U.S. Cattle Herd Shrinks to Smallest Since 1951 Amid Drought

The U.S. cattle herd shrank to the smallest in 63 years as of Jan. 1, as ranchers struggled to recover from years of drought.

Beef and dairy farmers held 87.7 million head of cattle as this year began, down 1.8 percent from a year earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in an annual report. That’s the lowest since 1951, the USDA said. Six analysts in a Bloomberg News survey projected a 1.5 percent drop, on average.

The report also showed the 2013 calf crop was estimated at 33.9 million, down 1 percent from a year earlier and the smallest since 1949. The number of cows and heifers that calved fell to 38.3 million, the lowest since 1941, the USDA said.

The beef-cow herd totaled 29 million, down 0.9 percent from 29.3 million a year earlier, the USDA said. Analysts forecast a 1.6 percent decline. The number of young, female cattle for beef-cow replacement rose to 5.5 million animals, up 1.7 percent from a year earlier, according to the USDA. Analysts expected a 3.1 percent rise.

The inventory of heifers for milk-cow replacement totaled 4.5 million, down 0.3 percent from 4.6 million at the same time last year, the USDA said. The average analyst estimate was for a 0.6 percent increase.

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