Derrell Peel Sees Early Indicators of Heifer Retention in Latest Cattle On Feed Report

Listen to Ron Hays talk with Derrell Peel about heifer numbers in the April Cattle on Feed Report.

Senior Farm and Ranch Broadcaster, Ron Hays, is back talking with Oklahoma State University Livestock Economist Dr. Derrell Peel about heifer numbers in the April Cattle on Feed Report released on April 19, 2024.

To listen to Part One of the conversation with Dr. Peel, CLICK HERE.

At the start of the year, the U.S. all-cattle inventory was 87.15 million head, the smallest total inventory since 1951. The beef cow numbers are also historically small. On January 1st, the estimate was 28.22 million head, down 2.5 percent year over year—basically the smallest beef cow herd number since 1961.

“We have been watching this heifer on feed number as it has been running not quite record level, but it has been running very high,” Peel said. “In October, I believe it was, it was exactly 40 percent of the total feedlot inventory. That was the highest number since about 2001. It dropped very slightly at less than a half percent into January 1st and it was 39.7 percent.”

In this most recent report, Peel said the heifers on feed makes up 38.5 percent of the total feedlot inventory.

“It is still above average, but it is coming down, and I think maybe this is the beginning of what we will see here,” Peel said. “If you think back to the last time we had tight cattle numbers and sort of a cyclical low in cattle numbers like we are approaching at least- I wouldn’t say we are quite there- that heifer percentage got down to around 33 or 34 percent. We are still at 38.5 percent, so we have got a way to go, but I think maybe it is beginning to come down now.”

Peel’s analysis of the latest Cattle on Feed Report suggests a potentially significant trend that ranchers may be retaining some heifers. This could have a notable impact on the cattle industry.

“I have expected to see these feedlot inventories fall faster than they have, and everything we have just described says the feedlots have been successful up to this point at offsetting the fact that cattle numbers are smaller with other means,” Peel said. “I think as we go forward, it is going to be harder for them to do that.”

To view the April USDA Cattle on Feed Report, CLICK HERE.

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