The inventory of all cattle and calves in the U.S. was 93.6 million head on January 1, 2021, down fractionally from 93.8 million head one year ago. In the current cattle cycle, the all cattle inventory increased from a low of 88.2 million head in 2014 to a peak of 94.8 million head in 2019 and has declined a total of 1.3 percent in the last two years. The beef cow inventory was 31.16 million head on January 1, down 0.6 percent year over year. The inventory of beef replacement heifers was unchanged from last year at 5.81 million head. The number of beef replacement heifers expected to calve is estimated at 3.55 million head, up 1.3 percent from one year ago. Both the inventory of beef replacement heifers, at 18.7 percent of the beef cow herd, and the number of heifers calving are at a level that does not indicate either herd liquidation or expansion, though the levels could support limited herd expansion in the coming year. The number of dairy cows totaled 9.44 million head, up 1.1 percent year over year. Dairy replacement heifers totaled 4.61 million head, down 1.7 percent from one year ago. The 2020 calf crop was 35.14 million head, down 1.3 percent year over year.

The inventories of steers over 500 lbs. were down 0.8 percent; other heifers (not for beef or dairy replacements) were up 0.5 percent and the inventory of calves under 500 lbs. was down 0.8 percent. The total cattle on feed inventory was 14.71 million head, up 0.3 percent year over year. The sum of steers, other heifers and calves minus cattle on feed is the estimated feeder supply outside of feedlots as of January 1, 2021. This total is 25.66 million head, down 0.2 percent compared to last year.

For the most part, Oklahoma countered the national trends. The total inventory of cattle and calves in the state was 5.30 million head, up 2.9 percent year over year. The beef cow inventory totaled 2.189 million head, up 3.8 percent from one year ago. Oklahoma is the number two state for beef cows behind Texas. Beef replacement heifers in Oklahoma totaled 410 thousand head, up 10.8 percent year over year and making Oklahoma the second ranked state for beef replacement heifers. The Oklahoma calf crop was 1.95 million head, 3.2 percent higher than one year ago. The estimated feeder supply in Oklahoma was calculated to be 2.135 million head, up 1.7 percent from last year.

The three southern plains states of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas had a total estimated feeder supply of 7.245 million head, up 1.0 percent year over year. These three states account for 28.2 percent of the total feeder supply for the country. The 3-state total number of cattle grazing small grains pasture in the southern plains was 1.73 million head, up 7.5 percent from one year ago.

Around the country, the most notable headline in the Cattle report was the 14.5 percent year over year decline in beef cows in Colorado along with a 16.1 percent decrease in beef replacement heifers in the state. The Colorado impacts highlight the severe drought conditions in the region and will be an important factor to watch in the coming weeks and months. In general, U.S. cattle inventories show little direction and are more stable than anything. Market conditions, and perhaps drought, in the coming months will determine the direction of cattle numbers in 2021 and beyond.

(Derrell S. Peel is a livestock marketing specialist for Oklahoma State University.)

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