Many have believed the growth in the U.S. beef cow herd would be ending soon.

But that may not be the case, says the Livestock Marketing Information Center.

In a recent report, the center said the numbers indicate growth in the herd will continue.

“The USDA-NASS livestock slaughter report places total heifer slaughter under federal inspection up 7.3 percent (from) last year in data through October 2018,” the LMIC says. “Beef cow slaughter under federal inspection in that same report is estimated to be 10.7 percent above last year’s.

“Taking a cursory look at those large slaughter figures, it may seem difficult to believe that the U.S. beef cow herd could show another year-over-year gain on Jan. 1, 2019. But, by our estimates, that is what we are expecting.”

According to the center, the number of beef cows that have calved over the past four years has added 2.6 million head to the inventory.

“This incredible growth pattern has led to larger calf crops, and the economics has supported retaining a large number of heifers in recent years to continue adding to that beef cow number,” the LMIC says in its analysis.

However, the data indicates much more modest growth over the next year.

“Over the last 30 years, the proportion of federally inspected slaughter of beef cows and heifers in the previous year leading up to the Jan. 1 inventory has been about 40 percent,” the center says. “In recent years, as the cow herd has gained momentum, that proportion has fallen to 35 percent.

“This year, the number of heifers and cows that have been slaughtered as a percent of the Jan. 1, 2018, (number) has risen back up to 38 percent. That suggests a return to more normal cull rates in 2018 and a slowdown in beef cow herd growth.”

The LMIC says during herd contraction, that number rises above 40 percent, often as high as 42 or 42 percent.

The center says the numbers suggest the Jan. 1 inventory should show slight growth in 2018.

“There are still two more months of slaughter data left for this year, but based on our current estimates we see the Jan. 1, 2019, beef cow herd will be over 31.8 million head,” the LMIC says, adding their forecast indicates growth of less than a half percent.

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.