Drought’s impact on cow inventory

There is now fully one-third of the U.S. cowherd in states rated poor or very poor for pasture conditions. That will play out in a number of ways this fall.

Nevil Speer

August 2, 2018

2 Min Read
Drought’s impact on cow inventory
Nevil Speer

It’s not really a new story, but it’s sure an important one. The drought continues to worsen in the western and southwestern United States. To see the extent of the drought, check out the most current drought monitor.

Last week’s Industry At A Glance addressed the importance of drought from a feedstuffs perspective. USDA’s May 1 hay inventory pegged total hay stocks at 15.7 million tons – nearly 9 million tons short of last year’s mark. As such, we went into this year’s haying season with a sharp deficit.

To make matters worse, continued dry conditions in key hay producing areas are making it difficult to backfill that deficit – dry weather and irrigation shortages will prove to be a limiting factor. Moreover, the drought means hay will be in even greater demand. As noted last week, dry conditions likely mean feeding cows well ahead of the normal fall/winter feeding season. 

This week’s illustration addresses that very issue. The graph depicts the proportion of the beef cowherd that reside in states with pastures categorized as either poor or very poor versus good or excellent, while also depicting year-ago rates. 


At the beginning of July, nearly two-thirds of the cow inventory resided in areas rated good or excellent. That’s since declined to less than 50% as the month progressed. Meanwhile, there are now fully one-third of the cows in states which are categorized as poor or very poor. 

Clearly, ranchers are feeling the impact of the 2018 drought. That said, how are you making adjustments to deal with this year’s dry weather conditions? How is the feed situation playing out in your area? Are you planning on altering your marketing plans for this coming fall because of weather? Leave your response in the comments section below.

Nevil 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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