The US cattle herd has dropped to the lowest level since 1959, according to the latest cattle herd inventory released by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). As at 1 January 2004, there were 94.9 million cattle in the US, 1.3% (1.2 million head) below last year as the herd entered its eighth year of liquidation.

Notable declines within the herd were the 2.2% (341,000 head) fall in the calf crop and the 1.7% (274,000 head) decline in steers over 500lb.

The 1% fall in US cows and heifers, in addition to the lower calf crop, provides no indication that US producers are looking to rebuild their herds. The majority of the decline in cows was dairy cows, with poor prices driving the liquidation of this herd over the past two years. The decline in beef cows was marginal, at 0.4%. However beef heifers fell 1.9%, as the record high prices in late 2003 enticed producers to place cattle, including potential breeding stock, into feedlots.

A tight supply of lean US cow beef is expected in coming years when producers eventually withhold breeding stock. During this period, demand for imported lean manufacturing beef is likely to surge. Manufacturing beef, of which cow beef is a major component, consists of 75% of Australian beef exports to the US.

Source: Meat & Livestock Australia