Beef cow slaughter is an important aspect to monitor. In the absence of major drought or other type of forced liquidation, it’s an important indicator of producer sentiment about the business.

Nevil Speer

November 25, 2019

2 Min Read
Heifer retention
Nevil Speer

Last week’s Industry At A Glance highlighted year-to-date beef cow slaughter amidst some historical perspective. All that as an attempt to provide some context with respect to next year’s starting beef cow inventory. As quick review, through October, cow slaughter is nearly on pace with last year and tracking towards a full-year total of around 9.6% of the starting beef cow inventory.  

Beef cow slaughter is an important aspect to monitor. In the absence of major drought or other type of forced liquidation, it’s an important indicator of producer sentiment about the business. Meanwhile, equally important in determining the size of next year’s cowherd comes on the heifer side. 

The numbers are often reported as a bulk total – that is, replacement heifers being retained. Generally, the reported number includes both open and bred heifers. However, the most important statistic is a subset of the data are heifers being held “expected to calve in coming year” (i.e. bred heifers). The distinction is important. The bred heifer component is the subset that becomes next year’s “beef cows that have calved.” 

Heifer retention

This week’s graph provides a historical overview since 2001 – the first year in which USDA provided some granularity and separately reported the inventory of bred heifers. Last year’s Jan. 1 totals equaled 5.925 million and 3.544 million head for total and bred heifers, respectively.  

Related:Cow slaughter volume highest in years

For some perspective, during the last five years, total heifer inventory has averaged 6.166 million head, while bred heifer inventory averaged 3.787 million head. Accordingly, it is clear producers are turning down the heifer retention rate. That’s further supported by this year’s heifer slaughter rate.  

As noted last week, the beef industry has witnessed five straight years of expansion since the 2014 low of 28.966 million cows. Will 2019 be the turn-around year? A 2019 slowdown in bred heifer retention along with potential uptick in cow slaughter in the last few months of the year could result in a smaller cowherd. What’s your take with the size of the starting cowherd in 2020? 

Speer serves as an industry consultant and is based in Bowling Green, Ky. Contact him at [email protected]

About the Author(s)

Nevil Speer

Nevil Speer serves as an industry consultant and is based in Bowling Green, KY.

Nevil Speer has extensive experience and involvement with the livestock and food industry including various service and consultation projects spanning such issues as market competition, business and economic implications of agroterrorism, animal identification, assessment of price risk and market volatility on the producer segment, and usage of antibiotics in animal agriculture.
 
Dr. Speer writes about many aspects regarding agriculture and the food industry with regular contribution to BEEF and Feedstuffs.  He’s also written several influential industry white papers dealing with issues such as changing business dynamics in the beef complex, producer decision-making, and country-of-origin labeling.
 
He serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Institute for Animal Agriculture.
 
Dr. Speer holds both a PhD in Animal Science and a Master’s degree in Business Administration.

Contact him at [email protected].

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