3/4 - The USDA’s annual cattle inventory report (originally scheduled for Jan 31) was released on Feb 28. The USDA said there were 94.8M head of cattle in the U.S. on Jan 1, up 0.5% from a year ago. The 2018 calf crop came in at 36.4M head, up 1.8% from 2017. Both those numbers show modest but continued herd expansion. However, the number of heifers being retained for beef cow replacement was down 3.0%; heifers retained for milk cow replacement were down 1.4%. Both numbers point to slowing herd expansion and the potential for future contraction. Cattle prices and availability of spring pasture will likely determine if 2019 is an expansion or contraction year. For now, USDA is projecting 2.8% beef production growth in 2019, following a 2.6% increase in 2018. USDA says cattle prices will average $118.50/cwt for 2019 vs $117.12 last year.