The August Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook report from USDA, released August 18, examines somewhat conflicting numbers regarding heifer retention, and shows U.S. beef imports and exports running well above last-year’s levels.
The report notes that the July 1 cattle-inventory report showed little or no increase in replacement heifer inventories for either beef or dairy herds over those of two years ago, on July 1, 2012. In 2013, USDA did not issue a mid-year inventory report due to the “sequestration” that temporarily suspended spending for numerous government programs. The numbers could indicate ranchers have not yet begun moving toward an expansion phase, in contrast with widespread assumptions that this year’s improved forage conditions and record-high calf prices would trigger more heifer retention.
But, lacking a July 2013 report, the comparisons with two years ago could mask some more recent trends. Comparisons with numbers from the most-recent 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, and almost a 4 percent increase since January 1, 2012, 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. The proportion of heifers on feed is the lowest since July 2006, during the last upturn in total
cow inventories according to USDA.
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.