Report: US cattle herd at lowest number since 1951

Cattle gaze out from a pen in a feedlot near Lubbock, Texas, on Dec. 16, 2013. Some Texas cattle producers are beginning a lengthy climb after a brutal and dispiriting stretch of years of drought. Hundreds of thousands of head in the nation's leading cattle producing state were liquidated since 2011, the state’s most intense one-year drought on record. (AP Photo/Betsy Blaney)
Cattle gaze out from a pen in a feedlot near Lubbock, Texas, on Dec. 16, 2013. Some Texas cattle producers are beginning a lengthy climb after a brutal and dispiriting stretch of years of drought. Hundreds of thousands of head in the nation's leading cattle producing state were liquidated since 2011, the state’s most intense one-year drought on record. (AP Photo/Betsy Blaney)
One head of cattle pauses during his midday meal in a feedlot near Lubbock, Texas, on Dec. 16, 2013. Some Texas cattle producers are beginning a lengthy climb after a brutal and dispiriting stretch of years of drought. Hundreds of thousands of head in the nation's leading cattle producing state were liquidated since 2011, the state’s most intense one-year drought on record. (AP Photo/Betsy Blaney)
One head of cattle pauses during his midday meal in a feedlot near Lubbock, Texas, on Dec. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Betsy Blaney)

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — The lingering effects of drought across the Great Plains in recent years have led to another decrease in the U.S. cattle herd.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that the U.S. inventory of cattle and calves totaled 87.7 million animals as of Jan. 1. That was down by about 1.6 million cattle, or 2 percent, compared with this time last year.

The agency says this is the lowest January inventory since 1951.

A bright spot was a 2 percent increase in young, female cattle retained for breeding. One expert says that factor could allow the herd’s seven-year contraction to stabilize.

Totals in Texas, the nation’s leading cattle producer, decreased 4 percent.

The January report had been anxiously awaited because the agency didn’t issue a report in July due to sequestration.

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