Expert: Beef herd rebuilding could take until next year

Dr. Scott Brown with the University of Missouri says there will be some key things to look out for that will indicate a return to normal beef herd levels, which is unlikely to happen until Jan. 2024.

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The United States beef cattle herd has taken a hit recently, reaching lows not seen in over 50 years, but experts say there are some indicators will start to grow.

Dr. Scott Brown with the University of Missouri says it is important to watch the quarterly cattle on feed numbers because those releases show the number of heifers on feed. Brown says for the herd to expand, that number needs to fall below 35 percent. July’s quarterly report had them sitting at 40 percent. He says cow slaughter numbers need to fall as well.

“I currently expect on January 1, 2024, beef cow inventory will still be lower, Brown said. “Don’t forget: when we start holding back to try to build the herd, that will create a bigger hole in production in the short term. Those heifers being held back to build the herd won’t be beef, so that hole has to happen as well.

And while things are looking up, the smaller herd size will likely stick around into next year.

“Again, I think it’s tough to know the exact turn here at this point, but I tell folks all the time don’t think this cycle is going to be exactly like what we went through in 2014,” he said. “Sometimes I remind us that back in 2014-2015, we were coming off of very high corn prices because of the drought of 2012, but corn prices were back below $4 a bushel. I hope we don’t see corn below $4 a bushel for corn producers anytime soon. It’s just different right now.”

The August Cattle on Feed report comes out on August 18. The next quarterly report including heifers on feed will be released in October.

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