Drought Conditions Influence Fluctuations in Beef Cattle Herd

New data from USDA Economic Research Service shows that changes in drought conditions impact the size of the U.S. beef cattle herd. Specifically, when the percentage of land area of drought increases for an extended period as noted in the U.S. Drought Monitor, the U.S. beef cattle herd often declines.

In 2023, with more than 65 percent of U.S. land area in drought, the U.S. beef cattle herd declined roughly 2.5 percent. When drought conditions diminish forage production and availability, beef cattle producers often must buy supplemental feed and forage or reduce their herd size. Periods of more intense drought are associated with decreases in the U.S. beef cattle herd size, such as when the national beef cattle herd shrank about one to two percent a year during drought between 2011 and 2015.

Other factors outside of drought conditions also influence changes in the beef cattle herd size, including feed and forage prices, extreme precipitation events, supply chain issues, and the natural life cycles of livestock.