Economic Tidbits

Culling Cow Herds

Drought conditions in much of the nation, higher feed costs, shortages of forages, and higher prices for cull cows have led many cattle producers to cull their herds. The culling is evidenced by the high rate of beef cow slaughter this year (Figure 2). Through the first 12 weeks of the year, weekly beef cow slaughter has averaged 18 percent more than last year. Derrell Peel, an Oklahoma State University livestock economist, says the current pace of beef cow slaughter implies an annual beef herd culling rate of 13.8 percent, a record rate dating back to 1986. If the pace holds, the nation’s beef cow inventory on January 1, 2023, could drop below 29 million head, the largest decrease in beef cow herd since the mid-1980s according to Peel. 

Figure 2. Weekly Beef Cow Slaughter

Source: USDA-AMS & USDA-NASS

Anecdotal reports by Nebraska producers indicate the culling pace this year is higher here too. Nebraska’s beef factory numbered 1.832 million head on January 1, down 3 percent from 2021 (Figure 3). Since reaching a peak in 2019, cow numbers in Nebraska are down 5.6 percent with the 2022 inventory marking the third consecutive year of declines. As things look now, it seems a fourth year of decline in the herd will be realized come January 1.

Figure 3. Beef Cow Inventory in Nebraska, 1995-2022

                Source: NEFB graphic based on USDA NASS data

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