Kansas feedlot cattle population falls

Plentiful rains over much of the state this year may be encouraging some Kansas ranchers to hold back heifers and calves to start rebuilding depleted herds.

Ranchers from Texas to South Dakota sent calves and heifers to feedlots at an accelerated pace in 2012 as the pastures and farm ponds that had sustained them dried up. The size of the cattle herd is now the smallest it’s been since the 1950s.

But that’s changing this year. The number of cattle sent to feedlots by Kansas ranchers in July was down 19 percent from 2012 to 440,000 head, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The number of cattle in major Kansas feedlots was down 7 percent from a year ago, at 2 million head, as of Aug.1. And sales of cattle to packing plants in July totaled 435,000 head, up 5 percent from last year.

Part of the reason for the decline in the number of cattle being sent to feedlots is that the herd was already smaller and there couldn’t help but be a drop-off in shipments following the surge last year, said Scarlett Hagins, communications manager for the Kansas Livestock Association.

But, she said, it could mean that ranchers in some parts of the state are encouraged enough by improving conditions to begin holding back heifers and calves to begin rebuilding their herds.

On Monday, Gov. Sam Brownback removed 23 counties from any drought designation, moved 20 counties into a warning status and 25 into a watch status. Thirty-seven counties in western, northwestern and north-central Kansas remain in a drought emergency.