A Decade of Beef Cow Herd Dynamics

The January 1, 2018 beef cow herd inventory of 31.723 million head was very close to the 2009 herd size of 31.794 million head a decade earlier.  However, the industry has been through quite a bit since then and some short and long term changes are evident in the current situation among major beef cow states. 

For more than half of the last decade, the U.S. beef cow herd continued a nearly uninterrupted liquidation that began in 1996 and continued until 2014.  The only exception was a short-lived expansion attempt in 2005-2006, that added a minimal 171 thousand head to the herd size before resuming liquidation in 2007.   From 2009 to 2014, the U.S. beef cow herd dropped by 2.708 million head, with the final two million head the result of severe drought in the Southern Plains from 2011 through 2013.  Overdue herd expansion began in 2014 with a total recovery of 2.638 million head by 2018.  However, some interesting short and long run trends are evident among major beef cattle states in the last decade.

Texas, the largest beef cow state, had a beef cow inventory of 5.17 million head at the beginning of the decade in 2009.  By 2014, the Texas beef cow inventory was down 24.4 percent to 3.91 million head, the lowest state beef cow inventory since 1958.  Since 2014, the Texas beef cow herd has added 675 thousand head, recovering 54 percent of the 1.26 million head decrease from 2009-2014.  The current state inventory is 4.585 million head of beef cows.  Texas has recovered proportionately less than any major beef cow state since the drought of 2011-2013.

From year to year, Missouri and Oklahoma vie to be the number two beef cow state.  On January 1, 2018, Missouri had an inventory of 2.166 million head, slightly more than Oklahoma, at 2.131 million head.  Over the past decade, Oklahoma ranks number 2 with a slightly higher average inventory of 1.938 million head, compared to 1.916 million head for Missouri.  Both states suffered drought reduced inventories in 2010-2013; more pronounced in Oklahoma where the beef cow inventory dropped by 18 percent before recovering by 26 percent from 2013-2018.  The 2018 Oklahoma beef cow inventory is at the highest level since 1983 while Missouri is currently at a level equal to the herd size in 2006.

Nebraska is the number four beef cow state with a 2018 herd inventory of 1.910 million head; quite stable over the last decade.  Number five South Dakota has shown recent growth in the beef cow herd with a 2018 inventory of 1.801 million head, well above the decade average of 1.656 million head.  The current South Dakota beef cow herd is the largest since 2002.

Kansas is the number six beef cow state with a current beef cow inventory of 1.501 million head, down year over year from 2017.  The Kansas beef cow herd has been more variable over the last decade with a drought low of 1.328 million head in 2013.  The decade average beef cow herd in Kansas is 1.465 million head.  Number seven Montana has a 2018 beef cow inventory of 1.497 million head.  Montana has maintained a very stable beef cow herd size, averaging 1.481 million over the last decade.  Kentucky is the number eight beef cow state with a current beef cow inventory of 1.033 million head, very near the decade average of 1.029 million head. 

Florida ranked number nine over the past decade but recent decreases in the beef cow inventory have pushed Florida out of the top ten in 2018.  The current Florida beef cow herd of 886,000 head is the smallest since 1964.  North Dakota moved into the number nine spot in 2018 with a beef cow inventory of 984,500 head.  This is the highest North Dakota beef cow inventory since 2002.  Iowa ranks number ten in 2018, and has for the last decade among major beef cow states, with a current inventory of 970,000 head.  Other states with a beef cow inventory over 900 thousand head include Arkansas (924,000) and Tennessee (910,000).