Texas cattle herd — still big, much, much smaller

The Texas beef cow herd is at its lowest level since 1960 after record drought forced ranchers to export more than 150,000 head of cattle to greener pastures in 2011, three times more the 45,000 in 2010, says a Texas AgriLife Extension Service economist.

Texas, the U.S.’s largest beef-cow-producing state, saw a decline in 2011, in the number of beef cows of 660,000, to 4.365 million head.

“That’s the smallest cow herd since 1960,” David Anderson said. “This decline was fuelled by the drought, which left 2011 as the record-holding driest year on record in Texas.”

Nationally, beef cattle numbers continue to decline to historic levels. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Jan. 1 cattle inventory for all cattle and calves totalled 90.8 million head, two per cent below the 92.7 million on Jan. 1, 2011. It is the lowest Jan. 1 inventory of all cattle and calves since the 88.1 million on hand in 1952, according to USDA.

Slaughter numbers continued to escalate in 2011 due to drought, Anderson said.

“The southwest region, which is Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, slaughtered almost 200,000 more beef cows in 2011 than the year before,” he said. “Nationwide, beef cow slaughter numbers were up 170,000 head. And also fewer heifers were held back to enter the cow herds due to the dry conditions. Each of these contributed to Texas’s smaller cow herd.”

Cattle prices are predicted to continue to be at all-time highs. Retail beef prices are expected to remain high as well reflecting less supply, according to economists. The USDA report revealed the national 2011 calf crop was estimated at 35.3 million head, down one per cent from 2010. USDA reports it’s the smallest calf crop since the 34.9 million born during 1950.

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