economy and growing exports keep demand strong.


By Barbara Duckworth, The Western Producer (Canada) 

February 1, 2019


NEW ORLEANS, La. — The U.S. cow herd expansion is slowing, but a healthy economy and growing exports keep demand strong.


There is a record amount of beef, pork and poultry that relies on exports to chew through. The American population is growing at a rate of less than one percent and even though per capita meat consumption is at 217 pounds, up from 199 lb. in 2014, other customers beyond U.S. borders are required to consume the rest.


“One of the things we were concerned about last year was can we keep export markets strong and can we keep domestic demand strong. Things worked in our favour,” said Randy Blach, CEO of the market analysis firm Cattlefax.


The industry has had a good run for the last three to four years, said Cattlefax market analyst Kevin Good. The U.S. beef cow inventory is at 31. 9 million head and the herd is considered at a stable phase in the cattle cycle


The herd is likely to increase slightly this year with peak numbers expected in 2020-21. Weather and profitability across all parts of the industry have driven expansion, Good said at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention held in New Orleans this week.


Last year a large number of cows were culled and slaughtered. That posed a logistical challenge for slaughter facilities working at full capacity that stretches to six day work weeks. More dairy cows have been killed as well due to low milk prices, further pressuring packing plants to handle the extra inventory. At the same time, butcher cow prices have been disappointing.


Total slaughter last year was 33.5 million head, up 1.4 percent from 2017.


Feedlots are also at capacity. Just over 35 percent of those placements were heifers. If that ratio reaches 37 percent, liquidation is indicated.


Fourth quarter 2018 feedlot placements were down due to muddy conditions and other factors. Animals that would have been placed earlier may show up in the spring.


Carcass weights are down...