Cattle inventory down three percent, beef prices rising

USDA’s report shows the United States’ cattle inventory was down three percent as of July 1
Published: Jul. 28, 2023 at 6:51 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Beef prices are continuing to rise as the nation’s cattle inventory falls. The USDA is reporting the country is experiencing the smallest supply of cattle in at least 25 years.

According to the report, there were around 112 million head of cattle in the United States in 1998. The number dropped after the 2011 drought; it is dropping once again to 95 million head. The CEO and president of Spade Ranches, Wesley Welch, stated it is not a coincidence and is a pattern depending on the weather.

“We’ve been in a prolonged drought, not only specifically here in the Southern Plains, but here in Texas and nationwide,” Welch said.

Without rain, grass becomes hard to find and input costs rise. Ranchers then must sell more cows to slaughter. The USDA reports beef cattle specifically is now at 29 million head in the U.S., down 3% from last year. Closer to home, Spade Ranches is operating at 75% capacity because of the drought.

“Our cow herds can only be as big as the, as our grass and our country allows it to be,” Welch said.

The grass is greener on the other side of the drought, with it raining more this year. Welch said it will still take time to rebuild herds.

“There’s going to be a lag here where mother nature might allow us to expand our herds, but we can’t just do it overnight,” Welch said.

Welch stated a cow must be two years old before it can start having calves. It is also more expensive to rebuild those herds with high cattle prices. While ranchers work on building, consumers can expect a higher ticket when buying beef.

“I think prices will continue to climb for the next two years,” Welch said.

Welch said ranchers are becoming more efficient as time goes on. He stated as the industry learns how to produce more beef with fewer cattle, the nation’s herd size may never return to its normal size, but it is expected to grow.