WICHITA, Kan. – The severe drought that scorched pastures across the Southern Plains last summer helped shrink the nation’s herd to its smallest size in more than six decades and encouraged the movement of animals to lusher fields in the northern and western parts of the U.S., a new report shows.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Friday that the U.S. inventory of cattle and calves totaled 89.3 million animals as of Jan. 1. That was down by 1.5 million cattle, or 2 percent, compared with this time a year ago.
The agency says this is the lowest January cattle inventory since 1952. It does two counts per year, in January and July. The January report had been anxiously awaited because it shows the impact of the drought as it spread across the nation last summer and provides a state-by-state breakdown documenting the shift of animals north.
Texas, the nation’s largest cattle producing state, saw its herd shrink 5 percent to 11.3 million head amid a multi-year drought. Nebraska’s herd shrunk 2 percent to 6.3 million animals as the drought spread north this summer. In Kansas, another hard hit state, the number of cattle shrunk 4 percent to 5.8 million animals as ranchers sold off animals as pastures dried up and the price of hay skyrocketed.
By contrast, North Dakota ranchers expanded their herds by 6 percent to nearly 1.8 million head. Montana, Idaho and Washington boosted the size of their herds.