Wichita Despite a mad cow disease scare, the nation's cattlemen ended the longest liquidation in history and began rebuilding their herds last year, according to figures released Friday by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
High beef prices fueled the resurgence, said Tom Toll, a Lindsborg cattle feeder and president of the Kansas Livestock Assn.
"It is just normal economic forces at work. When we are profitable we tend to start rebuilding cattle herds. When we get unprofitable, we tend to sell cows," Toll said.
The latest figures show the number of cattle and calves in the United States at 95.8 million head on Jan. 1.
That is 1 percent over last year's count of 94.9 million cattle in what had been the smallest cattle inventory on record since 1959.
The cattle inventory provided a snapshot of the cattle industry in the year since the discovery of the nation's first mad cow case on Dec. 23, 2003.
Widespread rains last year also broke a lingering drought that had gripped much of the western United States. At the same time, beef prices hovered at near-record levels last year as consumers' appetite for beef remained strong -- driven in part by the popularity of high protein diets.
"It is just like any other industry -- when you are profitable doing 100 head, 101 sounds good," Toll said. "Making money always tends to make more cattle. It is a cattle cycle we have lived with for a long, long time."
Beef cows nationwide numbered 33.06 million, up 1 percent from a year earlier, while the numbers of milk cows increased only slightly to 9.01 million, the agency said. The 2004 calf crop was estimated at 37.6 million head, down 1 percent from 2003.
Texas retained its undisputed standing as the nation's biggest cattle state with 13.8 million head, down 1 percent from the 2004 count.
Kansas came in second with 6.65 million head, unchanged from a year earlier. Nebraska was third with 6.35 million head, up 3 percent over the previous year.