Nebraska takes cattle-feeding crown

Author: Kristy

(Cattle roam a feedlot near Holdrege in south central Nebraska in this file photo. Nebraska has overtaken Texas as the state with the biggest number of cattle on feed.)  

Nebraska has claimed the crown of being the nation’s top cattle feeding state, usurping drought-ravaged Texas, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Nebraska’s new status as No. 1 in cattle feeding is due primarily to a decline in the Lone Star State while numbers for the Cornhusker State were down only slightly, according to a report released Friday.

Texas numbers have been on the decline for years, said Travis Averill of the NASS.

As of Feb. 1, Nebraska had 2.46 million cattle in feedlots with a capacity of at least 1,000 head, compared to 2.44 million in Texas, according to USDA’s most recent report. Compared to the same date a year ago, Texas’ number was down by 7 percent, or 180,000 head of cattle, while Nebraska was down less than half a percent, about 10,000 head.

For the U.S. overall there were 10.76 million head of cattle on feed Feb. 1 being fattened for slaughter, down from 11.07 million a year ago, according to the report. It was the 17th straight month of fewer cattle compared to the previous year.

Placements of cattle in feedlots were up in January over last year and higher than analysts had predicted, said Kate Brooks, a professor of livestock production and agricultural marketing in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Agricultural Economics department. She said record high prices for cattle have helped push calves through the market.

“A lot of that had to do with calves coming off of wheat pastures early due to some of the dry conditions we’ve been seeing in the plains states,” Brooks said.

Nebraska feedlots pull in many calves from other states thanks to abundant supplies of corn and water, which make for healthy profit margins, Brooks said. The growth of ethanol in Nebraska has meant a ready supply of distillers grain, the highly nutritious byproduct of the fermentation process. Sales of distillers grain have helped bottom lines in both industries.

Mike Mahony, marketing manager of Ericson-Spalding Livestock Market, said calves from 600 to 800 pounds are bringing record prices of $1,100 to $1,400.

Herd numbers are down nationally to the lowest numbers since 1951.  Brooks said the supply of cattle for slaughter will get tighter before it gets better, but nationally, herd numbers are poised for a rebound in the next two or three years.

“Hopefully, if Mother Nature cooperates, we’ll start to see some expansion within our cow herds,” she said.

Being the top feeding state with a strong and stable beef industry comes with more than just bragging rights, said Pete McClymont of the Nebraska Cattlemen.

“What it means long term is Nebraska is the number one choice for export markets. We have the great beef, the great weather, great genetics, lots of different producers,” McClymont said.

McClymont said Nebraska had the top spot in the 1970s, but Texas took the distinction for decades thanks to its warmer weather and marketing efforts.

Brooks said Nebraska, which has seen an increase in cattle on feed numbers overall during the past decade, is likely to keep the top spot for the foreseeable future.

“From the competitive advantage standpoint, I think Nebraska has a good advantage to at least maintain if not continue to see some increases over Texas,” she said.

But when it comes to the total number of cattle and calves in the state, including animals not in the large feedlots, Nebraska remains second with 6.5 million head compared to 10.9 million in Texas, Brooks said.

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