Feed supplies help SD grow cattle numbers despite US dropSouth Dakota is bucking a national trend with a 5 percent increase in the total number of cattle in the state.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
South Dakota is bucking a national trend with a 5 percent increase in the total number of cattle in the state.
The number of cattle in the United States is at a 61-year low, according to a report released Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
There were 89.3 million head of cattle and calves in the country as of Jan. 1, according to the USDA report. That’s the lowest total since there were 88.1 million cattle in 1952. The new total is also a 2 percent decline from the 90.8 million cattle reported on Jan. 1, 2012.
But in South Dakota, the total herd size increased from 3.65 million to 3.85 million, making it one of 19 states to report an increase. The number of cattle that calved in South Dakota also increased 5 percent, going from 1.7 million to 1.78 million.
That also defies the national trend. All cows and heifers that have calved in the nation dropped from 39.4 million to 38.5 million. That is the lowest Jan. 1 inventory of all cows and heifers that have calved since the 36.8 million head in 1941.
Warren Rusche , a cow-calf field specialist with the South Dakota State University Extension Service’s Watertown Regional Extension Center, said drought is the driving force behind the drop in the cattle herd size.
“Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska all lost beef cow numbers in the last 12 months,” Rusche said. “South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana added inventory. To put it simply, we have been able to maintain feed supplies here while that has been more of a struggle farther south.
“So South Dakota is not at a historic low, we’ve added some inventory,” he said. “We don’t have as many beef cows as we did in 2001-2002, but we are higher than we were in the early to mid-1990s.”
South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Walt Bones said the overall decline in the size of the American cattle herd is “the f unction of a number of things,” not just one factor.
“Drought is a huge issue. The South and the Southwest were devastated,” Bones said. “There’s just no grass left. They’re dispersing herds.”
In addition, he said, more land is being used to plant corn, soybeans and wheat, — “and with crop insurance, there’s guaranteed money there. There’s not the risk.”
A final factor is aging producers, who don’t want to spend nights in a feedlot with cattle as they calve. Some of those farmers and ranchers are getting out of the business, and selling their herds.
Bones said the South Dakota dairy herd continues to grow as his office works to recruit more dairy farmers, and to increase the size of their herds. He thinks the national cattle herd will bounce back at some point, as increased demand across the world for more beef and dairy products fuels an increase.
“It can only go so far. There’s a lot of demand,” he said. “I think it’s going to turn around. I really do.”
Nationally, the 2012 calf crop was estimated at 34.3 million head, down 3 percent from 2011. That is the smallest calf crop since the 33.7 million born during 1949. Calves born during the first half of 2012 are estimated at 25 million, down 3 percent from 2011.
There were 29.3 million beef cattle in the nation as of Jan. 1, down 3 percent from Jan. 1, 2012. There were 9.2 million milk cows, which was unchanged from Jan. 1, 2012.