Meat & Livestock News

Rebuilding a Resilient US Cattle Herd: A Fresh Perspective


  • The US cattle industry must focus on rebuilding a resilient herd amidst challenges like labour shortages and sustainability efforts, with a strong demand for beef but lower per capita supplies.
  • Rabobank’s report emphasises the need for adaptability, predicting higher beef prices and advocating for a more efficient, drought-resistant herd.
  • A successful rebuild requires a collaborative supply chain approach and balancing cow numbers with packing capacity, amidst increasing government involvement.

The US cattle industry is at a crossroads, facing the challenge of rebuilding its herd with resilience at the forefront. A recent Rabobank report sheds light on this issue, emphasising the importance of adaptability in the face of uncertainties such as labour shortages, sustainability efforts, legal hurdles, and regulatory pressures.

Lance Zimmerman, a senior analyst at Rabobank, points out that while demand for beef remains strong, the supply per capita is dwindling, pushing market prices up.

For decades, the industry has been successful in boosting demand. Now, according to Zimmerman, it’s time to focus on enhancing resilience throughout the supply chain with equal vigour.

Despite a 50-year trend of declining cow numbers against a backdrop of increasing beef production—thanks to advancements in genetics, nutrition, and health management—the industry faces a pivotal moment. Rabobank predicts that beef prices for consumers, as well as cattle markets, will rise until 2026, assuming costs can be reduced and producers are incentivised to rebuild the herd over several years.

Drought has been identified as the most significant challenge to US cattle management in the last twenty years. Zimmerman advocates for the development of a more efficient and drought-resistant cow herd over the coming decade. He believes that after three years of intense culling, the phase of herd liquidation is concluding, allowing producers to concentrate on rebuilding with the youngest and most productive cows.

However, Zimmerman cautions against expecting rapid herd growth, similar to the period from 2014 to 2019. Instead, he suggests that stabilisation by 2024 and gradual rebuilding by 2025 are more realistic outcomes. The future likely holds a slower pace of herd rebuilding in the next cattle cycle.

A crucial strategy for a successful herd rebuild, as per Rabobank, involves enhancing vertical coordination within the supply chain. Zimmerman advocates for a collaborative approach that transcends the traditional commodity mindset, promoting shared production risk, value creation, and market positioning among all stakeholders.

Balancing cow numbers with packing capacity presents another challenge. With cattle numbers at their lowest since 1952 and an expanding processing sector, the industry must navigate these dynamics carefully. Zimmerman highlights the growing trend of government involvement, suggesting that lobbying, coalition building, and grant writing could play significant roles in bolstering beef supply chain resilience.