Beef demand is the difference maker

While not perfect, cow inventory is the best reflection of relative change in the overall size of the beef herd from year to year.


Nevil Speer, BEEF Magazine

Jun 25, 2020


Industry At A Glance previously outlined the influence of cattle imports on the fed cattle market during the past 10 years.  In short, cattle imports have no influence on the direction of the fed market on a year-over-year basis. Differences in import numbers simply aren’t big enough to move the market – they’re buffered by a vastly larger domestic supply.


The column noted, “…that could change if imported numbers were to suddenly surge or decline beyond what’s occurred during the past 10 years. But for time being, given the limited variation in number of cattle being imported, changes in domestic cattle supply and subsequent beef production are far more significant in establishing general direction of the fed cattle market.”


With that in mind, it’s useful to address the domestic cattle supply and its influence on the fed market. This week’s graph details the relationship between the January 1 beef cow inventory and the annual averaged fed market during the past 10 years. Not surprisingly, the correlation between beef cow inventory and the fed market is strong (-.84).


At first blush, it’s counter-intuitive to consider this year’s starting beef cow inventory on the fed market. After all, this year’s calves won’t be harvested until the following year.


However, the January 1 cow inventory is last year’s inventory being carried into the new year. Moreover, the measure reflects cows that have calved. Therefore, it’s a rough indicator of last year’s beef calf crop, with some give and take for liquidation, lost calves, cows that never calve, etc. Calves born last year, with some exceptions, will mostly be harvested over the course of the current year. Cow inventory isn’t perfect, but it’s the best reflection of relative change in the overall size of the beef herd from year-to-year.


The fed market averaged roughly $124 per cwt between 2010 and 2019 against an average beef cow inventory of 30.5 million head. But within that broad overview there exist some key take-aways that are important. That’s especially true when considering positive-residual years (’14,’15,’17-’19) versus negative-residual years (’10-’13, ’16) – that is, years above the regression line versus those below.  A table of the breakdown is provided below:


more, including links, table, chart