Cattle Inventory

Cattle Inventory Survey

The Cattle Inventory surveys provide basic inventory data that describe the nation's cattle herd. The reports provide estimates of the number of breeding animals for beef and milk production as well as the number of heifers being held for breeding herd replacement. Estimates of cattle and calves being raised for meat production are also included. The number of calves born during the previous year is also measured.

This survey is conducted in all states. A sample of cattle producers is selected from the NASS list frame. A sample of area tracts is selected to measure incompleteness of the list. This ensures statistical coverage of all cattle operations in each state.

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Program Content

Cattle producers provide data for total cattle inventory and the components of that total; beef cows, milk cows, bulls, replacement heifers, other steers and heifers, and calves. Calf crop (calves born during the year), cattle on feed, grazing fees, and breeding animal values are also collected.


The cattle inventory estimates provide an important baseline of beef and milk cow herd supplies expected. The estimates of inventory, cattle on feed, other steer and heifers, and calves all provide data points which produce comparisons and trends to help cattle producers and industry evaluate the amount of beef moving to market.

Cattle producers are the largest benefactors of this data series. The price discovery mechanism used to set farm gate beef prices is, at a minimum, based on credible estimates of supply that reflect the changing situations of the cattle cycle. An individual producer, one who has little or no economies of scale to affect market prices, relies on credible estimates of supply to minimize unsubstantiated swings in farm gate prices.

The estimates of beef movement to market is also critical information needed for input suppliers, packers and government to evaluate the slaughter capacity volume expected in future months and potential supplies for export.


The Cattle Inventory survey is conducted in January and July of each year. The January survey is the larger of the two surveys and includes nearly 50,000 cattle operations of all sizes. Estimates are made for all states. The July survey includes a list sample of nearly 10,000 of the larger cattle operations. Estimates are made at the U.S. level only.


The reference dates for the surveys are January 1 and July 1 with data collection periods of 15 and 14 days respectively beginning at the reference date. A considerable amount of time and effort is expended to tailor the data collection to the operation as well as coordinate the data collection with other surveys underway. Mail out/mail back data collection is used and emphasized as a cost effective and less burdensome method of data collection. Web-based reporting is also offered. However, the primary method of collecting data is phone enumeration. A limited number of personal interviews are reserved for large cattle operations or operators who request that method.

Phone enumerators utilize Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI), a sophisticated software which allows them to verbally maintain a conversation with the respondent while following the instrument flow and question text. Reported data are entered directly into an electronic format and the software performs simple consistency checks which drastically reduces the need to make follow up contacts to the respondent.

Special Features

A special publication, Overview of the US Cattle Industry , is periodically released and includes an analysis of the cattle cycle.

Related Programs

Cattle on Feed
Milk Production
Meat Animals: Production, Disposition, and Income
Livestock Slaughter
United States and Canadian Cattle

Last Modified: 04/18/2024