Weakening Drought and Industry Trends Raise Hopes For Cattle Herd Rebound

  • Logan Layden

James Brooks / Flickr

With drought in retreat — at least for the moment — the U.S. cattle herd, which has been severely damaged by shrinking water supplies and withering grazing land in the face of rising demand, might begin to trend back up.

The Journal Record‘s Brian Brus reports 87.7 million head of cattle were held by U.S. farmers and ranchers in January, and that the number hasn’t been that low since the early 1950s. But Oklahoma State University agriculture economist Darrell Peel tells that paper there are signs of growth:

“We won’t have data to confirm a turnaround yet, at least not until the midyear cattle numbers come out in late July,” Peel said. “But the early indications from cow slaughter and heifer slaughter — as well as just looking at the conditions as hard-hit drought areas start to see a little rain — suggest that we’re going to see some herd building soon.

“As a state, Oklahoma is seeing herd expansion. It’s fairly modest, but at least it’s the beginnings of expansion,” he said.

But Mike Kelsey with the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association isn’t getting too excited just yet:

“It’s just a little too early in Oklahoma. While the drought has been relieved due to the rain, we’re still in D2, D3, and even a few D4 areas,” he said, referring to levels of significant drought effect reported by the U.S. Drought Monitor.”

Even if the herds start to rebound, Peel tells the paper beef prices will continue to rise due to high domestic and international demand.

Brus reports Texas “lost nearly a quarter of its herd over the last four years, while Oklahoma saw a 13-percent reduction.”