Kansas feedlots have a lot of empty pens and it's going to take some time to get cattle back in those pens again. Years of drought are the main cause of the decline in inventory.
The National Agriculture Statistics Service Nov. 22 numbers indicate the inventory at Kansas feedlots, with capacity of more than 1,000 head, is at 2.05 million. That is down eight percent from the same time in 2012.
Those numbers are a slight improvement from the Oct. 31 numbers that had an inventory of 2.00 million, which is 10 percent from the same date in 2012. That is the lowest feedlot inventory in Kansas since 1996, said Jason Lambrecht, NASS statistician.
The total number of cattle in the state has also been dropping. In 2004, the state inventory stood at 6.8 million head. By 2013 the state inventory had dropped to 5.8 million head.
Again the drought was the main reason for the drop in numbers. The U.S. cattle inventory has also dropped almost the same as Kansas and that was the lowest the national inventory numbers had been since the early 1950s, Lambrecht said.
On the plus side, the number of cattle going into feed lots and coming out of feedlots is increasing. As of Nov. 22, the number of placements (cattle going out of feedlots) has jumped 24 percent from 2012 while incoming cattle for the same time is up 10 percent.
Because of the drought, pasture conditions were poor and feed wasn't available so many farmers had to reduce or eliminate their herds because they simply didn't have anything to feed the cattle. That reduced the number of cattle going into the feedlots.
Jerry Bohn, owner of Pratt Feeders, said his facility was down seven to eight percent from 2012. He currently has 34,600 cattle in his pens. From 60 to 65 percent of those are steers and mostly Black Angus.
Bohn said a combination of drought, lack of profitability and high corn prices because of the drought and ethanol demands have kept his numbers down.
Farmers simply couldn't afford to maintain their herds so they sent fewer cattle to the feedlots for finishing. Bohn said he didn't anticipate those numbers to rebound in the near future.
The drought has eased and ranchers are starting to rebuild herds. That means they will be keeping more heifers for breeding stock and not putting them into the feedlots, Bohn said.
And that means the consumer can expect beef prices to remain high until more beef is available to put on the market and that won't be any time soon.
"The numbers are not coming back yet," Bohn said. "I think beef prices are going to stay pretty strong."
Producers saw evidence of the high prices when they attended the annual cow and breeder heifer sale at the Pratt Livestock sale barn Monday.
The markets were high but many buyers in the standing room only sale arena were buying cattle to rebuild their herds and willing to pay top dollar for quality cattle.
One group of three-year-old second calf cows sold for $2,600 per animal. That is a very high price to pay cattle in that range. But even older cattle were selling high. A group of 9 to 10 year old cows sold for $1,575 per animal, a very high price for cattle that age, said Don Bergkamp, a buyer from Pretty Prairie who was looking for cattle for clients and for himself as well.
Pen after pen entered the sale arena and prices were continually high across all ages and sizes.
"Prices are up," Bergkamp said.