by: Wes Ishmael

Whether you're looking to buy or sell calves, feeders, breeding cows or bulls, it's always worth pondering the relative volume of inventory and where it exists.

According to USDA's Cattle report, there were 31.2 million beef cows on Jan. 1. That's 3.5 percent more than the previous year. All cattle and calves in the U.S. at the start of the year totaled 93.6 million head, two percent more than the previous year.

Derrell Peel, Extension livestock marketing specialist at Oklahoma State University explained in his weekly market comments that producers added 2.1 million beef cows to the inventory since the recent low of 29.2 million head in 2014.

What's more, and surprising to plenty of folks is the fact that heifer retention suggests producers will continue expanding their herds this year at a fairly aggressive clip.

“The 2017 inventory of beef replacement heifers was 6.4 million head, up 1.2 percent year over year,” Peel says. “This level of beef replacement heifers is 20.6 percent of the cow herd inventory, down just slightly from last year, and a level that suggests significant herd expansion will continue in 2017.”

“Market expectations were generally for a decline of five to seven percent (replacement heifers), driven by the trend in calf prices, which posted a 50 percent decline from the peak in the spring of 2015 to the fall of 2016,” according to analysts with the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC), in a recent Livestock Monitor.

Unsurprisingly, much of the expansion is occurring through the gut of the nation, North to South, where most of the cow population resides.

The only states adding 50,000 or more beef cows year to year, along with at least 10,000 more beef replacement heifers were: California, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota and Texas.

The only state subtracting 5,000 or more beef cows and 5,000 or more beef replacement heifers year to year was Mississippi.

There are 16.27 million cows in the eight states with 1 million or more beef cows. That's 52 percent of the nation's beef cow inventory.

Tack on another 5.45 million beef cows from the six states with less than 1 million head but more than 750,000, and you're talking about 70 percent of the nation's beef cowherd.

Much of the current herd expansion encompasses re-stocking from the extended drought, both in the Southern Plains and in California.

“The Southern Plains is the largest beef cow region with 26 percent of the national total (8.13 million head in 2017) and has added the most beef cows of any region since expansion began,” Peel explains. “The region added 14.1 percent to the beef cow inventory, accounting for 47.3 percent of the 2.12 million head of additional beef cows nationwide since 2014.”

In terms of geography, LMIC analysts say, “Individual states that reported change contrary to expectations (beef replacements) were North Dakota (+23,000) head, South Dakota (+20,000), Montana (+20,000), Texas (+20,000), Kansas (+20,000), and Missouri (+15,000). States apparently showing more sensitivity to declines in cattle prices reported heifers for beef cow replacement below a year ago: Oklahoma (-15,000) head and Idaho (-20,000).”

In the case of Oklahoma, Peel points out producers there expanded rapidly since 2013; the beef cow inventory there is the most since 1984. He adds the inventory in Kansas is also the most since 1984.

“Total beef cows increased three percent, but a number of indicators suggest that although the expansion continues, the rate of expansion is slowing,” say analysts with USDA's Economic Research Service, in the February Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook. “Heifers for beef and milk cow replacement are often used as barometers of herd expansion or contraction rates. Heifers for beef cow replacement were one percent higher than last year but down from the four percent and three percent increases achieved in 2015 and 2016, the first two years of this expansion. Producers also indicated that they expect only two percent more beef heifers to calve during 2017, down from increases of seven percent and 6 percent in 2015 and 2016.”

Southern Plains
Kansas and Texas were among the five states adding 50,000 or more beef cows year to year, along with at least 10,000 more beef replacement heifers. Combined, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas added 424,000 beef cows to the inventory last year and began the year with 35,000 more beef replacement heifers.

California (+55,000 head) and New Mexico (+50,000 head) led the western states in expansion with 9 percent and 12 percent more beef cows that had calved, respectively, compared to the previous year. There were 655,000 beef cows in California Jan. 1; 465,000 head in New Mexico.

The only state west of the Rockies showing a year-to-year decline in beef cows was Idaho with 3,000 head fewer (-1 percent) for a total of 500,000 to begin the year.

Alabama (+3 percent) and Tennessee (+3 percent) led the region in expansion, with beginning-year beef cow inventories of 693,000 head (+20,000 head) and 909,000 (+23,000 head), respectively.

The largest year-to-year decline in the Southeast and in the nation in terms of percentages was -5 percent in Mississippi with a beginning-year total of 476,000 beef cows (-24,000 head). Georgia was down two percent (-8,000 head) for a beginning total of 497,000 head.

Corn Belt
There were seven percent more beef cows (+14,000) head in Indiana at the beginning of the year for a total of 210,000. There were three percent more (+25,000 head) in Iowa for a total of 965,000 head.

On the other hand, there were two percent fewer beef cows (-9,000) in Illinois for a total of 387,000 head.

Upper Midwest
By order of percentage expansion: Michigan added 12,000 head (+11 percent) for a total of 120,000 head; Wisconsin added 20,000 head (+7 percent) for a total of 290,000; Minnesota added 20,000 head (+6 percent) for a total of 370,000 head.

Pennsylvania led the region higher with 15,000 more beef cows (+9 percent) at the beginning of the year for a total of 185,000 cows.

Northern Plains
Nebraska led expansion in the Northern Plains with 68,000 more beef cows (+4 percent) on Jan. 1. North Dakota was closed behind with 50,000 more cows (+6 percent). Producers in North Dakota also added 23,000 more replacement heifers (+13 percent) than the previous year.

Although South Dakota began the year with 6,000 fewer beef cows, producers there added 20,000 more replacement heifers (+5 percent) than the previous year.

States Adding 50,00 or more Most Beef Cows
Oklahoma: +172,000
Texas      : +170,000
Missouri: +150,000
Kansas: +82,000
Nebraska: +68,000
New Mexico: +50,000
North Dakota: +50,000

States Subtracting 5,000 or more Beef Cows
Mississippi: -24,000
Illinois: -9,000
Georgia: -8,000
South Dakota: -6,000
South Carolina: -5,000

States adding 10,000 or More Beef Replacements
North Dakota: +23,000
Kansas: +20,000
Montana: +20,000
South Dakota: +20,000
Texas      : +20,000
Alabama: +15,000
Missouri: +15,000
Ohio: +15,000
Virginia: +12,000
California: +10,000

States subtracting 5,000 or More Beef Replacements
Idaho      : -20,000
Mississippi: -18,000
Oklahoma: -15,000
Tennessee: -15,000
Kentucky: -10,000
Utah: -10,000
Arkansas: -9,000
Iowa: -5,000
Nebraska: -5,000
New Mexico: -5,000
Oregon: -5,000

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