The severe drought that scorched pastures across the American heartland last summer helped shrink the US cattle herd to its smallest size in more than six decades and encouraged the movement of animals to lusher fields in the north and west. The National Agricultural Statistics Service said today that the US inventory of cattle and calves totaled 89.3 million animals as of Jan. 1. That was down by 1.5 million cattle, or 2%, compared with this time a year ago. It's the lowest January cattle inventory since 1952.
Texas, the largest cattle-producing state, saw its herd shrink 5% to 11.3 million head amid a multi-year drought. Nebraska's herd shrunk 2% to 6.3 million animals as the drought spread north this summer. In Kansas, another hard-hit state, the number of cattle shrunk 4% to 5.8 million animals as ranchers sold off animals amid skyrocketing prices for hay. By contrast, northern states fared better. North Dakota ranchers expanded their herds by 6% to nearly 1.8 million head, while South Dakota's cattle numbers grew 5% to 3.8 million. Montana, Idaho, and Washington also boosted the size of their herds. The growth in the north didn't make up for losses elsewhere, however. (Read more cattle industry stories.)