There are many factors at play when it comes to beef herd rebuilding. On one side, the ongoing drought that has plagued ranchers for several years combined with higher cattle prices in 2014 made it pretty tempting for producers to sell extra heifer calves at weaning. On the other side, 2015 brought a market plunge resulting in calf and feeder cattle values dropping, which could have inspired many cow-calf producers to retain heifers instead of selling them in a down market.
According to Brenda Boetel, University of Wisconsin-River Falls Department of Agricultural Economics professor, herd rebuilding continued through 2015, as indicated by the USDA NASS Cattle report released at the end of January.
In a recent Ohio State University Beef Newsletter, Boetel writes, “The number of all cattle and calves in the U.S. on Jan. 1, 2016 totaled 92.0 million head, a 3% increase over 2015. Note that NASS did revise downward the July 1, 2014 cattle and calves inventory by 0.6% and the 2014 calf crop by 1.1%. Inventory of cattle and calves on Jan. 1, 2015 was also revised downward by 0.7%. On Jan. 1, 2016, the number of beef cows and heifers that calved at 30,300,800 head was up 3.5% from the 29,302,100 head on Jan. 1, 2015. The number of beef replacement heifers at 6,285.2 thousand head increased over 3% from 2015; however industry expectations were for a 5% increase. Finally, the number of beef replacement heifers expected to calve in 2016 at 3,924.6 thousand head was up over 5.7% from the 3,712 thousand in 2015. This suggests that the 2016 calf crop should increase by approximately 3.8% this year as compared to a 2.3% increase in 2015.”
The report indicated that 46% of the nation’s increase in beef cows occurred in the five states with the largest cattle numbers including Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Based on the report, Boetel predicts that, “A combination of 2.7% more beef and milk cows, and 2.9% more beef and dairy replacement heifers expected to calve should lead to a larger calf crop again in 2016.”
While the numbers certainly don’t lie, we recently asked BEEF readers what their herd expansion plans were, and it appears the voters are split on the issue. This week’s poll at beef magazine.com asks, “Do you think herd expansion is still underway?”
With 138 votes, 53% said, “Yes, we’re keeping more heifers from last year’s calf crop.” Meanwhile, 47% said, “No, the market freefall the last half of 2015 put the brakes on any expansion plans.”
In our operation based in South Dakota, we are following the trend of expansion and kept a larger number of replacement heifers than we typically do. How about you? Are you retaining more females this year? Are you looking to purchase more to grow your herd? Or have you slowed down any expansion plans while this volatile market continues to baffle even the experts? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.
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