Meat & Livestock News

US Cattle Herd Sees Decline, Reaching a Historic Low


  • The US cattle inventory has decreased by 2% from the previous year, reaching its lowest since 1951 at 87.2 million.
  • The count for all cows and heifers that have calved is down to 37.6 million, with a slight decrease in milk cows from last year.
  • Despite the overall decline, cattle and calves on feed for slaughter in feedlots have increased by 2% to 14.4 million head.

As of January 2024, the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has reported a notable decrease in the national cattle inventory, marking a 2% reduction from 2023 to stand at 87.2 million. This figure represents the smallest cattle inventory recorded since 1951, highlighting a significant shift in the agricultural landscape.

Detailed Insights into Cattle Population Changes

The breakdown of the numbers reveals specific areas of decrease within the cattle population. The total count of all cows and heifers that have calved has fallen to 37.6 million, a 2% drop from 38.3 million head as of January 1, 2023. The report also notes a slight decrease in the number of milk cows from the previous year, now at 9.36 million.

In contrast, the data shows an increase in the number of cattle and calves on feed for the slaughter market within feedlots, which has risen by 2% from the start of 2023 to 14.4 million head. This suggests a shift in the dynamics of cattle farming, with more animals being raised for meat production in feedlots.

Further Analysis of the Herd Composition

The report further details the composition of the herd, indicating a 1% decrease in the number of all heifers 500 lbs and over, now at 18.5 million. Beef replacement heifers have seen a 2% decrease to 4.86 million, whole milk replacement heifers slightly declined to 4.06 million. Other heifers also decreased by 2% to 9.57 million.

Despite these reductions, the overall slaughter numbers have remained stable, with total slaughter since December 1 closely aligning with forecasts. This stability in slaughter numbers, despite the decrease in overall herd size, points to ongoing adjustments within the industry to maintain meat supply levels.

Implications for the Industry

The decrease in the US cattle herd size has significant implications for the industry, potentially affecting meat supply, prices, and the broader agricultural economy. The shift towards more cattle being raised in feedlots could also have implications for farming practices, sustainability, and market dynamics.

The full report from NASS offers a comprehensive view of the current state of the US cattle industry, providing stakeholders with crucial data to inform decision-making and strategy development in the face of changing market conditions.