By Justin Walker
Communications Specialist

Beef cattle expansion may come to an end in 2019.

There are numerous signs that point to beef cattle numbers peaking following five consecutive years of expansion, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Livestock Analyst Shayle Shagam said.

“We are looking at beef cow replacement numbers, which were down three percent,” Shagam said.

The Cattle Inventory Report, released on Feb. 28, showed the total number of all cattle and calves in the U.S. was just under 98.4 million at the beginning of 2019, up roughly a half percent compared to this time last year.

The total number of beef cows rose about one percent to 31.8 million, while milk cow totals dropped one percent to 9.4 million.

The significant number, Shagam said, is the number of heifers being kept for beef and milk cow replacement, down three and one percent, respectively.

“While producers were holding more beef cows on the Jan. 1 report, they were intending to bring in fewer heifers into the beef cow herd during the year,” Shagam said.

The number of “other heifers”—not designated for how they will be used this year—is up three percent to 9.6 million head, which Shagam said is the swing factor for expansion.

“They could be put into feedlots during the year, but if conditions warrant it, some of those animals could be held back by producers,” he said.

While dairy cattle numbers dipped, dairy provisions have taken priority for farm bill implementation, Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Affairs Bill Northey said.

“We are dedicated to moving those out,” Northey said. “I’m not here to say they will happen tomorrow—because there is a lot of moving pieces—but it will happen as quickly as we can.”

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