Beef cattle numbers in the United States have been declining over the past few years, and herds are currently as small as they’ve been since the 1960s, said Bob Young, chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation. Next year, he predicted, U.S. pork production will top U.S. beef production for the first time since the 1950s.
Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Commodity Marketing Director Spencer Neale noted that, over the past year, hog numbers nationwide have been significantly affected by a porcine virus. But that problem has been addressed, he said, and swine numbers are ready to rebound.
On the other hand, “farmers reduced their cattle herds because feed prices were high and the sale prices they were getting for the animals were high,” Neale said. “That gave them a good reason to sell cattle they would normally keep as breeding animals to maintain or grow their herds.”
And the lower the cattle inventory, the higher consumer prices become, he explained. “If we can rebuild our herds and feed prices keep coming down, I would expect some relief at the meat counters, but it will probably take a couple of years.”
While pigs have two litters a year and chickens can hatch chicks about every three months, he said, the gestation period for cattle is nine months. Cows that have had calves are not bred again for two to three months.