The July 1 Cattle report from USDA, released on Friday, July 25, shows reductions in almost all classes of cattle since the last mid-year report issued in July 2012. Last year, USDA did not issue a July Cattle report due to the sequestration that temporarily reduced funding for federal government agencies.

Compared with July 1, 2012:

  • All cattle and calves in the United States, at 95 million head, are down 3 percent from 97.8 million.
  • Cows and heifers that have calved, at 39 million, are down 2 percent.
  • Beef cows, at 29.7 million, are down 3 percent.  
  • Milk cows, at 9.3 million, up 1 percent.
  • All heifers weighing 500 pounds and over, at 14.9 million, are down 5 percent.
  • Beef replacement heifers, at 4.1 million, are down 2 percent.
  • Milk replacement heifers are down 5 percent at 3.9 million head.
  • Other heifers, at 6.9 million, are down 7 percent.
  • Steers weighing 500 pounds and over are down 4 percent at13.5 million head.

The 2014 calf crop is expected to be 33.6 million, down 1 percent from 2013 and down 2 percent from 2012. Calves born during the first half of the year are estimated at 24.3 million, down 2 percent from 2013 and down 3 percent from 2012.

The report certainly indicates the nation’s cow herd has continued to shrink, but lacking a July 2013 report, the comparisons with two years ago could mask some more recent trends. Comparisons with numbers from the last report, issued on January 1, 2014, also would be misleading due to seasonal shifts in populations of various classes of cattle, such as female calves in July being classified as replacement heifers the following January, or beef-cow numbers dropping between July and January due to late-summer and fall culling of open cows. However, the January 2014 inventory report showed a 2 percent increase in beef replacement heifers compared with January 1, 2013, suggesting some rebuilding in herds in areas where weather and forage supplies allow.

This year’s Cattle on Feed reports also have suggested producers are retaining a few more heifers for breeding. The July 2014 report for example, also released on Friday, July 25, showed an overall reduction in feedyard inventories of 2 percent compared with a year ago. Steers in feedyards were down 1 percent, while heifers were down by 5 percent. Likewise, the January 2014 Cattle on Feed report showed a 5 percent year-to-year reduction in feedyard inventories, with a 4 percent reduction in steers and an 8 percent reduction in heifers on feed. These figures suggest a modest increase in the number of heifers going back into breeding herds rather than shipping to the feedyard. Although the report shows the number of beef replacement heifers down 2 percent from that of July 2012, it seems likely the next Cattle report, in January 2015, will again show a small increase in replacement-heifer numbers.