February 9, 2012

Cattle Numbers Continue to Decline in Missouri

The January 1, 2012 all cattle and calf inventory for Missouri fell to its lowest point since 1958. The inventory totaled 3.9 million head, 1 percent below the 3.95 million head on January 1, 2011.

"The number of cattle in Missouri continued to decline over the past year. This is the sixth straight year of decline and our estimated inventory is over a half a million below the total inventory in 2006," said Robert Garino, Acting Director, of USDA's Missouri Agricultural Statistics Service.

Compared with a year ago, beef cow numbers, at 1.857 million head, were down 8,000 head, or 1 percent. Milk cows decreased 2,000 head from last year to 93,000 head.

Scotland County has seen its cattle numbers drop from 25,500 in 2006 to 23,500 in 2010, the latest year numbers were available through the national Agricultural Statistic Service of the USDA. A big part of that decline was in the dairy herd, which has dwindled from 3,400 in 2006 to the 2010 level of 2,200 head.

Statewide, all beef replacement heifers 500 pounds and over, down 10 percent to 270,000 head; milk replacement heifers 500 pounds and over, down 20 percent to 40,000 head; other heifers 500 pounds and over, up 9 percent to 240,000 head from the previous year's estimate; steers 500 pounds and over, down 8 percent to 360,000 head from the 2011 estimate of 390,000 head; bulls 500 pounds and over, stayed the same 100,000; and calves under 500 pounds, up 1 percent to 940,000 head from the 2011 estimate for the state of Missouri.

The 2011 calf crop was estimated at 1.82 million head, down 2 percent from the 2010 calf crop of 1.85 million head.

Cattle on feed for slaughter market, at 55,000 head, was up 5,000 head from January 1, 2011.

Missouri is following the national trend, where total cattle numbers dropped roughly 2% from the 2011 mark of 92.86 million head to 90.77 million head in 2012.

"Nationwide, a big part of the decline likely can be traced to Texas and Oklahoma, where severe drought has taken a toll on herd sizes," said Barb Blomme of Scotland County Livestock Auction. "That's not likely to change overnight either, as most experts are predicting it will take two or three years for the pastures in those big producing states to recover."

The shrinking beef-cow herd will drive calf prices higher in 2012, according to University of Missouri beef economist Scott Brown, who told producers at three meetings in northwest Missouri, that any additional beef demand on the consumer side could lead to "shockingly" high cattle prices this year.

The economics of agriculture have also lent themselves to declining herd sizes in Scotland County.

"With the high prices for corn and beans, a lot of pastures were turned into crop ground in the last couple of years," Blomme stated.

She added that the biggest decline on cattle numbers in Scotland County likely comes from the dairy numbers declining, reflecting the lower milk prices..

While declining numbers mean higher prices, another boost comes from premiums paid for high-quality calves, Brown said, such as the Show-Me-Select program, which adds quality to herds.

"Cattle prices hit resistance at the $1.25 per pound level," Brown said. "But we will overcome that resistance with any additional recovery in the general economy.

"You prefer prices driven by demand, not short supply, but cattle numbers are low and continuing to decline. This trend has continued almost uninterrupted since 1996."

He also stressed the economic impact of improved genetics, noting nationally, only 3 percent of calves grade prime. Recently, maximum prime premiums went up to $40 per hundred pounds.

Investing in genetics gives long-term payback in a herd, Brown said. He stated the choice-select price spread jumped when supermarkets such as Wal-Mart stores added choice beef to their meat cases. Producers selling choice grade calves gain a premium of up to $15 per hundredweight.

Dave Patterson, MU Extension beef reproduction specialist, developed breeding protocols for Show-Me-Select heifers at Thompson Farm, Spickard, a part of the Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station.

Breeding protocols sheets, called "The Missouri Recipe," are available free at MU Extension centers. "Be sure you have the 2012 edition, as the information is updated every year," Patterson said.

A farmer-directed nonprofit organization oversees the Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer Program. The board approved the new rules in January.

Interested beef producers can enroll in early February. Joining now allows producers to consign heifers in 2012 fall sales. Membership fee is $5, with a $2 fee per heifer to be charged later.

The existing four fall sales are near capacity, Patterson said. That brings renewed interest in starting a sale in northwest Missouri.

If enough producers join Show-Me-Select, more meetings will be held to set time, place and location for a fall sale. The sales are organized by participating farmers.

Herd owners can join by contacting their regional livestock specialist through the local MU Extension center. Producers statewide may join.

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