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Cattle count decreases by 5 percent
The National Agriculture Statistics Service estimates Fremont County's cattle population at 95,000. Photo by Eric Blom

Cattle count decreases by 5 percent

May 31, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The 95,000 head estimate is within 1 percent of average since 1975.

Cattle operations in Fremont County shrank last year. Recent data from the National Agriculture Statistics Service showed the total number of cattle and calves dropped by 5 percent in 2012.

The federal agency counted 95,000 cattle and calves in local ranchers' herds on Jan. 1 this year, down from 100,000 on the same date in 2012.

"Absolutely (producers) are reducing herds," Riverton Livestock Auction manager Jeff Brown said. "Inputs are just so significantly higher."

The high price of cattle feed, drought and uncertainty of range conditions led to the reduction, he said.

Last year saw a drought in Fremont County that reduced the forage on range land and brought a lower than normal hay harvest. Some producers had to bring cattle off the range earlier.

Ranchers then had to provide feed for their herds for longer than normal, but lower supply and increased demand raised the price of hay.

The number of animals in the county largely determines how many calves will be produced and how much income the beef industry generates.

Near average

A look back at the last 38 years of data shows the number of cattle and calves in Fremont County on New Year's Day has fluctuated between 80,000 and 120,000, though it has hovered near 100,000 since 2008.

The average for that period is 95,800 animals, only about 1 percent higher than this year's total.

The total dropped from 113,000 in 1975, when data is first available, to 79,000 by 1979. The number of cattle climbed back up to 96,000 over the next four years before dropping to 77,000 in 1990.

Fremont County saw its largest herds from 1996 to 2001, when cattle totaled 120,000 or more.

Rebound?

Brown is worried the lower number this year will stick. He said some producers have reduced their herds and will never build them back up.

Tallying on Jan. 1 likely means the National Agriculture and Statistics Service is counting at an annual low point for herds. Cattle give birth to their calves in the spring, and the young animals are largely brought to market in the fall.

If the agency counts at a dip, its numbers would indicate trends in population more than the actual number of cattle in Fremont County throughout the year.

Fremont County last year was in line with a statewide trend that saw a drop of just over 5 percent in cattle and calf inventory in 2012. The number of cattle and calves in Wyoming shows similar fluctuations as Fremont County: a low point in the late 1980s rising to a peak in the late 1990s before falling off some but plateauing for the last 10 years.

Dairy decline

This year's data shows the number of milk cows in Fremont County continued its steady, decades-long decline. The National Agricultural Statistics Service counted only 90 dairy cows on Jan. 1 of this year.

Over the period for which data is available, the number of dairy cows in Fremont County was highest at 1,950 in the first year, 1975.

The total has dropped almost every year since then.

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