2 min read
two commercial calves

The cattle inventory is at its lowest point in several years, and prices are higher than they have been in several years. The natural question is when does the cattle herd start to rebuild itself? After all, the cattle cycle shows that historically, the cattle inventory has an inverse relationship with the price of feeder cattle. In other words, when the inventory is higher, the prices get cheaper, and as the inventory goes down, the prices get higher. Figure 1 shows the relationship between price of western Kansas 500 to 600 pound steers and the United States cattle inventory. It should be noted that while Alabama’s local calf price may be lower than western Kansas, they tend to follow the these prices.

While there are no absolutes in the world of cattle production and markets, one thing that is for sure is that when prices get high, cattle producers want to retain more heifers and expand their herd to capitalize on those high price calves. Yet, so far, this hasn’t really started if you look at the data. Why? There are a couple of things to consider.

First, where are the cattle? The short answer is that there are cattle all across the continental US, but a large portion of them are in the southern and high plains portion of the country. This includes Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, etc. If you look at the trends there, you see where a lot of the cattle inventory numbers have declined (Figures 2 & 3).

Then, by looking at the drought monitor it is easy to see why those cattle numbers are lower and why it probably won’t change soon (Figure 4)

So, when does the cattle herd start to grow again. There is nobody that knows that for sure, but there is a good bet it’s not until it rains consistently through the middle portion of the country.

a bar graph depicting calf prices and cattle inventory from the Livestock Marketing Information Center

Figure 1. Calf Prices and Cattle Inventory


map depicting beef cows that calved

Figure 2. Beef Cows that Calved January 1, 2023


map depicting the change in number of beef cows

Figure 3. Change in Beef Cows 2022 to 2023


drought monitor map from May 4.

Figure 4. Drought Monitor Map for May 4, 2023