Over the past few years, ranchers have been working hard to rebuild stocks thinned drastically during the drought from 2010 through 2014.
Now beef cattle numbers in the state are the largest in the country for the first time in years.
Unfortunately for those who love steak and hamburgers, the expanding herd size hasn’t translated into dropping the retail prices.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist Dr. Joe Paschal says Texas has the largest cow herd in the U.S., including cattle, calves, and dairy cattle. He estimates the total at about 94 million head.
“Right now, based on the number of heifers that are entering the feed yard, which is starting to slowly increase, that tells us we are nearing the end of the high numbers in our production cycle,” said Paschal.
The retail price of ground beef, much of which comes from older cows culled from herds, averaged $3.76 a pound nationwide last month, while choice sirloin steak averaged $8.53 a pound.
“Now you won’t see any sort of a difference in terms of prices, either at the auction barn or at the grocery store for probably a couple of years because it takes a while for prices to catch up with what is going on in the production cycle,” said Paschal.
The reason the production cycle takes so long?
“The reason it takes 10-12 years is because it takes about 4-5 years for a calf that’s born today, to raise a calf and ready to go into the food chain. So it takes a while for the price cycle and production cycle to offset by a couple of years,” said Paschal.
For the first time in decades, we have a situation where both domestically and our export markets, demand for beef has been very good.
“This year it is projected that we are going to produce 27 billion pounds, about $325 of every calf is exported. We export quite a bit of that beef and that allows us to produce a large number of cattle,” said Paschal.
Beef cattle and calves generate sales of more than $10 billion annually and constitute the state’s top agricultural commodity, easily eclipsing dairy and cotton, which are next in line with slightly more than $2 billion each in annual sales.
“Even though we are growing slightly, all the signs seem to indicate that we are plateauing in terms of cattle numbers and that’s what gives us stability,” said Paschal.
The largest number of cattle herd we had in the U.S. was during the 1970s with 137 million head.
On the upside, we will not see beef prices go up for at least another 3 to 4 years.
So if demand holds up, and prices hold up, and beef producers can get some timely rains to produce forage to feed their animals, 2019 has the potential to be another good year.
Beef cattle nationwide recently topped 31.7 million head — the most since 2009. Oklahoma, with about 2.15 million, and Missouri, with about 2.06 million, are second and third behind Texas as the top U.S. producers.