Despite improved drought status, Montana cattle numbers fell again in 2022

ISABEL HICKS Bozeman Daily Chronicle

BOZEMAN — Improved drought status across much of Montana helped stabilize the state cattle inventory in 2022, but not enough to compensate for the drastic drop in cattle numbers the year prior.

The January 2023 cattle inventory for Montana totaled 2.16 million, which is two percent less than last year’s herd size, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

But that’s a less drastic decrease than the previous year, when much of the state suffered severe drought, and the herd size dropped 10% to 2.20 million cattle in January 2022.

Nationally, the cattle inventory decreased by 3% over 2022.

Poor growing conditions and high hay costs forced ranchers to make tough decisions about how many cattle they can feed over winter. Without enough feed, ranchers have to sell some of their cows. If they’re selling mother cows, that impacts herd sizes for years.

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Drought conditions play directly into herd sizes because they determine the availability of feed, said Sam Wyffels, beef cattle specialist for Montana State University Extension.

Most of the state saw enough precipitation to pull out of severe drought in 2022. But north central

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