“In this last year, we lost another 5.4 percent retained heifers compared to the previous year,” Hogan said. “Why is cow inventory going down? Because we’re killing cows and not saving back heifers.”

Hogan said ranchers aren’t saving heifers because packers are “giving too much for them.”

“In the cattle business, it’s driven by economic incentive,” he said.

“If it makes more money in the shorter period to feed them and then slaughter them, then people will do just that.”

Hogan said even before the drought and wildfires in Texas, ranchers didn’t think cattle prices had reached their plateau. Since then inventory numbers have continued to decrease.

“They did not believe that cattle prices were high enough and stable enough to justify holding back heifers when they could be sold at historically high prices for stocker or feeder heifers.”

Hogan said the situation isn’t likely to change soon.

“I think we are in for several years of pretty good prices, and I consider them pretty good right now,” he said. “I think it will go sideways or go up for several years. We’re not going to get out of this inventory situation overnight. It’s going to take a while to build up.”

Dr. Joe Paschal, AgriLife Extension livestock specialist, said that when the drought breaks, producers need to keep in mind several important factors when buying replacement cattle. Factors include matching types of cattle to levels of forage availability and environmental stress because that is where the cows have to live and produce.