Introduction

The US beef cow herd has been shrinking since 2019. In January 2024, there were 87.2 million cattle in the US, the lowest inventory since the 1960’s.

Cow and heifer slaughter rates have not yet dropped to suggest producers have started to hold more breeding stock back, so expansion won’t be starting soon.

This begs the question: When will prices incentivize producers to keep cattle back? Right now, cash feeder prices over $2.50/lb. aren’t changing anything. Cull cow prices around $1.00/lb. must be very attractive to some producers as well.

This article examines the relative benefit of keeping or selling beef cows and heifers. As this article shows, this comes down to how producers see current prices versus their expectation of future prices.  

This article uses high level price data that will not reflect any one farm. Producers should consider their own costs and revenues in making decisions specific to their...