7 February 2023

The US beef cow herd fell to its lowest level since 1962, according to US Department of Agriculture data released on Tuesday, after a severe drought raised the cost of cattle feed, Reuters reported, reports Tardáguila Agricultural Markets.

Ranchers sent increasing numbers of cows to slaughter last year, rather than keeping them in the breeding herd, as dry weather reduced grazing availability in the western United States and on the Plains. At the same time, a tight labor market limited work in meatpackers.

The decline in livestock supplies is expected to keep meat prices high for consumers, analysts said. “We’re going to be dealing with sharp declines in meat supply over the next three years and therefore higher prices,” said Rich Nelson, Allendale’s chief strategist.

There were 28.9 million beef cows as of January 1, down 3.6% from a year earlier, the USDA said. It was the fewest for that date in 61 years. The total number of cattle and calves across the country fell 3% annually to 89.3 million, the lowest since 2015.

It will take a significant shift towards a wetter climate to break the trend of liquidating cows, Rabobank said. Last year, almost 13.4% of the cow herd was culled, a record, according to the firm.

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