Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

US cattle herd has grown by 6m head in 3 years

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

The US cattle herd has been in a rebuilding phase in recent years growing by a staggering 6 million head since 2014.

A recent analysis by the AHDB, shows that as of 1 January 2017, stood at 93.6m head, according to the latest data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

It is up two per cent, or 1.7m head, on the same time last year.

The AHDB analysis highlights however that the size of the herd in 2014 had marked the seventh straight year of contraction.

As the extreme drought took hold across the southern Great Plains at the beginning of this decade, cattle numbers fell to their lowest level since the early 1950s.

The data shows an increase in numbers across most cattle categories compared to the previous year.

The beef cow herd was reported to stand at 31.2m head, up three per cent year on year.

However, the AHDB says it does appear that the impetus for herd rebuilding could be slowing down.

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While heifers destined to enter the beef cow herd did increase, and are at their highest level since 1995, growth was only measured at one per cent. Year-on-year growth in January 2016 in this segment of the herd was a more significant three per cent.

Nevertheless, it says the fact that more beef heifers have again been retained for breeding purposes suggests that the USDA is still expecting the beef cow herd to undergo some expansion over this year.

In addition, the AHDB analysis says  a larger proportion of these retained heifers are expected to calf this spring, however, the year-on-year increase is also more muted than it was in January 2016.

Despite this, it will still provide a boost to the forthcoming calf crop which will result in an increase in supplies of cattle for finishing over the medium term.

The 2016 calf crop in the US was estimated at 35.1m head, up three per cent from that in 2015. Given the growth in cattle numbers over recent years there is an inevitable bullish outlook for production levels.

The US is the largest beef producer in the world, the largest importer and also a significant exporter.

Developments in the United States inevitably have implications for the global market, given its dominant position.

The latest USDA beef and veal forecasts indicate a rise of three per cent in production this year, which follows an estimated six per cent uplift last year.

It is worth noting that if this production increase is realised this year, volumes would still be similar to that at the beginning of the current decade.

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