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July Cattle on Feed and Mid-year Cattle Inventory

The July Cattle report confirms larger cattle inventories in 2018. The total U.S. cattle herd was reported at 103.2 million head, up 1.0 percent from last year and the largest July 1 inventory since 2008. The July 1 beef cow inventory is 32.5 million head, up 0.9 percent compared to one year ago. Beef replacement heifers were down 2.1 percent year over year at 4.6 million head. Dairy cow and dairy replacement heifer inventories were unchanged year over year. The 2018 calf crop was estimated at 36.5 million head, up 1.9 percent over the 2017 calf crop. The combined inventory of steers, other heifers and calves, adjusted for cattle on feed, leads to an estimated July 1 feeder supply of 37.1 million, up 0.5 percent year over year. Cattle supplies will continue to grow, but slower, through 2019 at least.

The July Cattle on Feed report fell right in line with average industry pre-report estimates. June placements were 101.3 percent of one year ago, the largest June placement total since 2006. June feedlot marketings were 100.9 percent of last year, the largest June marketing total since 2011. June 2018 had one less business day compared to 2017. The July 1 on-feed total was 11.282 million head, up 4.3 percent year over year.

The July 1 quarterly inventory of heifers in feedlots was up 7.7 percent from last year, a large enough value to suggest further slowing in heifer retention but down compared to the double-digit year over year increases of the previous four quarters. Steers in feedlots on July 1 were up 2.4 percent year over year.

The modest increase in beef cows, combined with a smaller inventory of beef replacement heifers, suggests that herd expansion is slowing even more in 2018 after slowing in 2017. However, the ratio of July 1 to January 1 beef cow inventory is 102.4, a level that historically implies positive herd expansion in the current year. The ratio is down from 2015 and 2017 levels (No 2016 July Cattle report was issued), again indicating slow expansion for the current year and perhaps a peak in the cow herd inventory in 2019.

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