Cattle herd in U.S. smallest since 1952
BY ROXANA HEGEMAN Associated Press
Saturday, February 02, 2013
2/02/13 at 5:19 AM
WICHITA - The severe drought that scorched pastures across the Southern Plains last summer helped shrink the nation's herd to its smallest size in more than six decades and encouraged the movement of animals to lusher fields in the northern and western parts of the U.S., a new report shows.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Friday that the U.S. inventory of cattle and calves totaled 89.3 million animals as of Jan. 1. That was down by 1.5 million cattle, or 2 percent, compared with this time a year ago.
Oklahoma's herd was down nearly 7 percent, falling to 4.2 million head from 4.5 million a year ago.
The agency said the national inventory is the lowest January number since 1952. It does two counts per year, in January and July. The January report had been anxiously awaited because it shows the impact of the drought as it spread across the nation last summer and provides a state-by-state breakdown documenting the shift of animals north.
Texas, the nation's largest producing state, saw its herd shrink 5 percent to 11.3 million head amid a multiyear drought. In Kansas, another hard-hit state, the number of cattle shrank 4 percent to 5.8 million animals as ranchers sold off animals as pastures dried up and the price of hay skyrocketed.
By contrast, North Dakota ranchers expanded their herds by 6 percent to nearly 1.8 million head, while South Dakota's cattle numbers grew 5 percent to 3.8 million head. Montana, Idaho and Washington also boosted the size of their herds.
Glenn Tonsor, an Extension livestock specialist at Kansas State University, said the shift away from drought-stricken areas makes sense.
"It doesn't surprise me that the Southern Plains continue to have a pullback in the number of cows, and it doesn't surprise me that the Northern Plains has been increasing," he said.
The growth in the north didn't make up for losses elsewhere, however, and the repercussions are being felt in the meatpacking industry. Cargill Beef, one of the nation's largest processors, announced in January that it will idle its slaughterhouse in Plainview, Texas, and lay off all 2,000 workers.
For consumers, fewer cows mean less beef and higher prices.
Original Print Headline: Cattle herd smallest since 1952
Jerry Lemons feeds cattle at his River Bend Ranch near Cleveland, Okla. Ranchers in the Southern Plains have sold off big percentages of their herds as drought grips the region. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World