Friday’s USDA annual inventory report showed that total cattle and calf numbers declined for the seventh consecutive year. At 87.7 million head, cattle numbers fell 2 percent from a year ago and are the lowest since 1951.

The report was much anticipated since the sequester budget cuts eliminated the USDA’s midyear inventory report, making this the first actual herd count we’ve seen since Feb. 2013.

The one positive number in the report was for beef replacement heifers, which rose 2 percent, at 5.5 million head, indicating that cattlemen are positioned to expand their herds. They will need a year or two of good pasture conditions to make that a profitable venture — and we need to remember that the time span between deciding to breed those heifers and getting the resulting calves to slaughter weight is roughly three years. Dairy replacement heifers were unchanged from a year ago, at 4.5 million head.

Contact John T. Barone at jbarone@mktvsn.com.