The U.S. beef cow herd expanded 3.5 percent in 2016 to a January 1, 2017, level of 31.2 million head, up 1.04 million from one year ago. This follows USDA-NASS revisions that showed the January 1, 2016, beef cow herd inventory at 30.2 million head, up 2.9 percent from 2014.

Peel derrell
Livestock Marketing Specialist / Oklahoma State University Extension

Total three-year herd expansion, since the recent low of 29.1 million head in 2014, is 2.1 million head, slightly higher than the pre-drought 2011 total and just under the 2010 inventory level of 31.4 million head. The 2017 inventory of beef replacement heifers was 6.4 million head, up 1.2 percent year over year.

This level of beef replacement heifers is 20.6 percent of the cow herd inventory, down just slightly from last year and a level that suggests significant herd expansion will continue in 2017. An estimated 4 million head of beef heifers is expected to calve in 2017, up 1.6 percent from the 2016 level.

Among top ten beef cow states, Oklahoma added the most cows with an 8.9 percent increase in 2016, leading to a 2017 herd inventory of 2.095 million head, second to Texas, which had 4.46 million head (up 4 percent from 2016). In absolute numbers, Oklahoma added 172,000 cows to the beef herd, slightly more than the 170,000 head increase in Texas.

The 2017 Oklahoma beef cow inventory slightly exceeds the recent 2010 peak and is the highest state inventory since 1985. This follows the 2013 low of 1.694 million head, the lowest Oklahoma beef cow herd since 1962. In the last four years, the Oklahoma beef cow herd has expanded 23.7 percent, the largest percentage increase from recent lows among top ten beef cow states.


In addition to Texas and Oklahoma, other top ten beef cow states with strong growth in 2016 included Missouri (ranked number 3), Kansas (6), Nebraska (4) and North Dakota (10) with modest expansion in Iowa (9); while South Dakota (5), Montana (7) and Kentucky (8) all showed little or no beef cow expansion in 2016.

The Southern Plains region (Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas) has the largest regional beef cow inventory of 8.13 million head, up 5.5 percent from 2016. Next is the Northern Plains region (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska) with 4.54 million head, up 2.5 percent year over year.

The third largest region is the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio) with a 2017 beef cow inventory of 3.90 million head, up 4.9 percent from the previous year. The Northern Rockies (Montana, Wyoming) have a 2017 beef cow inventory of 2.2 million head, up just 0.5 percent year over year.

Close behind is the Appalachian region (Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia) at 2.14 million head, 1.5 percent higher than one year ago, along with the Southern region (Alabama, Georgia, Florida) at 2.1 million head, up 0.7 percent from 2016.  

Other regions have less than 1.5 million head of beef cows, with strong growth in California (up 9.2 percent) leading to a 5.7 percent year-over-year increase in the Southwest (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah) and strong growth in New Mexico (up 12 percent) leading to a 5.7 percent increase from 2016 in the Southern Rockies (Colorado, New Mexico).  end mark

Derrell S. Peel is an Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist. This originally appeared in the Feb. 6, 2017, OSU Cow/Calf Corner newsletter.