Feature Contributors

Purdue Extension of Fulton County-Where's the Beef Cows


Where’s the Beef Cows


The big news in the cattle production world is that cow numbers are at the lowest in this country since 1962. At first glance, that sure is amazing since the United States human population was 184 million in that year and today it is 334 million.

One would expect that with those huge increases in the human population and a cut in the number of cows that beef consumption would also be drastically cut. In 1962 the average consumption of beef per person/year was 62 pounds. In 2022, the average beef consumption was 55 pounds. A definite drop but nothing like the number of cows.

How could that be true?

For me, 1962 is only a few memories away. It would have been in 1965 that I would have shown at my first county fair. I remember those beef steers of that era. Even though I was small and they were big, they were nothing like the steers of today. Steer carcass weights increased from 656 pounds in 1960 to 907 pounds in 2020, an average increase of 4.2 pounds per year. Today’s cow produces much more beef.

Our cows have also gotten better reproductive efficacy. I read in a journal article that comparing numbers from 1977 to 2007, the same amount of beef is produced with 69.9% of the animals, 81.4% of the feed, 87.9% of water, and 67.0% of land in the US. These numbers tout that today’s beef producers are utilizing our environmental resources better.

Even though we have become more efficient, one of the big reasons for the reduced number of cows is the western drought. The persistence of this dry weather will carry even more cows to the market next year and will also result in a few heifers retained for reproduction.

All this has led to some of the highest beef prices in the past few years. It is ironic that these western cattle producers have an opportunity to make more money but the weather is just not cooperating. Welcome to agriculture.


Mark Kepler

Purdue Extension Educator, ANR

Fulton County