Nebraska’s beef factory, its beef cow herd, numbered 1.832 million head on Jan. 1, down 3 percent from 2021 according to USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) (Figure 1). Since reaching its most recent peak in 2019, cow numbers in Nebraska are down 5.6 percent with this year marking the third consecutive year of declines. Nebraska remains fourth among states in the number of cows following Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri.
Replacement heifers numbered 370,000 head, up 20,000 from last year. Nebraska bucked the national trend. Nationally, heifers held for replacement were off 3.3 percent or 200,000 head. Replacement head in Texas were off significantly compared to last year, Missouri numbers were off slightly, while Oklahoma numbers stayed the same.
Nationwide, the beef cow herd totaled 30.125 million head, down almost 2.5 percent. David Anderson, an agricultural economist at Texas A&M, says the 718,000 head decline was the largest annual year-to-year decline since 1997. The nation’s calf crop in 2021 was just over 35 million head, off 1 percent. Nebraska’s calf crop was 1.690 million, off 3 percent. The total cattle inventory in the U.S. was down 2 percent.
Fewer cattle mean less beef production. Less cattle and beef coupled with good domestic and export beef demand portend of higher cattle prices. In fact, the January WASDE report projected fed steer prices would average $137/cwt. this year compared to $122.40/cwt. last year, the highest prices seen in a few years.
Figure 1. Beef Cow Inventory in Nebraska, 1995-2023