The U.S. beef cow herd is the smallest it has been in 61 years due to drought-accelerated liquidation. While a strong interest in rebuilding herds has yet to come, it certainly will. Replacement heifers will be the hot commodity. Recent numbers show a decline of nearly 6% or 5.16 million head as of January 1 of this year. This adds to a 5.5% decline in 2022.

Of all beef replacement heifers, bred heifers typically make up about 61% of total beef herd replacements, according to USDA data. Removing this amount from the total beef replacement heifer inventory creates opportunities for producers who can take advantage of the low supply and growing demand.

However, beef cow herd expansion is likely not possible in 2023 due to ongoing drought stress and the available number of bred heifers, combined with reduced beef cow slaughter. The total beef cow herd numbers will likely hold steady in 2023. This year, we are likely to see a retention of heifer calves and breeding of yearling heifers that may lead to an increased herd expansion in 2024.

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