The stocker cattle industry in Arkansas is growing, and that growth could become significant in coming years, said Tom Troxel, professor/beef cattle specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

“The number of steers over 500 pounds increased by 35,000 head from 95,000 head in 2006 to 130,000 head in 2007,” Troxel said.

At the same time, the number of steers less than 500 pounds increased from 405,000 to 415,000 from 2006 to 2007, he said.

“It's anticipated the stocker cattle industry in Arkansas could see significant growth over the next three to six years,” Troxel said. He added that Arkansas' natural resources continue to be favorable for beef cattle production.

The growth is part of a national trend. The USDA Cattle Inventory Report said the total number of cattle and calves in the United States as of Jan. 1, totaled 97 million head, slightly above the 96.7 million on Jan. 1, 2006.

All cows and heifers that have calved, at 42 million, were down slightly from the 42.1 million on Jan. 1, 2006. Beef cows, at 32.9 million, were down slightly, but milk cows, at 9.13 million, were up 1 percent.

Heifers held back for beef cow replacement were an estimated 5.9 million head, slightly above a year ago, the USDA said. The 2006 calf crop was estimated at 37.6 million head, down slightly from 2005. Calves born during the first half of last year are estimated at 27.4 million, up slightly the first half of 2005.

“The beef cattle expansion phase of the cattle cycle continued in 2006, but it was at a much slower pace than originally anticipated,” Troxel noted.

The reason? “The drought throughout much of the cow-calf states last year sharply affected producers' ability to increase numbers,” he said. “Another factor that may affect the producers' ability and desire to increase numbers is higher corn prices.”

Troxel said an increase in corn prices results in a decrease in selling price of feeder calves. If selling prices are high, producers are more likely to rebuild herds faster. The price of cattle in recent years has been strong.

The USDA said all cattle and calves in Arkansas increased about 2 percent from 1.71 million head in 2006 to 1.75 million head in 2007. The number of cows that calved also increased 2 percent to 940,000 head.

When you break down the Arkansas number by beef cows and dairy cows, Troxel said, the number of beef cows that calved increased by 2 percent from last year (899,000 head to 921,000 head).

The Arkansas calf crop increased from 800,000 to 810,000 head from 2005 to 2006, which resulted in a calving percentage of 88 to 89 percent, Troxel noted.

“It's remarkable the Arkansas cow-calf producer was able to maintain the same calving percentage given the tremendous drought conditions,” the specialist said.

But there's a dark side to the numbers. The dairy cow numbers decreased by 10 percent (21,000 head to 19,000 head) from 2006 to 2007. “Unfortunately, we continue to see the demise of the dairy industry in Arkansas,” said Troxel.

Arkansas beef cattle producers reduced the number of beef cow replacements (heifers over 500 pounds) from 175,000 head in 2006 to 140,000 head in 2007.

“There's no question about it, the drought of 2005 and 2006 impacted the beef producers' decision to keep additional replacements,” he said. “I think a number of beef cattle producer wanted to keep additional heifers back in 2006, but the lack of pasture and hay caused them to do otherwise.”

The number of milk cow replacements in Arkansas decreased from 8,000 in 2006 to 7,000 in 2007.