Steady heifer retention to slow cattle inventory contraction

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released its semiannual Cattle report on Jan. 29. The total number of cattle and calves on Jan. 1, 2021, was estimated at 93.6 million head, nearly 200,000 head lower than the previous year.

This marks a second year of contraction for cattle producers. Despite the number of beef cows declining for a second year, beef cattle producers are indicating their intentions to retain slightly more heifers for beef cow replacement, and the number of those heifers expected to calve during the year is also up. This is the first year heifers retained in the herd have increased year-over-year since 2017, further suggesting contraction has slowed. However, a different pattern is reflected on the dairy side, with milk cow numbers up 1% while heifers for milk cow replacement were estimated down 1.7%, potentially affecting the number of veal calves available in 2021.

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